When Nick Hough went to Holland to take up one of the country’s top
advertising jobs in 1995, the local press referred to the move as a ’big
mystery’. Becoming managing director of Lowe Kuiper & Schouten at the
time was similar to an unknown Dutchman arriving in Kingly Street today
and taking control of Bartle Bogle Hegarty. People were puzzled and, at
first, slightly sceptical.
Three years later, Hough’s return to take one of London’s top
advertising jobs has also taken people by surprise. Those who know the
man personally could not be more pleased that such a ’nice guy’ has been
named managing director of Leagas Delaney (Campaign, last week). But, to
the rest of adland, Hough is largely an unknown quantity. In the past
ten years, despite holding senior positions at agencies from
Yellowhammer to Leo Burnett, Campaign has mentioned him seven, brief
Hough, 42, is not a shouter, but the people who have worked with him
observe that he has always had the potential - and quiet ambition - to
become an agency head. Leagas Delaney appears to have appointed him with
more in mind than a simple caretaker position. Part of his job may be to
relieve the chief executive, Bruce Haines, of some of the responsibility
for the London agency’s day-to-day running, but his role is seen in far
broader terms than that.
After years of allowing itself to be identified as ’Tim Delaney’s
hotshop, the one that does Adidas’, Leagas Delaney has finally bitten
the bullet, realising that breaking out of its niche requires naked
ambition and a second tier of management. Enter Hough, filling a
position that has remained empty since Brian Astley left four years ago.
Other changes are also on the way, giving more responsibility to
existing staff who have worked quietly behind the scenes for years.
As for ambition, listen to the rhetoric. Haines makes it clear that
Hough’s hiring is part of a five-year plan intended to build Leagas
Delaney into a much larger player, fulfilling its ’enormous ambitions’
in the wake of its recent buyout from the Abbott Mead Vickers Group.
Haines says: ’Leagas Delaney is an extremely dynamic brand capable of
enormous success in other markets. We look forward to plundering Nick’s
continental and other expertise.’
It’s a business development challenge that Hough might not have
anticipated falling so quickly three years ago, when he first decided to
leave the UK for Holland. At the time, he was arguably just one of many
talented senior account men looking to make the jump into the bigger
league, facing limited opportunities in a quiet market. For a man
described by colleagues as ’sometimes a bit too nice for his own good’,
it could, perhaps, have gone either way.
Hough admits: ’I was worried about people forgetting me if I went but
there comes a point where you have to be realistic. Not many jobs come
up in the UK that aren’t linked to a succession management plan and
people are reluctant to appoint a managing director who hasn’t been a
What he could not have forecast, however, was the enormity of the task
that was to face him in Holland and the manner in which he appears to
have pulled it off, marking him out from the pack. His challenge was to
manage Lowes through the retirement of its two senior partners and to
integrate it into the European network - not easy when Hough describes
the partners, Jack Schouten and Bart Kuiper, as Holland’s ’ Bartle and
Within six months of his arrival, half the agency’s sceptical clients
were reviewing their business and everyone was writing off the
In the event, the agency kept all but one client, won a string of new
ones and bagged num-erous creative awards, including a Cannes gold lion
for a Nestle Fruit Joy commercial.
’The Lowes job has toughened me up a lot,’ Hough concedes. ’The Dutch
are very blunt and you have to stand up to people over there. If
anything, I might have to be careful when I come back and start biting
my tongue a bit.’ Former colleagues observe it was probably an
invaluable experience. Chris Powell, BMP DDB’s chief executive, agrees:
’Nick’s a very well-rounded advertising man for whom the finishing
school of running his own agency has probably added a requisite
Hough began his career as a graduate trainee at J. Walter Thompson in
1980 after studying for a BSc in environmental biology and later
completing a D. Phil in animal behaviour at Oxford. From such unlikely
beginnings, he quickly found his feet in adland, becoming a Campaign
Face to Watch and moving to BMP in 1983, where he was appointed to the
board within three years.
After a successful stint running the award-winning Courage and GLC
accounts, he moved to Yellowhammer as client services director in 1987,
just before the agency began to experience the well-documented troubles
that led to its closure.
From the wreckage of that agency, Hough went to Leo Burnett, originally
to run the Kellogg’s business but latterly as new-business director. His
departure in 1995 paved the way for the move to Lowes, at the time when
William Eccleshare was finishing his assignment at JWT’s Amsterdam
Despite his gradual acceptance by the Dutch advertising community and
the six months’ worth of Dutch lessons that have left him able to follow
meetings, Hough feels it is now time to come back to the UK. He plans to
return to the family home in Barnes in August with his three young
children and his ex-agency TV producer wife, Ros. It’s a big move to
make twice in three years, especially for such a young family, but Hough
is clearly excited.
In many ways, his arrival at Leagas Delaney should suit him and the
agency very well. Hough has a track record - particularly at BMP - of
selling good work and is the first to admit that he has a passion for
creative advertising. Richard Wheatly, formerly chairman of Burnetts and
now chief executive of Jazz FM, comments: ’Nick loves creative work. At
Leagas Delaney, he’ll get better creative work and clients who want to
buy it. I think he’ll flourish there.’
He also seems to have the ability to work with, and inspire confidence
in, large international clients. He is generally acknowledged to have
run Kellogg’s very well and led the successful pitch for the pounds 20
million Fiat account while at Yellowhammer.
Ros King, now a managing partner at JWT and previously a colleague of
Hough at Burnetts, says: ’He did a marvellous job on Kellogg’s and
clients generally respect him a lot. If Leagas Delaney is looking to
grow larger by getting in bigger, multinational accounts, Nick’s a good
person to have on board.’ If there are any questions, they are over
whether he will ’bite his tongue’ a bit too much on arrival back in the
UK. As one former colleague observes: ’You’ve got to be firm to be Tim’s
If the job fails to work out, Hough can always fall back on his hobby of
sending people around him off into a deep sleep. When not up to his
elbows in advertising, Hough spends his spare time helping to run a
consultancy, Sleepwell International, advising US companies on the
liability risks of employees falling asleep on the job. He has even
written a book with his business partner on combating sleeplessness,
which has been featured in national newspapers.
’Almost anyone can improve what they do by 20 per cent by sleeping
These techniques have certainly helped me in the past four or five
years,’ Hough says.
Could this be the secret weapon that has taken Hough such a long way in
a relatively short time? Possibly. Leagas Delaney’s candle-burning
creative department should watch out.