NEWSMAKER/NICK HOUGH: Mystery man returns to run Leagas Delaney shop. Has the Netherlands stint toughened up ’nice’ Nick Hough? By Michele Martin

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.

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

managing director.’

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

managing director.’

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.