NEWSMAKER/RICHARD HYTNER - Passionate adman craves the agency spotlight

He’s back from the Henley and can’t wait to get going at Publicis. By John Tylee.

He’s back from the Henley and can’t wait to get going at Publicis.

By John Tylee.

The question most readily begged by Richard Hytner’s appointment as the

Publicis chief executive (Campaign, 4 July) is whether the agency will

be the place where he and advertising complete their unfinished


His somewhat hasty departure from the Henley Centre after little more

than a year suggests that his love of the buzz and diversity of agency

life is greater than he previously admitted or even knew. ’I’m

passionate about the business,’ he now acknowledges, ’and my feelings

for it have only intensified since I’ve been on the outside.’

Add to that the circumstances surrounding his earlier exit from Ammirati

Puris Lintas - friends say its suddenness still rankles him - and it’s

clear that the Publicis offices in Baker Street are about to become

Hytner’s proving ground.

For Publicis, the hiring of Hytner, 37, could scarcely be more


The recent departures of senior executives such as Douglas

Thursby-Pelham, who ran the pounds 40 million Renault account, and Barry

Cox, one of its most experienced senior group account directors, are

said to have dismayed the Publicis worldwide boss, Maurice Levy, and

left the London agency looking distinctly lightweight at senior

management level.

The result is that both the agency and its new chief executive officer

have ambitions each is looking to the other to help fulfil. Indeed, it’s

a measure of the need for decisive action that Michael Conroy, the

velvet-tongued Irishman who has held Publicis in an iron grip for so

long, is relinquishing the agency chairmanship to concentrate on group


Industry sources believe the result will be a cleaner management

structure with Hytner providing a more disciplined counterbalance to the

somewhat chaotic style of Rick Bendel, who is promoted from joint chief

executive to agency chairman.

’Richard is absolutely right for Publicis,’ one of its former senior

managers says. ’The place has suffered too much angst through ’divide

and rule’ management and he brings real credibility.’

The fact that Publicis has a distance to travel in terms of profile and

creative consistency is what those who know Hytner say most appeals to


’Richard would never be good for somewhere like Bartle Bogle Hegarty or

Leagas Delaney,’ a former colleague says. ’An agency that feels sorted

wouldn’t be his cup of tea. Publicis, on the other hand, has a strong

client base but could use a little stardust. He’ll relish the


Hytner’s energy, drive and ambition may have something to do with his

roots. He is one of a family of high achievers: his father is an eminent

lawyer; one of his brothers, Nicholas, is the highly regarded theatre

and film director; while the other, Jim, is Sky’s marketing


He studied law at Cambridge and, after an abortive attempt to join the

BBC, took his talent first to Benton & Bowles, then Young & Rubicam.

David Miller, Y&R’s managing director at the time, says: ’It was quickly

clear that he was going to be one of the ones to watch and that he was

going to advance a long way in the business.’

Equally obvious was that Hytner’s ambition would rapidly outstrip Y&R’s

confines. ’Richard was incredibly bright and dynamic,’ says Justin

Cernis, a fellow Y&R account manager, now a managing partner at Barrett

Delves Fletcher Matthews, who recalls how Hytner’s frustration at

Miller’s reluctance to promote him caused his defection to the fledgling

Still Price Court Twivy D’Souza.

Hytner already had his feet on the promotion ladder when Still Price

merged with the then embattled Lintas in June 1989 and a radical

management restructure in the spring of 1991 saw him appointed managing

director of the combined agency.

It was a natural selection. ’Richard is an incredibly thoughtful manager

who always looks several steps ahead,’ observes Mark Lund, a former

executive business director of Still Price Lintas who is now managing

director of Delaney Fletcher Bozell. ’He’s just the same with people and

always gives the impression he is taking trouble over you.’

Hytner’s disenchantment set in after the 1995 merger between SP Lintas

and Lintas i, the agency created when Lintas bought Kevin Morley

Marketing and its pounds 100 million Rover account. Not only was he

unhappy at the effect of the marriage on the agency he created but, when

Andrew Cracknell was hired as executive creative director and deputy

chairman, it was obvious that Hytner could not co-exist with him and his

declared managerial ambitions.

Not even an alternative job in New York running the Unilever account

worldwide - a traditional route to the very top of the Lintas

organisation - could tempt him to stay. ’Richard not only held the

Lintas London operation together but gave it a sense of identity and

purpose,’ a former colleague says. ’His treatment was poor reward for

what he did.’

Turning his back on start-ups or another agency senior management job,

Hytner succumbed instead to the blandishments of Jeremy Bullmore, one of

the closest lieutenants of the WPP boss, Martin Sorrell. Bullmore’s

charm offensive triumphed and Hytner was named as the new chief of the

WPP-owned Henley Centre.

The announcement provoked universal astonishment, and not only because

of the reported pay cut Hytner took. What possible reason, it was asked,

could he have for joining such an academic and stuffy place best known

for its syndicated research studies and publications?

Hytner saw it differently, concluding that the company was a powerful

brand ripe for transformation into a genuine strategic consultancy

capable of establishing regular relationships with clients at the

highest level.

A fine theory but hard to put into practice. ’Richard discovered Henley

to be more like a ’super Mintel’,’ a former associate says. ’He felt he

had driven into a cul-de-sac.’ And while Hytner’s appearances on public

platforms undoubtedly raised the company’s profile, he found the

isolation from mainstream advertising hard to endure. ’It’s not fun,’ he

recently confided to a friend.

Nevertheless, the consensus is that the centre is better for Hytner’s

period in charge. ’Richard did for Henley what he’s best at which is to

take an introspective organisation and force it to confront the fact

that it’s there to service its clients,’ says Stephen Whyte, who worked

with Hytner at SPL and is now GGT’s business development director. ’He

knows how to do that because he understands clients.’

Consummate client handling skills are just one of the assets he brings

to Publicis. ’He’s a very shrewd judge of creativity,’ says Neil

Patterson, the former Y&R creative director, now a partner at Mitchell

Patterson Grime Mitchell. ’He’ll always judge an ad on whether he likes

it. There aren’t many suits who do that.’

Some claim Hytner’s weakness is that he can let evangelism run away with

him. ’The danger is that he will try to make Publicis reflect his own

ideology,’ an ex-colleague remarks. ’The agency needs evolving. It’s no

good trying to turn it into a St Luke’s Mark II.’

According to John Banks, Hytner’s boss at Y&R, now managing partner of

Banks Hoggins O’Shea, Hytner’s challenge will be to continue Conroy’s

juggling act. ’He has managed to keep the French at arm’s length and

deliver profits by preserving the London office’s ’Britishness’ which

makes it attractive to UK advertisers,’ he says.

But nobody should doubt that Hytner is an agent of change. His

diminutive stature, self-deprecating humour and much-vaunted ’niceness’

are said by some to conceal a cold and calculating nature. Certainly, he

isn’t afraid to upset the sensibilities of those wanting to keep the

status quo. As Mark Robinson, the J. Walter Thompson marketing director

and former Publicis new-business head, points out: ’Richard is very good

at introducing new systems - and Publicis needs that.’


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