William Eccleshare is a worrier. ’He carries it all on his
shoulders,’ says an old friend. ’He’s one of those people born with a
bit of a frown.’ This week his brow is likely to get more exercise than
usual, and his shoulders will feel a greater weight, because he’s taken
over as the chairman of Ammirati Puris Lintas (Campaign, last week).
Yet here he is, lolling in a comfy armchair in his glass office
overlooking Soho Square. A mug of coffee in both hands, he chats easily
about his plans - with his feet up on the table.
For three years, Eccleshare has worked alongside Andrew Cracknell in an
attempt to turn round the old Unilever agency. Brought in by Martin
Puris, APL’s worldwide chief executive, in 1995, they were charged with
managing the painful merger between Lintas i (formerly KMM) and SP
Lintas, shoring up the Unilever and Rover accounts and - perhaps most
importantly - adding vim to an agency long regarded as drab.
Puris had given himself five years to forge a truly creative
London, he determined, was to be a jewel in his crown. But last week,
So far, Cracknell and Eccleshare have been only partially successful in
achieving Puris’s goals. Last year they moved the agency from Victoria
to hipper Soho, helping the perception that things were changing. The
Rover account looks safer under the capable stewardship of Chris Thomas,
now chief executive, and the work on the account is better.
On the other hand, new business has been worryingly sparse. APL isn’t
making the big pitch-lists. Sure, it won Burger King and Compaq in 1997,
but earlier this year it lost the computer account (to DDB) in a global
Meanwhile, its foundation client, Unilever, has continued to shift
brands to more ’creative’ shops such as Mother, Bartle Bogle Hegarty and
HHCL & Partners.
And Eccleshare was bitterly disappointed to lose the pitch for the
centralised NatWest business to a non-roster agency, TBWA.
If the normally exuberant Cracknell seemed to be losing interest,
perhaps that’s not surprising. Billy Mawhinney, creative director at
Euro RSCG and a former colleague of Eccleshare, summarises: ’What was
expected from Andrew was flair and creative flamboyance, which never
materialised. Poor old Lintas must be terribly fed up.’
Martin Jones, managing director of the Advertising Agency Register,
agrees that APL is in a fix: ’The agency has been caught in the
middle-ground. It’s able to do everything well but has never been able
to articulate to a client why they should hire it. It’s not difficult to
make the agency sexy again, but it has to get on with talking to the
outside world rather than simply talking to itself.’
At the agency’s annual general meeting in January, Eccleshare and
Cracknell posed a challenge to staff: the agency should be Campaign’s
Agency of the Year at the end of 1999. Eccleshare insists it’s still
Few observers, however, agree. Where, they cry, are the blockbuster
campaigns, the stonking new-business wins?
’If you think what could have happened after October 1995, it could have
been meltdown,’ explains Eccleshare. ’We’ve been through a phase which
was about managing a very difficult merger and managing the
establishment of the brand in the marketplace.
’We spent a year trying to bring some calm where there had been chaos.
We have done things of which we’ve been very proud, like the Mini or
NatWest press work, and our achievements through the line. And we’ve
grown the business 15 per cent year on year.
’We do have a perception problem but it’s not as bad as it was. We can
turn that middle-ground to a great advantage. We have all the strengths
of the multinational but we are also more fleet of foot.’
On a first meeting, Eccleshare could easily come across as stiff and
formal. He admits he’s never been ’groovy’ (today, he’s clad in a
pristine pink shirt, grey trousers, socks pulled up straight and shiny
And everybody agrees you could never call him Will, or Billy. ’He’s not
a cuddly leader,’ says Jeremy Bullmore, the WPP non-executive director,
’but the longer you’re with him, the more respect grows.’
However, he does have a lighter side. Hard though it may be to imagine,
Eccleshare once danced on top of a table in the J. Walter Thompson bar
so frantically that he fell off. And he’s an understated flirt. ’He’s
different inside to how he is on the outside,’ suggests one former
’At APL, he has a coterie of brunettes.’
Friendship with Eccleshare does bring rewards, laughs Mawhinney: ’After
20 years, I have just found myself being able to hug William. I would
never have dreamed that years ago.’
Eccleshare joined JWT in 1978. He rose steadily through the ranks until
he was made the joint managing director in 1991 alongside Dominic
Proctor, now chief executive of MindShare.
It was a battle for the top job. Proctor, who oozes relaxed bonhomie,
won. As consolation, Eccleshare was offered the task of running PPGH/JWT
Amsterdam. ’The reason I joined and stayed with a multinational like JWT
is that I wanted to work in other markets,’ he said at the time.
Of course, that wasn’t entirely true. Eccleshare now admits he was
discouraged by the project. ’It was a really tough thing to do and I was
It was the biggest challenge I had ever faced. The first six months were
very difficult.’ Despite his misgivings, Eccleshare proved a
’It was the quickest learning period and the best thing for me at the
After two-and-a-half years, he returned to London to take a tailor-made,
strategic planning position, viewed by most outsiders as a
He’s gracious about it: ’JWT was terrific in constructing a job for me.’
But the truth is that the role probably wasn’t sufficiently ’real’ to
keep him at JWT when other offers came to him.
There’s no doubt that chairing APL is a real job with some hair-raising
moments ahead. Phil Geier, chairman of Interpublic, APL’s parent
company, is putting fierce pressure on Puris to turn round the agency -
and that pressure will inevitably boomerang on Eccleshare. So is he now
happy that he’s got a real challenge?
Eccleshare looks wistful. ’The first ten years at JWT were the best time
of my life,’ he says. ’Now there is so much to worry about.’
He’s not the only one who’s anxious. One former colleague says: ’The
sadness for me as a friend is that he looks haunted and hunted. I worry
about him. He’s hugely ambitious and what I think he would like to do is
manage a plc, but at the moment he doesn’t have the skill-base. I’m not
sure if he’ll stay at APL for long.’
Others agree with the last point, arguing that it’s Chris Thomas, rather
than Eccleshare, who is viewed by the US management as the future
lifeblood of the agency. But Puris insists they are a package. ’Chris
and William work together perfectly.’
And yet a former APL employee says ominously: ’Only time will tell who
got the best of it - Andrew (Cracknell) or William.’
But Eccleshare insists he’s still invigorated by the business. ’I like
to solve intellectual problems, I like the variety and getting the best
out of people.’ Jones, who worked with him at JWT before joining the
AAR, identifies this as his greatest strength: ’As he’s progressed from
job to job, he’s grown in confidence. But he’s never overt about it and
he’s not at all flash.’
With Cracknell gone, though, is Eccleshare capable of bringing sparkle
to an agency which really needs it? Mawhinney thinks he may just pull it
off: ’William is dead straight and dead steady. He’s also a champion of
creative work and allows it to flourish.’
And Eccleshare agrees that this must be his priority: ’That’s what we
will have to do in order to achieve Martin (Puris)’s five-year goal.
It’s not that we can’t do great work, because I passionately believe
that we can.’
So watch out, because it’s time for Billy Eccleshare to take his feet
off the table and start dancing.