We can count ourselves lucky in catching up with Ron de Pear at all. Our photographer has almost to ambush him between meetings as he ties up loose ends -- he has several non-executive directorships and a nascent consultancy business -- before he takes up his new position as the chief executive of the European and Asian operations of Billetts International.
This is the first major announcement in what may prove to be an ambitious autumn for Billetts as it strives to become a global brand. It has offices in France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Spain and Scandinavia and is soon to open offices in the US also. De Pear's task will be to consolidate the network, ensuring a uniform application of best practice, while continuing to extend its scope.
But there's a big client-facing job to be done too -- although many multinational clients accept the need for the independent monitoring of their media performance, in many local markets the procedure is far from established. There's an evangelical job to be done and many feel that this is where de Pear will have most to offer. His ability to build client relationships is, say many, his strongest suit.
De Pear won't deny that those skills might come in useful. He says: "Monitoring is now a fact of life in all businesses and media is no exception. Also, increasingly, the business is being restructured regionally and globally and media is taken very seriously by regional and global clients. Look at the increasing involvement of procurement divisions in agency appointments. And I'd like to think I have account-handling skills from my time at J Walter Thompson and I can use those skills to get clients to look at this in a fresh way."
At 54, de Pear is one of a handful of big hitters from the old days of full-service agency media directors still making the headlines. And he's clearly regarded with great affection throughout the business.
Dominic Proctor, the worldwide chief executive of MindShare, says he has the bright ebullience that many Australians seem to regard as their birthright. "He's one of media's great characters and was always a great proponent of keeping media at the forefront of the full-service agency offering -- and that philosophy stayed with him as he moved into the media independent era. The one consistent thing about Ron is that's he's always great fun. And, if he could be intimidating, there was always a smile afterwards. If he can bring those characteristics into an auditing environment, if he can lighten it up and make it more user friendly, then that's half the battle," he says.
And, of course, there are diverse opinions about how we should interpret this latest appointment. Some might argue that this is a step backwards for someone who narrowly missed out on a role at the very top of the industry. And maybe a step backwards for Billetts itself -- you could argue that hiring an old-school media man is not necessarily the best way to convince doubters that you're embracing cutting-edge techniques.
But de Pear was one of the chief architects of MindShare and instrumental in presenting the concept to the JWT board. On the other hand, others say, once it was up and running he failed to land one of the very top management jobs -- and the opportunity to mould the company in his image. Moving on to CIA (as was), he then failed to survive senior management upheavals in the wake of its merger with Media Edge.
Mainardo de Nardis, the global chief executive of Mediaedge:cia, dismisses such talk. "He is possibly at an age when most of the [media specialist] industry is younger than he is. This allows him to contribute from a different angle, where his experience has most value. He is a well-rounded and sophisticated thinker. Billetts has evolved into a sophisticated consultancy shop and he will help continue that evolution. That will help more clients, especially in less-sophisticated markets, understand what media agencies can do for them," he says.
De Pear would second that. One of his tasks, he insists, is to combat the profound misunderstandings about what "media performance monitoring companies" (don't even think of calling them auditors, he warns) actually do.
His fierce streak of competitiveness might also be valuable. It's something that surfaces especially when he talks about sport -- which, apparently, Australians think they're quite good at. And you get the feeling he'd be passionate about a tiddlywinks tournament if one of the competitors was wearing green and gold.
He has a message for those who believe the England rugby team has a chance of winning the forthcoming World Cup. In fact, come to think of it, it could easily apply to media monitoring companies with big ideas: "You can say you're the best in the world as often as you like but it means nothing unless you've got silverware in the cabinet."
The de Pear file
1983 J Walter Thompson, media director to worldwide media director
1998 MindShare, worldwide client services director
2000 CIA, chairman, international
2002 Mediaedge:cia, managing director, worldwide client services and solutions
2003 Billetts International, chief executive (Europe and Asia)
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