Opinion: Perspective - David Patton and Grey are both taking a big risk

Is David Patton a little mad? It seems like a valid question to ask. At Sony he has been a golden boy, marketing his products off the shelves, winning awards for his creative advertising. He's a client that buys great creative work that works, and it doesn't get more satisfying than that.

At Grey, he will be the latest in a long line of CEOs who have failed to ignite the agency brand. His key clients will be big, basic but demanding FMCG brands, some of whose idea of creativity begins with compromising over the size of the logo.

From being a feted, courted player on the ad scene, he will join the agency throng scrapping for mediocre accounts and dealing with the incessant pressures of quarterly reporting to a WPP holding company for which Grey is simply one of a large number of divisions with bastard targets to meet.

Patton is used to being served, not serving. His ego (big or small) will take some readjusting; bending the knee to the sorts of marketers he might previously have held in scant regard will be a challenge.

On the other hand, maybe it's Jim Heekin, Grey Worldwide's chairman and chief executive, who is a little mad. Patton clearly knows a good agency when he sees one (he uses Fallon). And he clearly knows a good ad for a telly when he sees one. But what on earth does he know about running a big, bland, grinding agency, oiling the wheels with big, bland, grinding clients, juggling the industry-wide internal tensions of an agency model in distress?

Of course, for all that commentators (like me) might criticise its lack of local vigour and personality, Grey does a good job for the sorts of clients it has got already. But the idea of carrying on being Grey, carrying on being unfashionable, struggling to attract the best UK talent and get on to pitch lists for the most interesting UK clients, is unlikely to have drawn Patton to the post. He will have accepted the job because he wants to do the really difficult stuff: regenerating the agency brand. So difficult, in fact, it might be impossible.

Patton, realistically, has little to lose - other than some pride, perhaps. He has got a sparkling track record in marketing and whatever happens at Grey, there's no doubt that he could secure another high-profile marketing job in the future. For Grey, though, the stakes are higher.

As the ad industry struggles with redrawing its operational framework, with integration (what? where? how?), with digital, with comms strategy, Grey is far from being ahead of the game and needs to move swiftly if it is to position itself effectively to survive as a local player (arguably, to become a local player). It cannot afford to miss a beat. For all these reasons Patton is a risk. Sure, we all wish him well; he's a decent bloke with a great track record as a client. And we wish Grey well. But bets are already being taken on how Patton will fare.

One other thing worth noting: Heekin was the guy who hired Ben Langdon (who, like Patton, was represented by the headhunter Gay Haines) to run Euro RSCG a few years back.

Talking of Euro: You wait a whole year for a juicy bit of new biz to come along. Your global boss gets a bit twitchy, observers start asking questions about whether you're hacking it, staff begin to wonder if they've been sold a management pup. Then 12 months of internal tinkering, foundation laying and a decent hiring or two and you're officially on a roll.

The 3 and Yakult wins couldn't have come at a better time for Euro. With Mark Cadman and Russ Lidstone now 12 months into their revitalisation task, results were looking depressingly thin on the ground. This week's wins, though, are a sure sign that the agency is finally returning to robust health.

Now we need to see a properly articulated agency positioning and some great creative work to underline what Euro now stands for and to complete the turnaround picture.

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