Opinion: Perspective - It has been a long wait for TBWA's new chief exec

One month into the year and JWT, TBWA\London, Euro RSCG and United London have all named new chief executives.

Only one of these agencies has promoted from within, and that's TBWA.

Matt Shepherd-Smith moves up from managing director to chief executive and Neil Dawson becomes the chairman. Internal promotions are usually the sign of a strong agency with a sound succession management philosophy. But the fact that it has taken TBWA nine months to name its new team indicates this might not be the case at Whitfield Street.

Paul Bainsfair, the agency's European chief, has consistently denied that he was looking outside the agency for chief executive candidates.

However, there is no other explanation for the delay in appointing Shepherd-Smith.

2005 was a difficult year for TBWA. The departures of Beattie, McGuinness and Bungay in May blended into a bad news mix which also saw Abbey, News Group Newspapers, Ask.com, five and Thomas Cook move on.

And, under Shepherd-Smith, there was little sign that the agency was bouncing back. Turning around a flagging agency is a slow task, but TBWA's absence from the new COI roster and the Argos shortlist were lost opportunities.

After all, the agency has had years to get its retail and COI credentials in order.

TBWA's delay in naming a new chief executive has bred insecurity as staff and the industry at large have speculated over whether or not Shepherd-Smith would get the job. There's been an unhealthy sense of limbo, which could have been avoided if the appointment had been made last summer.

Shepherd-Smith's strength is his likeability, something that makes him popular with clients. Naming the capable Dawson as chairman will give him some strong back up.

Bainsfair has been criticised in the past for filling management voids too quickly: he promoted Andrew McGuinness within 24 hours of the post being vacated. So perhaps this time he wanted to take stock. If Bainsfair did look elsewhere for candidates, Shepherd-Smith at least gets the endorsement that he's the best man in the market for the job.

But there's a bigger picture. TBWA\ Worldwide's chief Jean-Marie Dru has moved to Paris, and the centre of the network's gravity with him.

With TBWA's Paris operation in the ascendancy, the London agency's role as a European hub within the network could be questioned. In 2004, TBWA fell from seventh to 15th in the UK Nielsen billings league. When we publish 2005's figures later this month, its losses are likely to have continued that downward momentum.

For several years, TBWA was a beacon for the London advertising market.

Its success in international awards shows and a tremendous sense of forward momentum made it famous here and abroad. Shepherd-Smith needs to restore that fame, but nine months of insecurity means he's already on the back foot.

That Associated Newspapers is putting The Mail on Sunday's You magazine on the newsstands shows what a frantic market newspapers are operating in.

Although the regular inclusion of free DVDs seems to be newspaper publishers' preferred, and expensive, method of attracting readers, the lure of a high-quality, fashion-led glossy magazine can also play a pivotal role in circulation.

Observer Woman and The Sunday Telegraph's Stella recently launched to try to steal some of the MoS's female readership. The titles rival the paid-for Grazia in their in-depth coverage of ballet pumps and Jennifer Aniston's love life. The Sunday Times' Style magazine operates in the same market.

Making 50,000 copies of You available for £1 a few days ahead of its free Sunday distribution is designed to bring new readers to the MoS.

It seems an elaborate plan that risks confusing existing readers.


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