Opinion: Perspective - Nurturing team spirit is the real McCann challenge

Of all the exciting new developments and gut-tightening challenges in store over the coming year (see the predictions on page 8), the interest generated by two agency's management changes may seem a little misplaced.

After all, how many people are surprised to see a new chief executive in place at McCann Erickson (page 5), six months after the arrival of Brett Gosper as the new European head?

And the smooth management transitions at Bartle Bogle Hegarty are simply what we've come to expect from an agency that engenders fierce loyalty from its staff and has a superb track record in managing its senior talent.

But the contrast between the two agencies is worth dissecting. Remember the McCann Eight Dream Team? Back in 2004, it was the adland equivalent of a boyband, with Rupert Howell as the Svengali moulding the troupe. Like most manufactured bands, without the love and mutual respect that colleagues build up over years of working together, the bonds are loose. Three years on, Stephen Whyte's gone and there's only two of the eight left (Damian O'Malley, who's now in Europe, and the chief operating officer, Robin Price).

Meanwhile, over at BBH the main management headaches seem to be about how to accommodate comfortably all the talent; there are at least half-a-dozen people there who could walk into chief executive roles in other agencies. Simon Sherwood, the newly appointed group chief executive, was the agency's first ever account director, back in 1982. Gwyn Jones, now the group chief operating officer, joined in 1987 as one of the agency's first graduate trainees.

Of course, being a (semi) independent agency with full flexibility to nurture, reward and empower staff makes all the difference. As an outpost of a huge global network (and owned by a still-fragile holding company), McCann London is a very different beast to BBH. Creating loyalty, a strong team spirit and a sense of control is one of the biggest challenges for those running networked agencies.

Still, over at McCann there is a sense of a real team spirit emerging. The creative chiefs Brian Fraser (see Private View this week) and Simon Learman, the planning chief, Nicky Crumpton, and the new chief executive, Chris McDonald, have done a convincing job of looking like hungry comrades in arms; Whyte never seemed like one of the core front-facing team. And the old eight never really seemed like a unit, come to that.

Protecting and nurturing this nascent team spirit in the face of all the pressures of being a networked agency with little local personality is Gosper's challenge now. Well, that and giving them the headroom to try to actually generate their own culture and personality. The momentum's there, the decks have been cleared, the imperative is obvious. McCann is no BBH, but it could do much worse than try to emulate BBH's approach to talent management.

It can't have been easy for David Patton to drum up enthusiasm from the creative community for the vacant leadership of his creative department. No need to expand on that point. But then it's probably also true that to try to recruit a traditional advertising creative director was never going to be the right thing to do for an agency like Grey; Grey has tried to reinvent its creative credentials plenty of times before and it's never rung true.

Fortunately, the world is moving in Grey's favour. Creatives who do great advertising are no longer the thing. Everyone's looking for creatives who do great advertising, great DM, great digital, great point-of-sale, great content etc, etc. Such people do not exist in numbers. Jon Williams does not have the most outstanding creative reputation, but he has the breadth of experience that will convince clients looking for, ahem, 360-degree solutions. And, for Grey, his hiring sounds an awful lot more convincing than a more impressive, but more traditional, creative name might.