Opinion: Perspective - Why JWT restructure sees Bolton in the firing line

As the deadline looms for this column, a story is starting to emerge about a JWT restructure in London. As usually happens with these things, the official statement lags the rumour-mill. While Campaign is receiving calls from JWT insiders, and their mates, nobody is commenting on the record and the senior suits are not returning calls.

Now, despite the popular perception of Campaign's news values, we never run a story unless we are convinced that it's true. So whatever the rumour mill says, we verify our facts as widely as possible. And what we do know so far (though, again, unofficially) is that Simon Bolton will be relinquishing his chief executive title and the vacuum will be filled internally.

Depending on who you speak to, this restructure will be great news for JWT and Bolton will be given another role that better suits his talents; or Bolton and a number of other UK executives are being made scapegoats for a series of unfortunate account losses that have as much to do with failings in the JWT network as they do the performance of the UK office.

I have got some sympathy for both views. Bolton has never seemed entirely comfortable as the chief executive of the UK's second-largest agency.

Sit down and talk to him properly and you'll find he's a sensible, smart, switched-on guy with a credible vision of where the business needs to go to secure its future.

Almost since his arrival there has been speculation (mostly without any obvious foundation) that Bolton wouldn't survive in the role for long, and that must have made his tenure even more of a challenge than it otherwise would have been. Even so, he successfully steered the agency into wonderful new offices, was shrewd enough to snare Nick Bell as its creative director and made a number of smart hirings, some of whom will now presumably help fill the vacuum he leaves.

What's more, some of the recent account losses can hardly be laid entirely at Bolton's door. Samsung's departure seemed as much to do with the overarching relationship with WPP and the creative strategy of Berlin Cameron United as anything that happened in London. As for Omo, JWT London's creative output on the account had improved enormously over the past year or so and it's easy to see why its loss was considered such a severe blow.

But, but, but. Bolton's stature, gravitas and sheer force of leadership have seemed rather less than you could hope for from what should be a flagship office of a flagship network. He has certainly divided opinion among his peers and even his staff and has not made a strong mark on the London scene. Although he will certainly be missed by loyal colleagues, there will be plenty in the business who will forget all about him pretty quickly.

Then, too, Omo and the recent British Airways review were both handled out of the UK and the JWT UK team played no small part in the pitches; the failure to secure either account inevitably reflects on the London team to an extent. And, while these pitches have been an enormous distraction for the London agency, local new business has also been sluggish to say the least: Sainsbury's was a missed opportunity.

At a time when JWT is desperately trying to signal dramatic change - both creatively and strategically - it has to be seen to make bold decisions to improve its offering wherever cracks appear. There may be an element of bad luck and bad timing, but there is definitely a sense that the London agency has a few too many cracks at the moment.

And we must not forget that perceptions about JWT's performance affect the WPP share price. So signalling real change after a series of disappointments is pretty crucial. The task now is to make sure that whoever takes over can bring some stability and local growth to London. After all the recent rumour and speculation, the London staff deserve that at least.


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