If RKCR isn't careful, it won't just be Toby Talbot going south
A view from Jeremy Lee

If RKCR isn't careful, it won't just be Toby Talbot going south

Back in August last year, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R’s executive creative director, Toby Talbot, noted that the "green shoots of change" and "can-do spirit" pervading NW1 reminded him of being back in New Zealand.

Sadly, these platitudes didn’t seem to be entirely adequate to sate his desire for his former homeland because, just four months later, the agency announced that he had quit after one year and would be returning home.

In time-honoured "a good time to bury bad news" fashion, the announcement was quietly slipped out online and in the work downtime days before Christmas (despite the agency strenuously denying that he was off in the preceding weeks).

The fact that there was further change at RKCR/Y&R didn’t surprise many. It has seemed apparent that things haven’t really been working out following a slew of account losses (Innocent, Warburtons, Dreams, Tic Tac) and a failure to convert much new business to replace it.

While Ben Kay, the sole chief executive (and former joint chief executive after a confusing and subsequently reversed decision to share the job title with Alison Hoad), claims that Talbot leaves the agency in great shape, we wonder if optimism might be getting the better of him.

According to Kay, RKCR/Y&R has won seven of its last nine pitches – these triumphs include extending its relationship with Vodafone by winning the digital account and capturing Holland & Barrett, a client that has seemed promiscuous in recent times.

But by our – admittedly imperfect – reckoning, it also got on to the list but failed to win News International, RAC and the National Trust. While the British Beer & Pub Association’s Global Brewers Initiative may yet prove to be a creative opportunity, its only other notable published win was for the Police and Crime Commissioners – and given the general apathy and low voter turnout, maybe this won’t be finding its way on to the Showcase section of the agency’s website. In short, major new business has eluded it, and creative highlights (other than for the BBC) seem few and far between.

Given that RKCR/Y&R is not alone in facing such a predicament, this is maybe a harsh view of the agency – there is undoubtedly some talent there and also good work, while Mark Roalfe continues to be a force for good – but its current position is thrown into greater relief when you consider just how strong it had been and how quickly it has fallen.

Insiders say the Y&R network as a whole is mired in a slough of despond, and RKCR/Y&R is merely mirroring this. When you look at the resurgent Grey, you realise that Kay and his team require support to ensure that the "green shoots of change" and the "can-do spirit" create something rather more tangible than a short-lived ECD.