Sharrocks brings Hollywood charm to Aegis challenge

Nigel Sharrocks is likely to use a lighter touch than his predecessor. By Jeremy Lee

For a man who, according to acquaintances, is an accomplished name-dropper, Nigel Sharrocks managed remarkably well to keep his own name out of the headlines during negotiations for his new job.

While the departure of Mark Craze, as the chief executive of Aegis Media UK and Ireland, had been anticipated since Jerry Buhlmann beat him to the top European job, the fact that Sharrocks was going to be his replacement was much more of a surprise.

After all, Sharrocks, 47, has been out of the agency game for seven years and, after five years as the managing director of Warner Brothers Pictures, people assumed he was perfectly settled mixing with his Hollywood friends. And some thought that culturally, Carat would hardly be the agency Sharrocks would choose -- the two just looked such unlikely bedfellows.

"If there's such a person as a non-Carat person, then that would be Nigel," Simon Mathews, a partner at Rise Communications, says.

Bolton-born Sharrocks, who is married to the BBC newsreader Fiona Bruce with whom he has two children, was unavailable to talk about his new role. While it encompasses running Vizeum and Posterscope as well as Carat, the biggest component of the role is sorting out the latter. Especially in light of the potential threat from WPP hiring the previous incumbents of the Aegis EMEA role, Eryck Rebbouh and Bruno Kemoun, to run its network Maxus.

Observers say that the differences between Sharrocks and Craze are striking. No-one doubts Craze had enormous drive and was a strong leader, but it is unlikely you would find many people associating him with words such as "personable", "charming" and "conflict-averse" as they do with his successor. And now he's got Craze's job, the competition is scared.

"Oh shit, he's quite good," was the response from one agency chief, perhaps anticipating an internal Carat appointment, when told of Sharrocks' new role.

So why the fear? For starters, Sharrocks has a rounded background that embraces senior roles in advertising, media and, of course, Warner Brothers (none of the other agency heads has this). He also has a good track record - during his time at Grey Advertising he turned around the reputation of its media department, which was once considered the worst in town.

While Carat is far from being the worst in town, it does have issues that Sharrocks will need to address.

Graham Duff, the managing director of ITV Sales, says: "I do think that Mark Craze did an exceptional job for Carat and latterly for Aegis, but Nigel is an excellent hiring. He is a terrible name-dropper, though."

At the premiere of 'The Last Samurai' when Sharrocks was joined on stage by its star Tom Cruise, Cruise greeted Sharrocks with a bear hug, like long-lost friends. Another story goes that Sharrocks took John Travolta for dinner at the Oxo Tower hoping that some of his media and advertising acquaintances would be there -- sadly, they weren't.

Quite how he'll find swapping these dinner partners for the likes of a TV sales director or the factory visit to Wigan will be interesting to see. So what of the Carat issues? Well, amid all the praise comes a proviso -- Sharrocks may need to make some tough decisions at Carat, which is likely to involve the spilling of some blood.

Following the loss of big spending clients, such as Cadbury and Abbey National, and the consolidation of agency groups, it has slipped down the billings tables. Four years ago it was in pole position but it now languishes at number four.

The wheels fell off the Carat new-business machine last year, and despite a recent improvement, things are still far from rosy.

Another criticism is that Carat is run as a bit of a boys' club. Certainly, other than the well-documented change at the top, the agency's middle management hasn't altered for years and, given that Sharrocks is known to surround himself with good people, major changes could be on the cards.

So is he tough enough to make the changes? Andy Barnes, the sales director of Channel 4, thinks so.

"Nigel has always been able to adapt -- that's one of his strengths. He and Mark are very sharp and they don't suffer fools," he testifies.

Others add that he will have to lose his laidback manner and inject some energy into the operation.

If there is change then people expect it to be done in the nicest possible way. "Mark was more demonstrative, whereas Nigel is very focused on incentivising people rather than driving people," Mathews says. "The obvious headline for your piece is 'the stick and the Carat'," he adds helpfully.

The industry will be watching to see if the new approach is more successful than the old.

The Sharrocks file

1990 Grey Advertising, deputy managing director

1993 MediaCom, chairman

1994 Grey Advertising, managing director

1999 Warner Brothers, UK managing director

2004 Aegis Media, chief executive, UK and Ireland

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