Improbable though it seems, a former economics teacher has been hired to run one of the most admired ad agencies in France. Pascal Gregoire has already spent five years at the helm of Leagas Delaney Paris Centre. Now he becomes the president of CLM/BBDO, which was the launch-pad for his career and which he describes as "a temple of creativity".
The move is part of a little game of chaises musicales: the flamboyant Christophe Lambert (not the star of Highlander fame) leaves CLM to take over Publicis Conseil, following Jean-Yves Naouri's promotion to European regional chief of the Publicis network earlier this year.
"I would not have left for any other agency," Gregoire claims. "CLM gave me my first real job, if you don't count teaching. They could see how passionate I was. I'd been interested in advertising since my teenage years, but by the time I arrived at CLM, the bug had become a virus."
Gregoire, 41, started out on the account side, but quickly grew envious of the creatives "who seemed to be able to play with ideas without having to worry about client meetings". With the support of Pascal Manry, the agency's star copywriter, he was able to switch sides and became an art director. He later left to co-found GBHR, a Euro RSCG spin-off.
"I have always had a somewhat split personality, being both an entrepreneur and a creative," he explains. "There are not enough creatives running agencies in France. I find this strange, because creativity is our sole raison d'etre."
Gregoire believes it was his dual personality that inspired Tim Delaney to create Leagas Delaney's Paris office in 1999. Initially, the agency was built around the Adidas account (which it lost to 180 and TBWA following a global consolidation in January 2002) and had just five staff. Now it employs 45 and has a strong reputation, enhanced by its heavily awarded "Tidy up" campaign for Ikea.
CLM is a natural fit for Gregoire - he succeeds another creative businessman, Lambert, and gets to inherit a landmark agency with an even more sparkling image. Its clients include Pepsi, Henkel, Masterfoods, Total, the pasta brand Panzani, the retailer Auchan, the internet portal Wanadoo and the state utility Electricite de France.
Lambert, for his part, says he is delighted with his new role at Publicis.
"Publicis Conseil is a legendary French advertising brand," he says. "It is by far the largest agency in Paris, with some 400 staff and huge domestic clients such as L'Oreal and Nestle. But its reputation globally has diminished over the years."
He is also pleased to be working at a purely French agency. "I was attracted by the idea of working at a group with French origins. In an American network you feel you should be in New York. But at Publicis, Paris is the centre."
Lambert took up his new post at the end of August, and he has already made his mark by launching 133, a spin-off agency devoted to luxury brands (and named after its parent's address on the Champs Elysees). "If there is one sector that can't afford to lower its adspend, it is luxury goods," he says. "For them, image is everything."
He praises Gregoire, saying that he agonised over the right person to replace him at CLM. "In terms of his experience and sense of creativity, the casting is right."
Gregoire's arrival marks a change of structure at CLM/BBDO. While Lambert was also the president of BBDO France, that role has now been given to Jacques Bouey, the president of the below-the-line agency Proximity BBDO. It was felt that CLM, which now accounts for 35 per cent of BBDO France's revenues, deserved a focused leader.
The BBDO International president, Jean-Michel Goudard, has been quoted in the French press as saying that CLM needs "un coup de fouet" - which colloquially translates as a "kick up the arse". Gregoire seems willing to do this, although he prefers to describe it as "motivating the staff around a common goal".
"CLM is one of the few French agencies with an international reputation, and I want to build on that," he explains. "As a country, we are good at producing ads with a certain aesthetic grace, but we are in danger of losing our unique style in the homogenisation of creativity. It would be great to produce global advertising with a French touch."