The World: Is this the man to lead Y&R out of the wilderness?

Peter Stringham thinks his client-side experience will help him reintegrate the Young & Rubicam network.

It's not often that an ex-copy-writer ascends to the very top of a global network. Even less likely is that they will also have held one of the world's top marketing roles.

However, there aren't many copywriters like Peter Stringham, the former head of group marketing at HSBC and the man tasked with reviving WPP's troubled Young & Rubicam network.

Stringham is aware that he has quite a task ahead of him. "Well, I know there have been three chief executives in the past six years, so I have about two years to get this right before I'm out," he jokes.

It's not just Stringham that thinks an absence of strong leadership is a problem at the network. A senior Y&R source is even willing to name names - Ann Fudge, Stringham's predecessor as the chief executive. "She just wasn't prepared for the size of the task and didn't know where to begin. She let the business heads get too much autonomy and couldn't bring the groups back together."

Stringham will not comment on Fudge's abilities, but does say: "Some of the issues have been down to people and the high turn-over of senior management, but Hamish McLennan (the chief executive of Y&R Advertising who was appointed to replace Fudge in June last year when she semi- retired) has made some real progress already. We've had a lot of contact and I'm extremely impressed with him."

However, there is more to the network's problems than an absence of leadership. A senior Y&R source says: "A number of problems have contributed to the state the network is in - a lack of integration, a management void and its performance in the US."

Stringham himself thinks the chief problem is that the network has moved too far away from its core integrated model, with the main businesses becoming too independent of each other. He sees three headline issues he must address if he is to reintegrate the network: money, ego and understanding.

"You have to incentivise people in different organisations to work together for integration, so a new bonus scheme is needed," he says.

"As for egos, we just need to make sure people know they are capable of offering something to the whole."

And he is clear that integration is something the network will have to sell: "There's no reason a client should hire a Y&R company just because they work with a different Y&R company. We need to earn integration."

With regard to his third point, understanding, he says: "We need to make sure we train all our staff to understand exactly what the rest of our companies do. We need the ad agency people to know how the PR company works - that's an integrated offer."

He also believes that his time as a top client at HSBC ("The average for people in that position is just 20 months," he says. "I managed six years") means he knows what integration is and what it can do for clients. "People on the agency side have no idea of the pressures a client feels from all over the business. Especially if it's a global business. Clients need a number of disciplines to be brought to bear and can't marshal all of this themselves. It's impossible - they need someone to be able to offer them all of this in a convenient way."

Understanding this is the key to making Y&R Brands work, he believes. "It's not enough to be a one-stop shop. The client wants you to reinforce their brand idea throughout the business. We have to demonstrate that we add value to the entire process."

During his tenure at HSBC, the account was serviced by "Team HSBC", the "mix and match" strategy developed by the WPP chief executive, Sir Martin Sorrell, that offers an all-encompassing solution from the entire holding company. It is an approach to integration that Stringham says worked but not well enough. "It still has a way to go."

Toby Hoare, JWT's executive chairman, was Stringham's main contact when he was at HSBC. He says: "Peter is a rare breed of person who has worked successfully at a senior level on both agency and client side. He has a very focused and clear perspective on brands, how they grow, and how they are sustained. He is always fair, but has been a demanding client."

Obviously, a lot of Stringham's understanding has come from working so closely with Sorrell, and this previous partnership begs the question: how will this relationship function now that he is working for Sorrell, and not the other way around?

"He was very attentive, but maybe that's because I was one of his biggest clients," he chuckles. "Seriously though, I have asked a lot of people about him as a boss and I think we will have some big arguments, but that just stimulates a working relationship. I'm thoroughly looking forward to it."

And Sorrell seems as positive about the prospect as Stringham is. He says: "We've known each other a long time now and we work well together. His knowledge and experience will ensure that all of Y&R Brands' companies work productively together in the future."


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