Hammersley's daring rescue

With the buyout of The Red Brick Road complete, Hammersley has a big task ahead as EDC's UK chief, Ian Darby writes.

Paul Hammersley could be forgiven for wincing when he arrives at EDC’s New Cavendish Street building each morning. The Tesco Express located next door is hard to avoid. A reminder, perhaps, of a painful few months at his previous agency, The Red Brick Road, that culminated in his departure in December last year

TRBR’s founding client Tesco’s decision to move its £110 million ad account prompted Hammersley and his business partner, David Hackworthy, to work out an exit plan to safeguard the agency’s future. The removal of their costly overhead from the balance sheet proved to be the best solution.

The management buyout of the business was completed last week by a team led by TRBR’s managing director, David Miller. Hammersley didn’t waste any time finding a new challenge. Following conversations over big agency jobs in New York (where he has worked previously) and after considering a move to Asia (he has always wanted to "go East"), he took the decision to join EDC – the holding group that houses Dare, Elvis, the PR shop Citizen Relations and the branding agency Identica – as its UK chief executive.

He says there was an element of serendipity regarding the move, after his former Lowe colleague Brett Marchand, now EDC Europe’s group chief executive, approached him via LinkedIn. EDC is one of two divisions, along with the integrated agency Cossette, owned by the Canadian group Vision7.

Hammersley does not have an easy task on his hands. Dare, the largest agency in his control with income nudging £20 million (in 2011) and a headcount of close to 200, has slid downhill since its merger with MCBD two years ago.  The MCBD management team have all since departed the merged agency (the directors Danny Brooke-Taylor, Helen Calcraft and Andy Nairn are on the brink of unveiling a start-up) and income has fallen from the 2009 pre-merger figure of £23.2 million. It swiftly replaced the Moneysupermarket.com account with the capture of Gocompare.com, but the loss of Waitrose and, more recently, Vodafone were keenly felt.

I do bear some responsibility for DDB not progressing for the next 12 months or so as it might have done

Hammersley says that the merger "took two years out of the business" and a key part of his task will be to get Dare back firing on all cylinders. There is a brief out for a chief executive to replace Lee Leggett (who is moving to Australia) and a reshuffle of its creative leadership is also on the cards with the executive creative director, Flo Heiss, likely to move into "an innovation role".

More broadly, Hammersley will help EDC build an integrated client-facing offer that involves the four agencies working together while supporting the leadership teams of each shop. He says: "Dare in itself has all the makings of being a proper, modern advertising agency. To overlay on to that all the activation skills of Elvis, the PR skills of Citizen and the design and corporate ID skills of Identica – to me, that’s a fantastic potential offering."

Former colleagues argue that the role will suit Hammersley. Miller says: "Paul is a great figurehead and chief executive. The sign of a good leader is seeing what the problem is and Paul is able to find a needle in a haystack."

Another ex-colleague says Hammersley is "strong on clarity and direction at the highest level of businesses". However, his single-mindedness can result in "massive fallouts" with colleagues, one source notes: "He has got quite a bad temper, but he’s very loyal and supportive of people he rates. And he’s very self-confident with decisions and believes in them. He’s very clear in his own mind."

Tim Lindsay, Hammersley’s former boss at Lowe Worldwide, describes him as "capable of making tough decisions" and "a stylish and experienced operator". "He’ll be good [for EDC]. He has stature and experience and he’s tough," Lindsay says, but adds: "He may find it difficult to refine his instincts to a digital agency – this could be challenging."

Hammersley, who turned 50 last year, points out that he’s keen to learn and that his belief in new media is demonstrated by him persuading his co-founders at TRBR to launch Ruby, the digital agency that was eventually merged into the main business. His career highlights include leading, as the chief executive, the 1999 merger of Lowe Howard-Spink and Ammirati Puris Lintas to create Lowe Lintas, which went on to win Campaign’s Agency of the Year. He then had a less successful period running Lowe North America, before moving back to the UK to lead DDB London.

After an impressive start in the job, he left after less than 18 months to work on the launch of TRBR. It’s a decision that had profound consequences, both for Hammersley and for DDB. "I’ve always felt slightly guilty about it because it was an unfinished job," he says. "If you go into a place and ask people to do a lot of things in the name of change and then you bugger off after 18 months… it’s not my proudest decision, but I had to make it."

He continues: "I had an opportunity to start an agency with some people who I knew and it was too good to turn down. I regret the consequences of it, but I don’t regret doing it and I do bear some responsibility for DDB not progressing for the next 12 months or so as it might have done."

Hammersley’s lack of self-doubt might have backfired on DDB but, now the start-up bug is out of his system, his willingness to take these tough decisions should prove an asset to EDC, which is crying out for strong leadership in the UK.

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