In an interview with Campaign earlier this year, Grey London’s then relatively recently installed chairman, Adrian Rossi, and chief executive, Anna Panczyk, gave a glimpse of their strategy for the reboot of the agency. There was clearly work to be done and they knew it. Although not in terminal decline, the shop had been through a decidedly bumpy patch that saw a wholesale change of management, while its new-business efforts looked underwhelming and its creative work neither here nor there. Describing the alterations they planned, Panczyk said: "All our changes are going to be around people and how they work. People are everything. Without them there are no ideas or clients."
Whether they knew at the time that four months later two of its most senior people were to announce that they were leaving to join rival agencies, we don’t know. But the departure of chief marketing officer Sarah Jenkins to become managing director of Saatchi & Saatchi, and long-standing chief creative officer Vicki Maguire to take on the same role at Havas London on the same day leaves its already sparse management bench (Grey lost chief strategy officer Matt Tanter in the summer) looking bereft. Of the six pictures and biogs on the management page of Grey’s website, three have either left or are leaving. So maybe the webmaster has left too.
Of course, that bumpy patch could be evidence that this degree of change is necessary at the agency. But while Grey was fortunate to avoid the ignominy of being merged with one of its more fashionable WPP sister digital agencies, unlike J Walter Thompson and Y&R, you can’t help feeling that WPP chief executive Mark Read’s spotlight will soon be turned on Grey, whether it likes it or not. This is particularly so given that it has recently lost Lucozade and Marks & Spencer’s fashion business. Panczyk’s prediction, therefore, looks eerily prophetic – no ideas, no clients. For Rossi and Panczyk, the need for some action and the hiring of new people looks pressing if further pain is to be avoided.
It’s trite but talent is the bedrock of any business, and particularly so in the creative sector. In the last month there has been an almost dizzying change of some of the top creative guard – VMLY&R has done well to lure BBC Creative’s executive creative director Laurent Simon; Lucas Peon, a former ECD at JWT, is joining The Gate; Russell Ramsey, also a former JWT ECD, is joining Pulse Creative; Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s Pelle Sjoenell is leaving advertising altogether for video-game developer Activision Blizzard; and BBH’s UK chief creative officer, Ian Heartfield, is moving to the James Murphy/David Golding start-up.
Exciting times, you might think, and symbolic of the dynamic agency scene. But what is equally true is that all of the names mentioned above have been part of the industry and at, or near the top, of their game for a considerable amount of time (and, incidentally, there’s nothing wrong with that – ageism is as pernicious as any form of discrimination).
But this does beg the question of where the new creative talent is coming from. Will adland’s top creatives continue on a neverending merry-go-round until a dead hand clutching a red pen deems them too expensive? Or will new faces break into their ranks?
And with that, it’s timely to welcome readers to the theme of this month’s Campaign – talent. Maybe it’s a result of the economic downturn of a decade ago that there seems to be a gap in talent that is reaching maturity and breaking through now. But over its long history Campaign Faces to Watch has been remarkably prescient in identifying advertising’s future leaders, movers and shakers.
This year, agencies have provided supporting quotes to justify their nominations’ inclusion – scratch beneath the flowery endorsements and, despite the naysayers, it’s heartening to see that the industry is still able to attract more than its fair share of talent. It’s also revealing that agencies have included a disproportionate number of female stars. Whether this is mere window dressing or actual evidence of agencies spreading their recruitment net wider than before, we’ll have to wait and see. But white, male faces are hard to see and whether this is a good thing is for others to judge.
Over at the School of Communication Arts, new creative talent from a variety of backgrounds is breaking through, thanks to the energy of the brilliantly flamboyant and benevolent dean, Marc Lewis. His unorthodox approach to attracting and nurturing new talent is matched only by the remarkably creative responses and reactions from the students themselves. Ensuring that the world of work does not inhibit them once they have finished is a challenge – and given the recent furore over flexible working, it’s obviously one that advertising is still grappling with.