Nick Brien heads for McCann exit. But who would wish to step into his shoes?

March 16, 2012

Word reaches me that Nick Brien, chief executive officer of Interpublic Group’s troubled leviathan McCann Worldgroup, will be stepping down very shortly. Possibly within a few weeks.

The size of Brien’s no doubt handsome severance package is likely to remain a mystery, the reason for his departure less so.

McCann has, in recent years, been a slow-motion accident gradually picking up speed. The traditional banker of Interpublic, accounting for 30% of group revenue (according to the Wall Street Journal), it was once a licence to print money on account of 5 foundation global clients. These were: Unilever, Exxon Mobil, Nestlé, L’Oréal and General Motors. More recently it has come to rely upon Microsoft as well. Here’s the recent tally:

Unilever (mostly Walls) has long gone, and the souring of the relationship can hardly be blamed upon Brien (even though the last bit of media did leave in 2011). Less excusably, his 2-year tenure has coincided with serious difficulties afflicting the other five.

Nestlé? McCann lost the crown-jewels global Nescafé creative account (worth about $25m income annually) to Publicis Groupe. McCann had handled the vast majority of the business for several decades.

Exxon? Lost the $200m creative account (which went back to 1912) to BBDO after a year-long review completed late last year. Universal McCann, MRM and Momentum have, however, managed to cling on to media.

General Motors? McCann lost out in the recent contest for GM’s $3bn global media business (of which Universal McCann had a substantial chunk), and is still on tenterhooks over whether it has won, lost or drawn in a creative review of the worldwide Chevrolet business, which accounts for the bulk of GM adspend.

Did I mention the Microsoft débâcle? About a year ago, UM and Mediabrands lost more than half Microsoft’s global media business after a review which saw the $615m US business pass to Publicis’ Starcom MediaVest.

And so to L’Oréal – perhaps the single most important McCann relationship, accounting (I’m told) for about 20% of its operating profit. Brien made a fundamental wrong turn last year when he sought to shoehorn Maybelline into a standalone shop, Beauty Village, which was also to house L’Oréal’s main brands. Characteristically (for a former media man), he had spotted the cost benefits of ruthlessly streamlining the business. Equally characteristically, his critics would say, he showed almost zero client empathy in setting about the task. When L’Oréal’s ‘C Suite’ finally tumbled to what he was doing, they were apoplectic and nixed the whole project.

Worse, it would appear, is on the way for McCann. L’Oréal now seems poised to take a considerable amount of its creative work in house. From what I hear, it will drop one of its two global agencies. And given that Publicis is the Paris-based home team, currently rejoices in a better brand name and – in Digitas – a superior digital operation, who do you think that unlucky agency might be? Driving L’Oréal’s thinking, sources say, are potential cost savings of $50m a year.

An indication of the way the wind is blowing may be detected in the recent defection of McCann’s L’Oréal worldwide account director Aude Gandon, who joined Publicis Worldwide last month. Gandon was a Brien protegé. She was formerly managing director of Leo Burnett’s beauty, fashion and luxury division, Atelier-lb, and was brought into McCann shortly after Brien got the top job.

Hers is not the only departure. Note that Garry Neel, the GM brand leader at McCann is quitting (although he will stay on as a consultant). As is Matt Freeman, who was hired as chief global chief innovation officer and vice-chairman less than a year ago. Only last week, Cathy Saidiner, president of McCann LA since 2008 – and a key Nestlé contact – also quit, according to an AdWeek report which also carried a denial that Brien is about to step down.

Against all these losses, McCann under Brien has yet to nail a significant new business win. Sense a pattern, anyone?

Equally interesting, while on the subject of Brien’s imminent departure, is who might replace him. Who, now that Brett Gosper has quit, has sufficient stature within McCann? And if an external candidate, which first-rate suits would be prepared to risk their reputation in taking on such a vertiginous challenge? The ideal candidate might well be Andrew Robertson, BBDO Worldwide CEO (who has not so far landed that top Omnicom job he was rumoured to be angling for). But why would he want to go to McCann? Surely not for the money.

UPDATE 19/3/12: Another top level casualty: this time Tom Gruhler, global managing partner at McCann Worldgroup, who is heading off to Microsoft as vice-president of phone marketing. Gruhler, who joined McCann in 2003, oversaw a specialist technology and telecoms unit the agency was developing. Previously, he was point man on the Verizon account, but much of that defected to agency-of-the-moment McGarryBowen in 2010. There’s now an inescapable whiff of the Führer Bunker, April 1945, in the air.


Why McCann’s Lee Daley wants his life back

July 6, 2011

Sad to see, if not entirely surprising, McCann Erickson Worldwide chief strategy officer Lee Daley throwing in the towel. Few people can have worked harder at Mission Impossible.

It’s important to note that at the time of Daley’s return to IPG-owned McCann, as chief strategist EMEA, in 2009, the troubled leviathan was under a very different leadership: that of ageing patriarch John Dooner.

Dooner was due for retirement, as he himself cheerfully admitted. The question was, who would succeed him? The most obvious candidates were Brett Gosper, CEO of McCann EMEA, Eric Keshin, the network’s COO, and Mark Dowley, network creative content and entertainment chief. Though popular in varying degrees, these candidates were also divisive. Enter Daley as a potential compromise candidate. He was an old McCann hand, having first joined the London office in 1990 where he rose meteorically to board director level. But he also had wider managerial experience in a variety of rival organisations. In 2001 his career began an odyssey which took him, successively, to WPP as worldwide CEO of Red Cell (later United), group chairman and CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi’s London office and eventually (if briefly) to Manchester United as commercial director.

IPG chairman and chief executive Michael Roth did indeed have a compromise candidate in mind, but it was not Daley. The man who seized the crown in early 2010 was Nick Brien, worldwide CEO of Mediabrands – who had done a sterling job of restructuring IPG’s ailing mediabuying behemoths Universal McCann and Initiative.

Since  when Brien has barely paused for breath in applying the age-old maxim ‘a new broom sweeps clean’. Keshin and Gosper have headed for the exit (though Dowley, I believe, remains).

Daley, in the meantime, was promoted to the network’s global leadership team and his present role – a consolation prize of sorts. Some consolation. In his lengthy resignation letter, reproduced in Ad Age, he makes it clear he hadn’t exactly landed on a bed of roses. The brief was to shore up McCann’s crumbling core clients, GM, Nestlé and L’Oréal. No time for the more rewarding task of pursuing new business – just 80 hours a week in an aeroplane relentlessly circumnavigating the globe in an effort to defuse one client crisis after another.

No wonder he gave up. Anyone would, in the circumstances.


McCann’s Chris Macdonald dons a sharper suit

February 2, 2011

It’s up, up and away for London’s supreme account man, Chris Macdonald, but not quite to the top of the greasy pole as I claimed earlier. The youthful chief executive of McCann’s London advertising agency has certainly enlarged his power base, but by discipline rather than geographical territory.

Macdonald  has been appointed to the new role of chairman of the London-based McCann Worldgroup, where he will have responsibility not only for McCann itself but the digital media unit MRM, experiential unit Momentum and McCann Healthcare as well.

Macdonald has got where he is largely on the  strength of his own merits. But, as ever in the politics of advertising, the wheel of fortune has played its role too. His precocious promotion is also the by-product of a power struggle between McCann group supremo Nick Brien and European chief executive and president Brett Gosper, where Gosper has successively been forced to yield ground.

It may not have escaped notice that McCann – normally the motor of Interpublic growth – has had problems in the engine room, thanks in large part to the lacklustre captaincy of John Dooner. When Dooner (not before time) took his loot and retired, Gosper went for the top job, but was beaten to the draw by former media man Brien.

Brien may not be gifted with tact or creativity, but he’s right on top of one of the basic principles of leadership – stick to what you are good at (in his case, ruthless decision-making and a gift for tumbling numbers) and appoint people who supply your talent deficit. Brien picked Mother’s Swedish creative prodigy Linus Karlsson to lead the McCann creative renaissance. (How many times have we heard that one, readers? But maybe someone, sometime  will succeed in replicating the McCann London glory days of the late Seventies.) As an earnest of Brien’s intention he also made Karlsson chairman of London – a position hitherto part of Gosper’s titles portfolio.

Now the other shoe has dropped. Gosper is out in the cold. Macdonald is wearing an even sharper suit (David Jones watch out) and Brien has sensibly handed the more presidential aspects of Gosper’s role to Gustavo Martinez, formerly director of global brand management and global new business director at Ogilvy & Mather. Importantly, it appears Macdonald reports directly to Brien, rather than via Martinez.


McCann pips WPP to Olympics trophy

April 28, 2009

Brett Gosper: Dark HorseWhat a dark horse Brett Gosper is. The EMEA president of McCann Erickson successfully kept us in the dark, until a week ago, about a McCann-fronted Interpublic bid for Locog’s prestigious 2012 Olympics advertising account. Now he’s stolen it from right under WPP’s nose.

From the beginning of the pitch, WPP had looked a shoo-in. It was one of a remarkably small circle of contenders that had the power and scale to handle what in effect is a piece of global business.
True, the much smaller Chime beat it in a duel for the initial 1-year marketing communications package. But that was a blip. Chime (though part-owned by WPP) simply didn’t have the resources to win part 2   – the much bigger bit of business spanning the 3 years up to the Games themselves.  And it showed when, despite a competent performance as incumbent, it was one of two to be eliminated from the frame last week, leaving McCann and WPP.
Even so, no one would have put much money on McCann winning. WPP, now the world’s largest marketing services network, is a far stronger organisation than Interpublic – which has been severely mauled over the past few years.
In addition, WPP’s boss, Sir Martin Sorrell has invested a lot of personal energy in winning the account. The fact that he was actually present in Singapore when the British team, featuring David Magliano and Sir Keith Mills, won the bid to hold the Olympics in London gives something of the flavour of his enthusiasm. For WPP, a win would have been a way of juxtaposing one very British success story with another – its own.
Why did it lose? The devil is in the detail. Locog’s is no ordinary ad account. Though worth a notional £10m over 3 years, this £10m is in fact a benchmark figure for which competing agencies had to tender (as did other services, such as the Locog accountants, Deloitte, and the Locog solicitors, Freshfields).
Agencies were invited to provide services in kind – such a media buying, content, creative ads, sponsorship. If Locog ends up spending over £10m, the winning agency will be quids in, because above that amount it will be conventionally rewarded. If, on the other hand, Locog were to underspend, the winning agency will have to underwrite the difference, and that would mean coming up with cash.
It can be readily  seen that this is an expensive but finely judged gamble, and one which may cause collateral damage to the winning network’s normal commercial activities. Though there is glory in getting the business – and a tier 3 sponsorship thrown in – the account could easily turn into a poison chalice.
Sorrell was prepared to take that chance, but was incensed that Locog had spun off the more profitable research part of the business (worth another ‘£10m’) as a separate account (for which, by the way, WPP is not competing).
Failure to strike a deal over this vexed issue was one reason why WPP lost out in the final pitch. In the end, however, it was outbid by McCann, which was prepared to provide more services at a lesser notional price. How it is going to afford this more generous offer is another matter.

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