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Phil Rumbol lays his reputation for creativity on the line

September 8, 2010

For months it has been an open secret that Phil Rumbol, former Cadbury marketing director, was plotting to set up an advertising agency. The trouble was, most of us were on the wrong scent; the idea being he was going to head the London arm of Omnicom’s creative boutique, Goodby Silverstein & Partners.

At the same time, there were ominous rumblings of discontent at Fallon, the creative outpost of SSF, which also runs Saatchi & Saatchi London. Fallon – once highly praised for its Sony Bravia and Cadbury work – has latterly been dubbed “Fallen” by industry wags who, no doubt, have in mind the successive loss of the £70m Asda account, Sony, and the transfer of the £100m Cadbury account to Saatchi after some controversial Flake work went awry. The talk was of a possible management buyout. In the event, it is chairman Laurence Green and creative director Richard Flintham, rather than the agency, who have walked.

What we had failed to do was mix these two things together and make an explosive compound. All the more so since the story – broken by my colleague Sonoo Singh, editor of Pitch – has self-detonated in the very week that Saatchi & Saatchi celebrates 40 years of success in its party of the decade.

Details remain sketchy. We don’t, for example, know what the breakaway agency is to be called, nor whether it has any business. Kerry Foods has popped into the frame, specifically the Wall’s sausage brand. If so, it must be a gift from Saatchi.

Whether that’s the case or not, what’s really interesting about this start-up is the key role being played by a former client. Rumbol, so far as I can make out, has never worked in an agency himself, but he has had a distinguished career as a client, which has resulted in some memorable advertising. Boddington’s Cream of Manchester campaign was one of his early achievements, he was the Stella client (need I say more), and the commissioning force behind Cadbury’s Gorilla and Eyebrows campaign, not to mention the more controversial launch campaign for Trident chewing gum.

Rare is the client with such a creative pedigree. Possible examples: David Patton, patron of the Sony Bravia “Colour like no other” campaign; Simon Thompson, long-time sponsor of Honda ads such as ‘”Cog” and “Grr” ; and – long ago – Tony Simonds-Gooding, who tore up some unsupportive research and gave Lowe Howard-Spink the go-ahead with ‘Heineken refreshes the parts other beers can’t reach’. Rarer still is the client who is physically involved in a start-up and prepared to put his reputation, and possibly career, on the line; as rare in fact as hens’ teeth. It’s said that Rumbol earlier got close to signing a deal with Goodby, but that the stumbling block was the creative process, which would be shipped out to HQ in San Francisco. I can well believe it. Here’s someone who clearly has the courage of his convictions.

POSTSCRIPT: Spookily, Fallon has just conjured a new chief executive out of the hat, after a 6-month search. She is Gail Gallie, who was responsible for the BBC becoming Fallon’s first client in 1998.

PPS. It has been pointed out to me that the nearest precedent to Rumbol is the revered John Bartle. Oddly enough, Bartle himself was a Cadbury client. He worked at the confectionery and food company for eight years and, among other things, fostered Boase Massimi Pollitt’s celebrated Smash campaign. The significant difference with Rumbol is that Bartle then spent nine years in an advertising agency, TBWA, before forming the breakaway group that set up Bartle Bogle Hegarty in 1982.

UPDATE 24/12/10: The new agency is to be called 101 (not, thankfully, Room 101). The name has nothing to do with the agency’s official opening day, 10/1/11 – I’m told by a reliable source. We have yet to learn whether it has landed a big fish.

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Carolyn Carter bids adieu to Grey Europe

September 3, 2009

Carolyn CarterGrey’s enigmatic ice-maiden is on her way at last. Carolyn Carter, ceo of Grey Europe, has been the target of almost constant speculation about her ‘imminent’ departure since 2006, which she has successfully quashed with Mark Twain’s famous rejoinder. Now, after over 20 years’ service in the higher echelons of an advertising empire long treated by Ed Meyer as his personal fiefdom, but latterly owned by WPP, she really is on her way out. Gone by Christmas time, they say.

Originally, Carter was a client: she joined Grey from General Foods in the early 80s. In 1996 she moved to London as global account director for Mars, a staple Grey client. From 2002  she gradually took on the mantle of John Shannon – possibly the longest-serving senior executive in advertising history – becoming ceo Grey Global Group EMEA in 2004. She, like Shannon, might reasonably have expected to see herself through to retirement age. Meyer was incredibly loyal to senior executives who quietly and efficiently accomplished his aims, which might be defined as personally enriching him, but not at the expense of alienating any of his key clients. It could be a harrowing, stressful role. Which is one reason why top Grey executives used to be some of the most highly paid in advertising.

But the world of Grey changed irrevocably when Meyer decided to cash in his chips and put his agency up for auction in 2005. WPP, the eventual winner, has been every bit as exacting as Meyer, but in a different way. Out went the stellar salaries, Carter’s own excepted.

Carter faced early disappointment when Jim Heekin, formerly of McCann Erickson and Euro RSCG, beat her to the top position at Grey, which anyone else might have interpreted as curtains time. Hence the speculation about her leaving. Cool, ruthless professionalism has seen her through. Until, at least, an unprecedented slump in advertising revenue forced WPP to wield the retrenchment axe more savagely than might otherwise have been the case.

Now it’s time for her to go. David Patton, UK group ceo, will be confirmed as the new EMEA chief. Chris Hirst, his managing director, may take over the top UK role. Carter will miss the London theatre scene, but how much else I do not know.


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