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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.

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Is the Neural Network the answer to McCann’s prayers?

March 22, 2011

You may not think there is much of a connection between a new car launch and what young McCann Erickson advertising executives get up to in a night-club.

But to Lee Daley, McCann Worldwide’s global chief strategy officer, making connections like that is fundamental to a new way of unlocking his agency’s intellectual assets, providing effective consumer insights at a fraction of their normal cost and repositioning the McCann name at the same time.

McCann has always been awarded penalty points in the agency world because of its sheer size. Its machine-like reputation probably dates back to a period of acquisition megalomania in the early sixties, when the agency was under the stewardship of Marion Harper. Result: it is valued for the sophistication of its global services and its account management skills, but rarely for its creative thinking.

In fact, this reputation is somewhat misleading. In the fifties, McCann was highly regarded for the quality of its consumer insights. Through Herta Herzog, director of creative research, it became high-priest to the mysteries of motivational psychology, the then voguish domain of Dr Ernest Dichter and the School of Motivational Research. It powerfully influenced the thinking of one Vance Packard, author of the Hidden Persuaders (1957).

In a sense, Daley is tapping into that “smarts” tradition. But his focus is on unlocking the hidden talents of McCann’s staff and thereby turning a perceived disadvantage, McCann’s cumbersome size, into an asset. “In a way, it’s simply a numbers game,” he tells me. “McCann has 22,000 employees worldwide. That’s a massive talent pool, but it’s fair to say we haven’t always exploited that creatively, partly because of our brand image. Compare that with so-called creative agencies, Wieden & Kennedy, Mother or whatever. Full of talent, no doubt, but a fraction of our pool.”

Ah yes, but how exactly does he intend to release that pent-up intellectual capital, and to what end, exactly? The answer is something called the Neural Network, a project Daly has been working on for about 5 years – and which now involves some 8,000 of McCann’s employees.

Expressed simply, NN is a kind of internalised social media platform (although Daly recoils in horror from the suggestion that it is Facebook for McCann). It builds up a profile which matches every employee’s formal status in the organisation with their private interests and areas of specialism outside their current expertise. It encourages the setting-up of special interest communities and dialogue between their members.

The advantages are clear. It’s a levelling tool in an hierarchical organisation, which can be used by management as a kind of crowd-sourcing resource or virtual pitch team. Also reasonable to assume, judging from the number of people who have volunteered to join the database: it’s quite motivating for staff – for whom it may open up new career opportunities.

The challenges are equally clear: it’s a levelling tool in an hierarchical organisation, about which senior management must initially have had considerable misgivings. Without suitable controls, it could indeed become a kind of office Facebook. And even when exploited professionally, anarchy might ensue if senior managers were allowed carte blanche in appropriating extra resources via the Neural Network.

For this reason, all requests are carefully monitored by a group of senior executives called “Neural Network Gods”. In London, the key executive is group chief Chris Macdonald. Others include Daly himself and McCann Worldgroup CEO Nick Brien. The process of control is still being mapped out as the Neural Network is gradually extended to the other 14,000 Worldwide employees.

Equally important, from Daly’s point of view, is the challenge of monetising ideas thrown up by the Neural Network as McCann’s intellectual property. As is well known in agency circles, ideas are what you give away in a pitch: it’s very difficult to patent them. Clients might well welcome the idea of a me-too Neural Network, persuade McCann to set it up, and then run off with it.

Daly has partly answered this problem by setting up a 3-year rolling contract with Santa Barbara-based IntroNetworks – the company that devised the software – which gives McCann exclusive licensing rights.

If other agencies want to jump on the NN bandwagon, they may of course do so. But they will have to build their own software, and that takes time. And time is what Daly hopes will give McCann its leading advantage.


Age may wither them and custom stale their finite variety

November 7, 2009

Tim LindsayI was struck by WPP chief Sir Martin Sorrell’s comment on the marketing services industry at ad:tech this week. “The people who run agencies tend to be of an older vintage – to put it politely,” he said. “They tend to be resistant to change and want to spend the last three to four years of their careers travelling around the world rather than dealing with fundamental strategic issues on a daily basis.”

They should be so lucky to reach “an older vintage” these days. The number of people over 50 who are active in the ad business is a vanishingly small figure, according to Incorporated Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) figures, and it’s getting smaller all the time. One particularly endangered species seems to be the heads, or group heads, of UK network creative agencies.

To take a small but illuminating sample, Gary Leih, group head of Ogilvy (just over 50), and Tim Lindsay, president of TBWA\London (53), have both been put out to pasture recently. We could perhaps add the case of Bruce Haines, group chief at Leo Burnett, who managed to stay the course until the ripe old age of 55. And the comparatively youthful former chairman and group chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi, Lee Daley, who moved on in his late forties to an all-too-brief spell as marketing director of Manchester United. While we’re there, let’s tie in the long time management void at the top of Lowe, and the problems in filling the top slots at Publicis UK a couple of years ago when the self-same Lindsay left for TBWA.

To go back to Sorrell, I’m not sure anyone – other than himself perhaps – is capable of dealing with “fundamental strategic issues on a daily basis”. Just one or two over a two-year period is usually enough. As far as I can see, that’s exactly what Daley, Leih and Lindsay tried to do. They all instituted fairly far-reaching management changes in an effort to meet the digital challenge subverting traditional agency structures. With hindsight, the problem seems to be that they were judged not to have gone far enough. Or, put another way, they may indeed have embraced a “fundamental strategic issue”, but they were not allowed long enough to savour their triumph. The truth is, if an agency doesn’t bring in enough big business in the first two years of your tenure, you’re likely to be turfed out in the third. The digital challenge may simply have made it a little harder to win that business in the first place.

Lindsay was probably on skid row once his agency lost the advertising account for McCain to Beattie McGuinness Bungay. He was lucky to survive the subsequent – abortive – attempt to buy BMB. Nissan had also begun to look shaky. Pinning the Media Arts rebranding fiasco on him sounds like the thinnest of subterfuges employed by a management that had long since lost confidence in him – fairly or otherwise.


How Brett and Lee won the Olympics for McCann

May 1, 2009

A lot of people must be asking, how on earth did ill-favoured  McCann Erickson manage to beat the mighty WPP to Locog’s prestigious 2012 Olympics advertising account? Not least among them, Sir Martin Sorrell, WPP’s nettled chief executive.

The short answer is: Brett Gosper, McCann Worldgroup EMEA president and his secret weapon, Lee Daley.
It can be no coincidence that, weeks after McCann Worldgroup appointed the somewhat tarnished, but nevertheless clever, former Saatchi & Saatchi chief executive to the newly created role of EMEA chief strategist (reporting directly to Gosper), McCann walks away with the Olympics prize.
Another non-coincidence is Gosper’s familiarity with the workings of Olympics committees. He happens to be the son of Richard Kevan Gosper. Ring a bell? Then I’ll refresh your memory. Gosper senior is a former Australian athlete of some renown, and more to the point, a former IOC vice-president of 20 years standing at the venerable body which holds supreme sway over the Olympic Games.
Just for the record, Kevan – as he prefers to be called  – won an Olympics silver medal for the men’s 400m relay in 1956, and managed to take in being Shell chief executive and chairman Down Under during his long and successful career. So he’s not lacking influential political connections. He’s practically a national hero. What you might call Gosper junior’s inside track, in fact.
One other non-coincidence is Daley’s own brief and colourful connection with high octane sport. Remember his four-month stint at Manchester United? He’d probably rather you didn’t. But by the law of unintended consequences, it has served him well in the end.

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