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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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Rumbol and Sleight departures flag up threat to UK-centric marketers

April 28, 2010

Are the imminent departures of high-profile marketers Phil Rumbol and Cathryn Sleight, from Cadbury and Coca-Cola GB respectively, by any chance related? In one important respect they most certainly are: both are casualties of globalisation. The corporate circumstances may be different, but the underlying cause has been the same.

Cadbury had its destiny decided for it by the deus ex machina of corporate takeover. A successful global company with a premier-league set of brands and high-octane growth prospects in emerging markets, it nevertheless had significant vulnerabilities – particularly in Europe – which Kraft was able to exploit with the seductive promise of greater efficiencies and economies of scale should the two companies “merge”.

Coca-Cola has reacted to similar cost inefficiencies in its mature European operations by embarking on an internally generated “rationalisation” programme which will reduce its ten existing European business units to four. Coke is in no way a potential takeover target, but may well be reacting to investor pressure.

In the words of Dominique Reiniche, president of Coca-Cola Europe: “The changes we are making will simplify the way we operate in all areas of the business. This will drive efficiency by enabling us to be faster to market and to increase the scale of our activities across Europe.” He does not mention shareholders, but we can be pretty certain they will be gratified by the extra margins generated. Perhaps coincidentally (given his hostility to the Cadbury bid), Warren Buffett – near enough the world’s wealthiest man – is a significant investor in both Kraft and Coke.

One side-effect of both company restructures has been to subordinate national marketing units to a new pan-European marketing management team. As will be seen, that has implications for ambitious UK marketers – not all of them positive.

In the Kraft/Cadbury case, things could have turned out well for Rumbol had he chosen to toe the new corporate line. Far from being made redundant (unlike many senior colleagues), he was slated for promotion to a new pan-European marketing role. The only problem was (so we are told), Rumbol’s new job would be based in Zurich and he did not wish to relocate his family there. So, he hasn’t… What may also have troubled him was that the new role was in some ways more narrowly defined than his present one. Its remit was chocolate (now under the auspices of former Cadbury executive Tamara Minick-Scokalo), to the exclusion of the gum and boiled sweets sectors.

As for the role of Coca-Cola GB marketing director – Sleight’s fiefdom since 2006 – it has been axed. The function will now be folded into a broader role operating out of NWEN, the new pan-European unit consisting of Iberia, Germany, North West Europe and “Nordics” headed by Sanjay Guha. Guha will assume the title marketing and Olympics director, NWEN; currently he is Coca-Cola GB president. Sleight is expected to leave the company.

As it happens, I don’t think either casualty will have much difficulty finding another job. Sleight has been credited with the UK launch of Coke Zero, the company’s most successful piece of carbonates new product development in over two decades; and has also superintended the fortunes of Glaceau Vitamin Water (which, for all my reservations about its positioning, has done quite nicely thank you).

As for Rumbol, he had already made a name for himself as the Stella client, at a time when that brand still produced great advertising. What he has since done at Cadbury will, however, have immeasurably increased his credit. He helped to launch the confectionery giant’s first foray into chewing gum (ironically, one of the reasons that margin-hungry Kraft began showing an interest). And he has been the impresario behind some of the most noted advertising in recent times, to wit Fallon’s “Gorilla” and “Eyebrows”. Move over Simon Thompson (who presided over a run of great advertising at Honda, a few years ago).

I’m less sanguine about the prospects of home-loving UK marketers in general, though – especially if working in large corporations. The tide is against you, unless you’re prepared to wield your passport more freely.

PS. Rumbol may have opted out of a new life at Kraft Cadbuy, but Ignasi Ricou, president of Cadbury Europe, is to stay on. He will be president of sales, Kraft Europe, with special responsibility for gum and candy.


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