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Matt Williams: do Havas and M&C moves show that agencies are redefining what they want from leaders?

It’s been a fascinating week in the advertising industry, one where a lot of the focus has been on agencies getting their houses in order.

1_3.jpg__920x450_q90_crop-smartFirst we had Havas parting company with CEO Russ Lidstone (left). The company has instead implemented a ‘Club Havas’ offering, which sees Havas London and Havas Work Club work closer together, run by two managing partners – one from Work Club, the other from deep inside the Havas clique.

It was an interesting move – not least because of how strangely the network announced it. The news came as something as a bolt from the blue, revealed after a Havas board meeting that we all knew about because of the array of posters that littered London commuter stations last week welcoming Havas directors to the capital. I bet employees lower down the food chain at Havas hoping for pay rises this year were delighted to see the company’s money being used in this way instead.

But it is also interesting to see how Havas is trying to adapt its structure to deal with the inevitable growing pains that accompany a merger of this nature. It’s a different approach and worth keeping an eye on how it develops. What you hope is that it’s part of a clear long-term strategy that’ll provide clients with joined up thinking and more innovative ways of working, rather than a hastily cobbled together solution created to please board members in the interim while everyone still tries to work out exactly what the hell is going on.

We’ve seen that far too often in this industry, and whilst I’ll reserve judgement on the new structure until some time has passed (and I’m sure many would argue that it’s not my place anyway), I do wonder whether getting rid of one of your smartest and sharpest operators, one who’s popular within the building and has been there long enough to understand and care about the agency’s culture, is a bit of an own goal.

tom_bazeleyThe second big industry move came earlier this week, when M&C Saatchi parted company with ECD Elspeth Lynn. I can’t comment on Lynn but I do know that it’ll take a brave man to bet against Tom Bazeley (left), the agency’s new CEO. And it was Bazeley’s comments that most interested me when the move was made. His theory is that in this day and age agencies require creative directors who get their hands dirty. Not, as he put it, “one person working at a very high level.” You need people who “are deeply involved in the accounts…who can write ideas…nurture people and…deliver newsworthy ideas.”

At M&C, that responsibility will now be shared by a creative quartet, including Lean Mean Fighting Machine creative founders Dave Bedwood and Sam Ball. Before the LMFM deal, the likes of Bedwood and Ball were always referred to as being part of the ‘next wave of creative directors,’ much akin to the way we excitedly anoint young and upcoming footballers as the ‘next Zinedine Zidane’.

But really, what that phrase really meant was that these ‘bright up and comers’ were just younger creative heads who had spent most of their life doing digital work rather than traditional ad campaigns.

And for this group of creatives, the way of working with clients is to get stuck in. To roll the sleeves up and collaborate with their creative department in a more tight knit unit. To focus less on authority and more on autonomy. To not be left alone in a big corner office, seeing creative work in the same way a headmaster sees his pupils, and spending Cannes locked away in a villa to simply schmooze their biggest client.

M&C’s structure is not your traditional agency offering (although it’s still probably more traditional than they claim). However I don’t think it’ll be long until more and more agencies across the business look for similar formulas for their creative leadership teams.

And in a week where Grey’s Lucy Jameson wrote an interesting piece for Campaign on what it means to be a chief strategy officer in 2015, it’s time for a prediction.

My hunch is that this year, many of the talking points within the industry will be on redefining certain traditional roles. What does it mean to be a creative director in an advertising agency? What’s the responsibility of a strategist? What do you want from your leadership team?

They might not be the most comfortable questions to ask, but they could be the most important.

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About Matt Williams

Matt Williams
Matt Williams is head of content at Partners Andrews Aldridge.
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