Is former Interpublic exec Steve Gatfield the man to turn round clever media company Naked?

Naked’s a funny one, now owned by Australian marcoms group Photon (which has problems of its own) is does rather look these days like a company whose best times are behind it.

The UK company, along with other like Michaelides & Bednash, was one of a number of media planning consultancies that managed (for a few years at least) to egg up its offer to the point where many clients were happy to pay for its clever execs to come up with more radical media ideas than they were receiving from their big media agencies.

Naked’s founders Will Collin, John Harlow and Jon Wilkins did this to some effect and were helped considerably by recruit Ivan Pollard who had a decided flair for publicity.

But Collin and Harlow have gone and Pollard has decamped to Coca-Cola, leaving Wilkins to wrestle with a company that probably falls into the ‘nice to have’ rather than essential category.

Photon has not been able to provide the financial firepower to make the company substantially bigger although Naked does manage to sustain 14 offices around the world.

The core of the problem is that, while big agencies of all ilks are often slow to spot trends in the market they are very good indeed at absorbing their smaller and livelier brethren, through their financial resources and ability to copy what their young rivals are doing through judicious hiring (and poaching).

Steve Gatfield, one-time COO at Leo Burnett and then a senior Interpublic executive charged with turning round Lowe & Partners in the post Frank Lowe era, is something of an expert on network building and wringing money out of far-flung agency empires.

Gatfield, now joining Naked as co-chairman alongside Wilkins, has recently busied himself with a couple of new media companies, which will presumably come in handy as he tries to find a new role for Naked.

Owner Photon still has substantial debts of over $200m and needs to find $33m to fund payouts to people in the many companies it has bought, including Naked. An obvious thing for Gatfield to do is to buy out Naked from Photon in return for writing off the money still due to Naked shareholders (the company was bought for an ostensible £16.5m in 2008).

Those Naked shareholders no longer in the business might not be so keen on this of course.

But this is the sort of tidying up Gatfield is good at. Finding a sustainable role for Naked as a global clever media company might be a bit more difficult.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.