John McGarry move signals Dentsu’s plan to make Mcgarrybowen its lead global agency

Some agency brands cut it on the worldwide stage, others don’t. Arguably Interpublic’s DraftFCB doesn’t (it still sounds like a horse designed by a committee), Dentsu (also the name of its Japanese holding company parent) certainly doesn’t.

But back in 2008 Dentsu had the good sense to buy McGarrybowen, the agency set up in 2002 by Y&R veterans John McGarry and Gordon Bowen and creative Stewart Owen. Y&R had been bought by WPP for $4.7bn in 2000.

McGarrybowen has gone from strength to strength, winning a string of heavyweight US accounts with its quite traditional, ‘safe pair of hands’ approach. What Madison Avenue used to look like, in fact. It also recently took its first step overseas, opening an office in London.

Now founder John McGarry (pictured) is stepping out of day to day management at Mcgarrybowen to take up a new role as the (or possibly a) Tokubetsu Komon at Dentsu. This all sounds a bit samurai swords but apparently it’s an important post, special executive adviser or some such.

“In his new role he will strengthen the entire Dentsu footprint worldwide, inclusive of McGarryBowen,” says Dentsu agency boss Tim Andree in a staff memo. “It is truly an honor that John has been selected by Dentsu’s leadership in Tokyo for this position, one that will help us leverage John’s invaluable expertise and wisdom on a global scale.”

All of which suggests that suggests that Dentsu is determined to use Mcgarrybowen to try to gain some of the influence on the world stage that it has in Japan and other parts of the East. It has recently performed strongly in India. And it looks as though the pace will be rapid; time isn’t exactly on the side of the 72-year old McGarry.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch in New York, Mcgarrybowen will be run day to day by a committee of Stewart Owen, Eric Vukmirovich, John McGarry III, Bill Borrelle and Tim Scott, chaired by co-founder Bowen. Bowen will report to Andree.

All of this seems logical enough but there are dangers. McGarry’s new title and the installation of a committee at Mcgarrybowen indicate clearly that Japanese business practices are still in the ascendant and some would say this is the main reason why Dentsu has failed in its previous forays overseas. And Mcgarrybowen’s homestyle approach to advertising has yet to be tested outside the US.

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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.

One comment

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    In Japan a person is shifted to the role of a “komon” (“advisor”) when he is near the end of his career and is no longer contributing much to company operations – a sort of pat on the back for services rendered.
    “Tokubetsu” (“special”) komon is an over-the-top title which could be considered patronizing.
    Perhaps there really is something in what you say about Japanese business practices being in the ascendancy.