Will the team’s talent give McCanns the creative edge it requires?
A two-quid cab ride separates the Soho offices of Mellors Reay and
Partners from McCann-Erickson’s building, but Gary Betts and Malcolm
Green might as well be making a million-mile journey.
After only 19 months as the sorcerer’s apprentices at Tim Mellors’
ambitious but modest operation, the pair have been offered wizards’ hats
of their own and the chance to cast their own spells on Howland Street.
Inevitably, questions are already being asked about whether the hats -
and the leap - are too big for them. Certainly, their somewhat hasty
elevation to executive joint creative directors of McCanns (Campaign,
last week) will provoke Fantasia-like comparisons of the agency machine
rolling over them like water-carrying broomsticks.
But the biggest poser of all is whether or not a couple of widely
acknowledged nice guys can be tough enough to make unpopular decisions
amid the changes imposed on McCanns by its iconoclastic managing
director, Ben Langdon.
Whatever happens, it’s already apparent that the decision of Green, 37,
a copywriter, and his art director partner Betts, 39, to make the short
trip across town will be a defining moment for the agency they leave and
the one they are about to join.
At Mellors Reay, their departure has forced an acknowledgment that the
agency is as yet of insufficient size and maturity to dilute creative
There’s no criticism of Betts and Green. But there is a recognition that
Mellors’ handover of day-to-day creative command to the pair so he could
concentrate on being chairman was hasty, a theory made credible by the
agency’s poor pitch conversion rate this year.
‘Tim is such a powerful and well-known figure that I’m sure Gary and
Malcolm must have felt his long shadow across them,’ Dragana Hartley,
the former Mellors Reay joint deputy managing director now at Walsh
Trott Chick Smith, says.
Carol Reay, the agency’s chief executive, rejects suggestions that the
Betts and Green partnership was an experiment that failed. ‘It’s just
that Tim is at his most effective for us when he’s producing ads,’ she
declares. ‘Now we have the chance to put that right.’
For their part, Betts and Green insist they were not preparing to fly
the Mellors Reay nest, but that Langdon’s offer was too seductive to
resist. And the creative directorship of McCanns is a more alluring
prospect than it has been for some years.
As a former colleague of the pair puts it: ‘If you’d told Malcolm and
Gary a year ago they were going to be executive creative directors of
McCanns they would have fallen off their chairs laughing. But things
have changed and it’s suddenly become a very appealing job.’
The pivotal figure in making this possible is Jerry Green, persuaded to
end his seven-year stint as executive creative director to become deputy
Low profile and vehemently anti-luvvie, he has personified McCanns’
reputation for workmanlike advertising that will shift the product, even
if it won’t win over awards juries. At the same time, Green has made his
position impregnable through being a wily political operator with a
strong power base.
Much of his strength is drawn from the success of the Gold Blend
campaign, both in the UK and internationally, which has not only raised
his stock within Nestle, but also with McCanns’ worldwide bosses, who
rate him highly.
As a result, Jerry Green has been allowed to set his own agenda, to
dictate the pace of change and resist any attempts - notably by the
agency’s previous managing director, Mark Gault - to shift him. And
while Betts and Green are being presented as Jerry Green’s appointees,
Langdon has ‘flirted’ with them in the past and once came close to
hiring them for the top creative job at Collett Dickenson Pearce.
Whatever the reason for Jerry Green’s decision to step into the new
role, it’s clear he intends a clean break and word around the agency is
that he will not tolerate creatives creeping to him behind his
Jerry Green intimates that he’s now comfortable with a broader
management role. ‘If you stay in the trenches it’s impossible to keep
your eyes fixed on the horizon,’ he says.
Others believe he should have done it long ago. A former McCanns senior
manager says: ‘Jerry has always been a better planner than a creative
director. He’s always had a good handle on strategic and marketing
issues, which isn’t necessarily what you’re looking for in a creative.’
Undoubtedly, Betts and Green will have the kind of clear run at McCanns
that was denied to previous hopefuls like Dave Horry and Jeremy Clarke,
mainly because of Langdon’s firm belief that the pace of creative change
now has to be forced.
Stung by the charge that McCanns is capable only of producing tour-de-
force creativity for a limited number of small clients, he claims the
agency has had more D&AD entries in the past few years than supposed
hotshops like Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury and Rainey Kelly Campbell
Roalfe. ‘It’s progress, but it isn’t the quantum leap,’ Malcolm Green
Langdon’s belief is that only by adding creative potency to McCanns’
huge resource can the agency continue to lay claim to clients like Coca-
Cola, which have shown a growing predisposition to pick the best service
wherever it can be found. ‘Howell Henry and Bartle Bogle Hegarty are
still trying to build international business with blue-chip clients.
We’ve already done that,’ he says.
Whether or not Betts and Green can disperse the creative magic more
evenly across a broader spread of McCanns clients remains to be seen.
‘They’re being hired for creative leadership, not their admin skills,’
David Warden, the McCanns chairman, insists. ‘I don’t see their lack of
experience at creative director level as an issue.’
Moreover, they also have an enviable track record acquired in big
agencies such as BMP DDB and WCRS. They devised the Walkers Crisps
campaign featuring Gary Lineker and filmed the VW Passat against a New
York backdrop to the haunting Billie Holliday track, God Bless the
Child. ‘These guys have the only showreel you don’t have to play,’ Green
The pair’s success is attributed to a 14-year-old professional
partnership and a shared passion for their work which binds them
strongly together. Maybe it has something to with their broadly similar
backgrounds. Both are comprehensive school-educated Londoners. Green’s
father is an optician, Betts is the son of a former Ford worker.
Whatever the reason, Justin Cernis, the Mellors Reay new-business
director, believes the result is an almost telepathic empathy between
them. ‘Talk to one and you get both their points of view,’ he says.
Whether all this will prepare them for Langdon’s confrontational style
is a moot point. The pair insist there will be no question of
‘management by fear’ in the McCanns creative department, but former
colleagues say their personable characters should not be mistaken for
One talks of their ‘steely resolve’ and astute management of the Mellors
Reay creative department which had been unnerved by Mellors’ early
withdrawal. ‘We’ll be tough if we need to be,’ Green says. ‘But not just
for the sake of it.’
Nigel Long, BDDH’s managing director, who worked with them at WCRS,
says: ‘Gary and Malcolm are nobody’s fools and they’ll not be
intimidated by anybody. Langdon will give them a tough time, but they
can handle it.’
For the moment, though, harmony reigns. ‘We respect each other and
that’s a good platform on which to build,’ Betts argues. ‘Ben Langdon
tells people the truth to their face - and this industry doesn’t have
enough people prepared to do that.’
This article was first published on Campaign