For a long time, it looked as though nothing would convince Anthony
Wreford to rejoin the rat race. The 47-year-old, who has just been named
European president and chief executive of Omnicom’s diversified agency
services division (DAS), was having far too good a time acting as a
consultant, investor and director of people and communications
businesses and indulging in his passions for cricket and golf.
Having set up corporate communications specialist McAvoy Wreford in
1981, whose high-profile clients included ICI and Kleinwort Benson, and
sold it three years later to Valin Pollen, Wreford looked at his life
and decided there was not nearly enough fun in it. As soon as his
earn-out clause was up (in 1987), Wreford packed his credit cards and
set off on a tour of the world.
’I guess I did with an American Express card what most people do with a
backpack, but 15 years on,’ he says. Wreford had a ’strange dream’ that
’I would bump into someone who had some great idea in a bar, an airport
lounge or on a beach and we would click and that would be it: the rest
of my career sorted out’.
’In fact, that was just dreaming,’ he observes wryly. He didn’t want to
go back to doing what he had before: ’I wasn’t burnt out, but I was
badly singed - it had become a bit of a sweat’ he says, adding that he
had nonetheless enjoyed working with clients.
In 1988, advertising group BMP offered him PR consultancy work. Within a
few months, Wreford found himself battling against a hostile takeover
bid from BDDP. Omnicom emerged as BMP’s white knight and there began his
ten-year relationship with Omnicom as a consultant. Wreford played a
significant part in planning Omnicom’s acquisition strategy in Europe.
He advised on deals to acquire financial PR specialist Valin Pollen,
lobbying agency Market Access and consumer and corporate PR outfit
Scope. Over the last ten years, below-the-line revenues have grown from
ten per cent of Omnicom’s overall income to roughly 50 per cent.
Aside from Omnicom, Wreford has spent the last decade giving strategic
communications advice to the likes of McKinsey, Lehman Brothers and Nike
and orchestrating the recent successful campaign to let women join the
John Wren, then in charge of DAS and now chairman and chief executive
officer of Omnicom, tried repeatedly to lure Wreford into a full-time
job. After ten years of courtship, Wreford has given in. ’Wren was
selling, I wasn’t on the buying market but it is a case of the one job
at the one company I want to work for,’ he says.
Wreford’s remit covers Europe for DAS, which houses the bulk of
Omnicom’s below-the-line interests, including PR. It has three
generalist international networks: Ketchum, Porter Novelli and
Fleishman-Hillard, plus specialists such as lobbying outfit GPC,
internal communications shop Smythe Dorward Lambert, financial agency
Gavin Anderson and Brodeur A Plus, a hi-tech specialist.
Wreford’s role is largely strategic. ’The brands are the heroes. DAS is
there to help in terms of growth and development,’ he says. ’It is about
helping them with acquisitions, leadership and succession issues.’
Omnicom has a three-tiered approach to acquisition and international
growth: buying international networks; filling weaknesses within
networks by buying indigenous agencies; and developing specialist
Much of Wreford’s efforts will be spent filling gaps in existing
networks, although developing the specialists will also be on the menu.
It is unlikely, he says, that Omnicom - which was so acquisitive that it
became known as Omnivorous in the late-1980s and early-1990s - will buy
another global network.
Colleagues and former clients describe Wreford as an excellent strategic
thinker and a facilitator who helps people and companies come to their
own decisions in their own time. Furthermore, they say, he has an
overwhelming sense of fairness, always looks for a solution, is never
short of ideas and has a dry sense of humour.
He is clearly looking forward to assuming the position, even if it does
mean less time for play.
1981 - Founds McAvoy Wreford
1988 - Freelance consultant
1999 - President and chief executive, DAS, Omnicom