A major challenge for Mr. Kent will be to convince the ad industry and the media agency's clients that Universal McCann, an agency with $15 billion in billings and ranked No. 2 worldwide by Advertising Age, is an unbundled agency not totally dependent on McCann for its business.
"When you think of [McCann parent Interpublic Group of Cos.] and the media business," said a senior media executive, "you think of Initiative Media, not Universal. Overseas, the organization is really just the media employees of McCann's regional offices."
The formation of Universal McCann was announced last year; before that McCann's media department was called Universal Media. One of Messrs. Carlin's and Kent's goals is to make it a contender in the booming area of media-only reviews and win more direct-to-client business.
Mr. Kent, who has previously worked for media giants Aegis Group's Carat and Zenith Media Worldwide, was most recently regional director of Universal McCann Europe/Africa/Middle East, the agency's largest region, for the past four years. A successor for that post is yet to be named.
"After much arm twisting, Robin has accepted the job," Mr. Carlin said. "We've looked at the great success that he has had in Europe and we've asked him to come to New York to become the president and frankly, to help me in generating the same kinds of initiatives, management focus, and the success he's had in Europe, [the] Middle East and Africa."
Universal McCann has three other worldwide regions, North America, Latin America and Asia Pacific. Each region is run by a director who reported to Mr. Carlin; Allan Medforth, regional director for Asia Pacific; Oswald Mendez, regional director for Latin America/Caribbean; and Mark Stewart, regional director of McCann North America These directors also now report to Mr. Kent.
"Our growth in Europe/Middle East and Africa has been extremely powerful," said Mr. Carlin. "That has been based in part on Robin's ability to galvanize and lead a very disparate region with 79 countries, 95 offices and 1,5o0 people."
One of Mr. Kent's first goals is to import the sophisticated strategy and research tools he used in Europe to the other regions, most especially the U.S. He plans to emphasize strategy and planning in an agency primarily known for its buying expertise.
When he joined Universal McCann in 1996, Mr. Kent immediately focused on developing assistance tools, research and training. He and Jim Kite, Universal McCann's worldwide media research director based in London, developed Media In Mind, a proprietary consumer insight network, which is hooked up to consumers in 41 countries around the world. Universal McCann taps into these consumers to survey trends. He now plans to expand Media In Mind in the U.S.
`A BRIGHT FELLOW'
Mr. Kent has been in the media business for 25 years. He started at Saatchi & Saatchi, then moved to Zenith after that agency was created in 1988, and later went on to Leagas Delaney. "He worked for me as a trainee 25 years ago," said John Perriss, worldwide CEO of Zenith Media. "He and I used to go for a beer after work, but that was when we were both young men. What characterized Robin was his great enthusiasm and his high energy. A bright fellow."
In 1996, Mr. Kent moved to Carat as director of international client management and while there started up an interactive department. "I was the only person there at the time on the Internet and knew anything about it," said Mr. Kent, who left Carat that year to start his own Internet marketing company. "That kind of fell through," said Mr. Kent. "And I got a phone call from McCann asking if I wanted to join them and do what I was doing at Carat for them. I agreed to join."
Mr. Kent was in New York last week searching for a home for his wife and son. "Some people suggest I look in the suburbs," said Mr. Kent. "Others say I should move to the city." Mr. Carlin, an ex-New Yorker who now lives on Long Island, wholeheartedly recommended his new worldwide president live in the suburbs. "It's better for the kids," he said.