Like most workplace legends, it has a bit of truth and a lot of exaggeration.
Born in France and raised in Brittany, a region famous for spawning adventurers, the 55-year-old executive seeks out extremes, from mountain tops to ocean floors. A current project is to tackle each of the 54 summits above 14,000 feet in Colorado. Trained as a diver in the French Navy, today he has more than 1,500 dives to his credit.
David Sable, his No. 2 and head of London, Middle East and Africa, remembers walking into Wunderman years ago at the same time his boss crossed the threshold. Both men had an arm in a sling. "I dislocated a finger after tripping on 42nd Street," Mr. Sable said. "Daniel's story was so much more glamorous: He was climbing a mountain." "There's a famous saying in France," said Nicolas Bordas, CEO of TBWA France and a former colleague and longtime friend of Mr. Morel. "Tetu comme un Breton. Daniel is determined, and he is brave. He is willing to take a risk."
Coming to Wunderman is a case in point. "Quite frankly, when he walked in, I don't think he realized the avalanche that was about to hit him," said Alexei Orlov, president-chief operating officer at Wunderman Automotive Worldwide.
It came right after a welcome breakfast of traditional French fare-croissants, jam, butter, freshly roasted coffee and milk-on his first day in January at the company, which was known then as Impiric. Mr. Morel's new executive team delivered some bad news: IBM, an important client and one Mr. Morel knew well from a former post at Blau Marketing Technologies, was threatening to pull its account in Asia. And that was just one of a host of issues threatening the company founded in 1958 by Lester Wunderman, once virtually synonymous with direct marketing.
A repositioning away from its direct-mail roots to consulting and customer relationship management, combined with a rebranding and name change to Impiric, had weakened its market position and created confusion among clients. Relations in Europe with Ford Motor Co., one of the company's largest clients, were fractured.
"There were a few things that needed fixing," Mr. Morel recalled.
One of them was direct marketing's image. In 2001, it was seen as the decidedly unsexy step-child to general advertising. Although dependent on many of the same creative capabilities found at general agencies, direct suffered from a perception that it was all about data manipulation, statistical analysis and offerings such as address hygiene, suppression services and list merging and purging, which sound more likely to be delivered in a clinic than an agency. But the current era of accountability and demand for return on investment has changed all that: Direct marketing now garners the greatest share-roughly a quarter of marketers' budgets in the U.S., according to Advertising Age estimates, and more by the Direct Marketing Association's most recent accounts-surpassing even newspapers and broadcast TV.
At Wunderman, hard times have receded, not only because of the discipline's steadily increasing popularity, but also because of its CEO's effort. "Daniel's done very well," said Martin Sorrell, WPP Group chief executive and Mr. Morel's boss. "He's rebranded the business after that [Impiric] nonsense, and the business has grown substantially." Wunderman today has 76 offices in 36 countries; revenues since 2001 have grown roughly 15% to just more than $500 million now, according to Ad Age estimates. He's broadened the client roster to include more technology, health-care and financial clients.
So just who is Daniel Morel? He came to Wunderman after two years as CEO of The Sales Machine, a direct sales and event marketing unit of Euro RSCG Worldwide. Unlike that sprawling young entity built through acquisition, Wunderman had a legacy and several global clients that knitted offices around the world in a shared interest. Earlier career stops included two years as senior VP-worldwide director at Blau Marketing Technologies, where he led an expansion from the U.S. into Europe, Asia/Pacific and Latin America, and four years as CEO of FC Inc., a Manhattan-based direct-mail agency he founded and eventually sold to Yves Rocher.
His career in advertising started with an account management job at Ogilvy & Mather in New York, which he joined after getting a degree in economics from the University of Rennes, spending three years in France's navy, and earning a masters in business administration at Tulane University in New Orleans. He pursued but didn't complete Ph.D. studies in economics at France's National Center for Scientific Research and also spent time in France's Diplomatic Corps stationed in Jakarta. After Ogilvy, he moved to Compton Advertising, which was acquired by Saatchi & Saatchi, and was transferred to Paris in the mid-1980s as part of an effort to improve the agency's performance.
Although he is French, he stood out in Paris for being Americanized. He favored a Wall Street look-suspenders, wire-rimmed glasses and crisp button-down shirts from Brooks Brothers-along with U.S. work habits. "His level of professionalism at the time was out of French standards," said Mr. Bordas of TBWA Paris. "Twenty-five years ago, everything-engraving, printing-was faster in the States than in France. He was on another planet in terms of working life. But you could not do less than he was doing himself. He transmitted to us that you can find a solution where there is none."
For Richard Marshall, now business development director, Tullo Marshall Warren, a direct-marketing agency in London, Mr. Morel was an instructor not only of advertising, but also of fine living. "I was new to Paris, and we used to go out after work to restaurants and bars," said Mr. Marshall, a Brit. Mr. Morel was Mr. Marshall's boss at Compton on Procter & Gamble Co.'s Pampers. "He was a bon viveur, quite less parochial than someone who'd been living in France only. He had a bigger vision of life in general, I'd say."
So when the chance to lead Wunderman arose, Mr. Morel grabbed it. "They were a force in the industry. Everyone knew Wunderman," he said. In Mr. Sorrell, Mr. Morel saw a commitment to the direct-marketing discipline. After all, Mr. Sorrell's original strategy for WPP was to buy marketing services companies, and one of the first acquired in the U.S. was RTC, a relationship marketing agency, based in Washington, which today reports to Wunderman. Perhaps most alluring for Mr. Morel was the chance to run the very company built by the man who created direct marketing.
But his progress, particularly at the beginning, was not always smooth or easy. "He came into a situation that was broken, lost," said one former Y&R executive. "Daniel is very smart, and very French," said Ed Vick, former CEO of Y&R Advertising. "In his manner, Daniel made things more difficult for himself than they needed to be. People were ready to help him." Early on, Mr. Orlov said, he asked a lot of tough questions, particularly of the old guard, and because of that had detractors.
He is also competitive. "Winning is very important to him," said Microsoft's John Kahan, general manager of the global relationship marketing group, who has known Mr. Morel for more than a decade, from when Mr. Kahan was at IBM and Mr. Morel at Blau.
After successfully attending to IBM in 2001, Mr. Morel and his executive team mapped out a strategy to build Wunderman's accounts in particular areas. Financial and technology, already strong with Citibank and IBM, were eventually broadened with the addition of Hewlett-Packard and telecommunications companies such as Cingular; health care, nonexistent, grew significantly with the additions of Pfizer and AstraZeneca. "These were the areas where we felt our tools were most appropriate for clients," Mr. Morel said. "They're heavily data-oriented."
One of Wunderman's greatest coups was winning Microsoft's business in early 2004. "Daniel understands the breadth and depth of our business, and where we're going to be in three to five years," Mr. Kahan said. To help Microsoft gain market share and increase revenues, Mr. Morel forged partnerships such as the 2004 deal with Kansas City, Mo.-based VML, an interactive design and application developer, and added talent. The account began in seven regions and since July 2005 has increased to 22. "He's flexible. He listens, and he learns, but if he disagrees, he'll challenge," Mr. Kahan added.
Cathy Constable, former VP-marketing communications, brand management at AT&T Corp., a former Wunderman client, recalled how Mr. Morel argued passionately to persuade AT&T's CEO and CFO to stop a long-running direct-mail campaign in which consumers were sent $25 checks to entice them to change their service. "He thought we could change behavior in another way. He wasn't afraid to go to the top. He's fearless in that," she said.
Early on, he suffered a bit, both from his own actions as well as, perhaps, some misunderstandings based on culture. One American marketing executive who has lived in France noted that often the "French don't travel well in Anglo-Saxon environments. They're both deeply analytical and highly aesthetic. They do things the right way and there is no other way. [Americans] assume they're picking on us, but they're not."
Mr. Morel is a realist. "I cannot profess to be liked by everyone. It is inevitable in human connections that not everyone will like me. My philosophy is that I'm allowed to piss off 1% of people," he said.
Over the years, he's grown into his role. "He's matured immeasurably," Mr. Orlov said. "Still, he's actually self-deprecating. I've actually never heard Daniel brag about himself, ever."
He's strengthened the network by hiring new executives or shifting current employees to key roles. Mr. Sable, for instance, who spent years at both Y&R and Wunderman, in 2004 moved to a crucial role as president of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. In Latin America, Enrique Yuste, former co-president of the Mexico City office, was promoted to exec VP-regional director, Latin America, to build business in Brazil, Chile and Mexico; Lisa Watson joined as exec VP in Asia to increase revenues there. New offices have opened from Seattle to Jakarta and strengthened the network through acquisitions in Dubai and Amsterdam.
A subject he's staked out not only for Wunderman but also for the industry is creativity. Mr. Morel hosts annual pilgrimages to the Cannes Advertising Festival, where Wunderman creatives from offices all over the world participate in seminars concurrent with the festival to learn about creativity. Speakers last year included Andy Berlin of Berlin Cameron and Bob Greenberg, CEO of Interpublic's RGA. "Putting creativity at the front of Wunderman is good for Wunderman and good for the industry," said Pam Maphis Larrick, CEO, FCBi, part of Interpublic's Foote Cone & Belding. "Creativity is extremely important to this area."
"He has a real sense of opportunity," Mr. Bordas said. "Sometimes you say that people are lucky. Sometimes they are good. He has a sense of timing."
A quick look
Name: Daniel Morel
Born: Toulon, France
Background: Raised in Ergue-Gaberic, Brittany, France
Undergraduate education: Universite de Rennes (economics)
Graduate education: Tulane University (MBA). Ph.D. studies at France’s Econometrics Laboratory of the National Center for Scientific Research. Three years in France’s navy. Trained as a combat diver; detached to the Diplomatic Corps as assistant military attaché to the French Embassy in Jakarta
Account executive, Ogilvy & Mather, New York
Worked on General Foods and Pepperidge Farms
Group account director, Compton Advertising, Paris (later became Saatchi & Saatchi)
Oversaw P&G (Pampers), Avis, IBM Europe, Galoise Blonde Cigarettes
Founder, CEO, president, FC Inc., New York, a direct mail agency.
Sold in 1991 to Yves Rocher; worked with the company until 1993
Time off, property management in Hilton Head, S.C.
Senior VP-worldwide director, Integrated Marketing Services
Blau Marketing Technologies, Led expansion into Europe, Asia/Pacific and Latin America
CEO, Euro RSCG Worldwide’s Sales Machine