The Player: Y&R gets High on integration as shop broadens service mix

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Take in a few details of Robb High's outward appearance-his salt-and-pepper hair, clear green eyes, straight posture and slim build, plus the gold ring, worn on his right-hand ring finger, embossed with the Yale University emblem. His exterior screams patrician.

Consider how a long-time friend and former colleague describes him: "Robb's a great guy to get in a car accident with. He's very good under pressure," said Bill Oberlander, senior partner, executive creative director, WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, New York.

Mr. Oberlander, who worked with Mr. High at Havas Dentsu Marstellar and then Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, recalls a stressful moment years ago during one of their new-business pitches. "We'd all worked tirelessly for days. We were rehearsing the pitch and about 15 minutes before our client meeting was set to start, the slide projector jammed. Everyone but Robb panicked. Robb went into total Marine mode, calmly barking requests for tools: `Screwdriver!' `Duct tape!' He never broke a sweat, got the thing fixed just in time."

His patrician appearance belies a scrappy spirit. During his senior year at Yale, Mr. Highran the student laundry. He got a call from the university's career office offering an opportunity to interview with Procter & Gamble. He took it.

That was the start of a career that mixes "must-have" marketing experience, including account management stints at Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide, with jobs at more iconoclastic industry experiments, including the now-dissolved Havas Dentsu Marstellar.

Now marketing director-North America, at WPP's Y&R Advertising, Mr. High, 55, will draw on every skill developed during his three-decades-plus in marketing and advertising. In his words, "My job is to take what [ Young & Rubicam] has been doing for the last 31 years to a new level."

making integration work

In other words, his challenge is to make integration, particularly within the Young & Rubicam-owned companies, work better than it has in the past. He describes himself as a "true believer" in integrated communications. His epiphany conversion occurred in the mid-1980s, when he led the account for Mita copiers, overseeing areas in both advertising and public relations. "Mita sponsored a track event with long-distance competitions," he recalled. "Our public relations footage focused on endurance and dependability"-the characteristics the client wanted emphasized. "Any time a message becomes a part of content, it has more credibility."

Craig Middleton, chief marketing officer, Young & Rubicam, said that giving such responsibility to Mr. High indicates the company's return "to the way we were organized some years ago. ... We were ahead of our time then." Several factors contribute to the move now: Clients "have to make their marketing dollars work much harder. ... Clearly the communications business is how we have to think about this now, not simply advertising," he said.

Fast Facts

Name: Robert Duncan High

Age: 55

Now: Marketing Director, North America, Y&R Advertising

Challenge: To achieve seamless integrated communications

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