Tony Granger: One agency's loss ...

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Tony Granger says he gets bored very quickly. So perhaps it shouldn't have been that much of a surprise when he rocked Bozell, New York, last month by announcing that he was leaving to step into David Droga's outsized shoes as executive creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi, London.

In two years as ECD of Bozell Mr. Granger, a passionate 42-year-old South African, transformed a sleepy creative department into one that came third in the world at the Cannes International Advertising Festival 2002, beating all other American agencies. In fact, he was important enough to the agency that his departure will be seen by many as a catalyst in the merger of Bozell and Lowe.

So did he know that changes were afoot? If so he's tight-lipped on the subject, preferring to stress the opportunities provided by a move to Saatchi.

"There's something about the Saatchi brand that is wonderful," he says already talking "we." "Saatchi is one of the few networks focused and determined on attracting and keeping the best people, and we want to do the best ads. A lot of people in advertising have lost the plot a little. Yes it's a business, but at the end of the day, it's about the ads."

In reality, the story is more complicated. Saatchi Worldwide CEO Kevin Roberts and ECD Bob Isherwood had tried to recruit Mr. Granger seven years ago to put him together in Australia with the man who will be his CEO in London, James Hall. Mr. Granger, then at Hunt Lascaris TBWA in South Africa, could not go for "personal reasons," but stayed in touch.

SUDDEN OFFER

Two months ago, Mr. Granger was invited by Mr. Isherwood to Mr. Roberts' striking Tribeca loft for dinner. After the obligatory chat, he was suddenly offered the London job. "I was like `Oh no! I have just moved the family here and got settled and ... "' He went home to Westport, Conn., woke his British wife Claire at midnight to ask her what she thought, and in the morning was on his way.

It is difficult to overstate the significance of the Saatchi agency in London. It was, of course, the base from which Maurice and Charles grew their empire, revolutionizing first the British, and then the global advertising scene. It has been associated with great work for 30 years. It is even universally known by its address, Charlotte Street.

Mr. Roberts, in typically belligerent form, admits candidly: "Bob and I crapped ourselves about moving Droga when he first went there. London's insular and up itself. It thinks it's a world leader. In fact, it's advertising that talks to itself. U.K. work is not simple, it's complex and consumers are just not responding to it."

"We were concerned about David," he continues. "He was Australian, he was young, he was brash and he wasn't part of the Trevor Beattie mafia. But he turned out to be everything we wanted and more." (Mr. Beattie is the infamous chairman and former creative director, of TBWA London.)

Mr. Roberts describes Mr. Granger as being very like Mr. Droga, who he admits he was sad to see go, but was happy to recommend to Publicis Groupe CEO, Maurice Levy, for the Publicis Worldwide ECD job.

"This is my third crack at trying to hire Tony since 1995," Mr. Roberts says. "Back then all the best stuff in South Africa was at Hunt Lascaris, and all being done by him. It was sensational, competitive, emotional. He was connecting. He had the work across every media and category. He is a humble leader and he has a great eye for getting great work out."

That judgement is about to be tested at Charlotte Street, an agency that has gone through a great deal of turmoil to emerge fifth by income in London in 2002, up from seventh a year earlier. This and a Saatchi sweep at Cannes last year, have happened against a drop in staffing from 495 in 2000 to the current 299.

Mr. Hall has turned the place upside down since his arrival from New Zealand. He got rid of the remaining in-house media department, disbanded the cause-related marketing arm, moved Saatchi Healthcare into the sibling team Saatchi agency, and got out of the PR business. He also reduced the reporting layers of account men from nine to three, taking out tiers of middle managers.

Although the agency lost the sizeable Lloyds TSB bank and Norwich Union insurance accounts in 2001, and Sony Europe last year to Fallon, this was countered by landing the giant T-Mobile account and Royal Bank of Scotland in addition to more Pillsbury and Procter & Gamble Co. business.

"We have won good new business. I am happy with the margins. The challenge now is to put more of the business results behind the creative product," Mr. Hall says. "David has broken the back of this whole London `Who the hell are you?' and `What right do you have to be my creative director?' thing. A lot of London agencies make the mistake of only looking in the one square mile of Soho for their talent. But London is about creating ads for the U.K., for Europe, and globally. We were attracted to Tony's internationalism, as well as his craft skills."

Despite the fact that his real name is Pedro Antonio Granger, Mr. Granger came late to internationalism. Having belatedly accepted at the age of 24 that he was never going to make it as a rock star, he thought advertising would be the next best thing.

After a couple of false starts he ended up spending 14 years at Hunt Lascaris, which became the first South African agency to win international recognition. The agency won 29 Cannes Lions under his leadership.

Then he had that rare mid-life crisis that worked out for the good, worrying that at 40 he needed to experience the world. There was no doubt that coming to New York, and to sleepy Bozell in particular, at the behest of CEO Tom Bernadin was a major culture shock.

DIFFERENT TASK

"The job at Bozell was so different. I came to restructure, re-hire, re-invent the agency," Mr. Granger recalls. "This was new to me, before then I had always been involved with a very hot agency. For me to come to a once great agency that had lost a little of its sparkle was a great opportunity."

Mr. Granger made dramatic, and sometimes painful changes. He flattened the structure, brought in "babies" fresh from college. It was a dramatic overhaul-as much as 80% or more staff turnover.

The result was a body of work that was getting Bozell noticed, particularly in print. The New York Times, Datek, "Got Milk?" and Duncan Hines print, as well as the Verizon "Can you hear me now?" and "Got Chocolate Milk?" TV campaigns, have been either talked about or awarded-and they worked.

Mr. Granger-like Mr. Droga-is one of the most client-focused creatives you will ever meet. He talks with infectious enthusiasm for his clients' brands and businesses. But did he see a big difference between clients in South Africa and in New York?

"Clients all want the same things: to move product to make it famous," he replies. "It's how you get there that's so different. In South Africa things move at a far, far quicker pace. Clients are only more cautious here because of the enormity of the decisions. Don't get me wrong though," he laughs, "South Africa is not full of cowboys. Here you produce less work, it's over-scrutinized and analyzed. The danger is you start ticking boxes, and you try to make advertising an absolute science, which it's not, then the work becomes too labored."

AVERAGE work

"Look at Goodby Silverstein's work on Saturn, look at Crispin Porter's work," he says, warming up. "The best work in the U.S. is fabulous. You have the best actors, the best directors. But, because of size there is also so much average work. The average work in the U.K. tends to be better."

Which begs the question, in what state does he leave the soon-to-be-merged agency? "Bozell's creative department is fantastic," he replies. "There's not one person who does not pull their weight, who is not talented or driven. It's all driven by the work."

"But new business never really got there," he concedes. "Although we were on really good pitches with a dynamite new business person, Ruth Ayres. It's funny how an agency's perception lags reality."

Messrs, Roberts, Granger, Isherwood, Hall-they all talk constantly about Cannes. Why? "We have made it one of our challenges to be in top three at Cannes every year." Mr. Roberts says, "Clients say why? We can demonstrate a strong correlation between advertising that wins big at Cannes and the marketplace. We also use Cannes success to recruit creative talent."

Which is all well and good, but why London? Isn't New York the center of the advertising universe? The Australian Mr. Isherwood answers: "The U.K. market is very demanding. It's the best place to do great work. And there is still a job to be done there for us in cutting through with work for more of our clients."

But how much does Mr. Granger know about London's intense advertising culture, obsession with the work, and D & AD and awards. "Sitting in South Africa I knew the hottest things happening in New York, London and Brazil. The world is so small. We all read the same books and get exposed to the same stuff. It's more international now." Mr. Granger seems blessed. He sold his house in Westport a week ago, went to London, found a house and an American school for his four-year-old daughter and left Bozell last weekend.

For years it seemed no outside creative directors would ever crack the peculiar London mind-set, but no one would now bet against Mr. Granger being be a huge hit there. "Pressure?" he laughs. "I'm inheriting theoretically the best creative department in the world, aren't I? What pressure?"

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