A Different Sort of Import

By Published on .

Most Popular
"Good enough is not good enough-Lowe people are going to get sick and tired of hearing that." The man who will be bending their ears is Mark Wnek, the storied U.K. creative personality who was recently recruited as Lowe/New York chairman and chief creative officer by global CEO Tony Wright to help direct the embattled agency's next act in New York. "It's un-English to be ambitious," says Wnek. "But my immediate family had first-hand experience of communism. I hate that lack of competition. I am so competitive I can hardly stand still. I wear it like an extra limb. Brands need constant forward momentum, or other brands will come and take their place."

Wnek, admittedly, is not your average creative. Equally at home discussing business strategy with a client CEO as he is working with a creative team on a rough cut, the former chairman and executive creative director of Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper, London, is one of the few creatives for whom "chairman" is not just an honorific.

He is also a different kind of Brit, the son of a Polish immigrant to the U.K., who already stays up late watching baseball. "There's the snooty Brit who is all, 'They need me over here to show them how it's done,' " Wnek says. "I'm the opposite. There is a scale and seriousness to America that's quite humbling. It turns you on so much. Everything about me is American, except for my accent. I think it's the greatest country in the world."

Wnek made several names for himself in London. Creatively, he was both the writer behind the renowned Guinness "Pure Genius" campaign at Ogilvy & Mather, and the Cannes Gold Lion-winning Heineken "Blues Singer" for then Lowe Howard-Spink. But, with former partner Brett Gosper (now running TBWA New York), he became famous-and not a little infamous-over the past decade through forging a competitive, meaningful agency, Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper, out of four mediocre Havas agency brands. Hired by Jean Michel-Goudard (the G in Euro RSCG) to be the "bad cop," Wnek, nothing if not driven, took to the role a little too well. "There was no way I could have achieved some of the good things there without some of the negatives," he reflects. "I was given a license to seek publicity, coupled with being scared in a bad organization. I am sure I behaved more waspishly and unkindly than I should have. But that is what was expected of me."

London gossiped about his "full-on" aggressive behavior, but there was little argument with the agency's achievement. In addition to high-profile wins like the Abbey Bank, Microsoft U.K., Philips (global from London) and Haagen-Dazs, just as importantly Euro retained clients, notably keeping two massive car brands in different agency buildings, Peugeot and Citroen.

London thought he was joking in 2003 when he quit Euro to start up Ben Mark Orlando with the only adman there with a more controversial reputation than his, the former McCann London boss, Ben Langdon. The latter split after 100 days to take Wnek's old job at Euro RSCG .

Wnek was chastened by their public, acrimonious breakup. "I had been cosseted in such an uncreative environment and he saw that. I thought we were doing a Mother and reinventing ourselves, and he wanted McCann Mark 2." Since then he has enjoyed being the highly subjective ad critic of The Independent newspaper. It's a must-read column, in part because of Wnek's admitted bias toward friends. And so to the much battered Lowe in a New York which is already suffering no shortage of Brits. However, one can't help thinking that his blue-collar, sleeves-rolled-up, in-the-trenches style might play well here. "Nationality, color, shoe size have nothing to do with it," says Matthew Bull, Lowe's worldwide CCO. "What we needed was someone with a strong creative reputation, combined with proven business acumen and the energy and ambition to turn our New York agency into a word class player. There are very few people like that in the world. Mark happens to be one of them."

As for his priorities in the job, Wnek will only suggest that a top level creative hire is likely, but he's exceedingly clear about the kinds of creatives who will and will not rate. In short, Wnek says he is less interested in the "hand on hip, lovey" approach, i.e. those who are essentially filmmakers, than in real problem solvers. "I'm only interested in big ideas that can cross over into any place you need them. I'm fascinated by the hard commercial aspect of actually answering questions about brands, and the places that consumers really bump into brands."

There's a danger for those at Lowe who are left after all the trauma , he says , "to pat themselves on the back for having survived, rather than realize they just stopped the bleeding. Why should any one of 500 people in a big agency feel any differently from the 100 in a small one? I don't subscribe to the 'rules of behavior for big agencies' type of thinking." For a very modern adman who understands that simply charming the masses in 30 seconds is no longer enough, he has a refreshing belief in advertising and agencies. "I don't have the baggage of business relationships. I want to be given business because we're really good. There are all these new-media canvases, and they need stuff to fill them. Who is better placed than ad agencies to do so? But I need creatives who get that."

Lowe and New York advertising might not know what's about to hit them.

In this article: