Robertharwoodmat Feature England

Revolution at BDH\\TBWA - News Analysis

By The Drum | Administrator

August 30, 2007 | 4 min read

Robert Harwood-Matthews interview

When he arrived in Manchester in September 2006, Robert Harwood-Matthews announced big plans for BDH\\TBWA.

The agency was still reeling after the loss of the Morrisons account and chief executive Neil Griffiths had been shown the door. It was a stumbling giant in need of a steady hand.

A board director of JWT at the age of 29, handling clients such as Unliver and Esso, and later TBWA’s client services director, where he led a 55-strong team, Harwood-Matthews was, at 35, seen as the ideal candidate to bring the good times back to one of Manchester’s largest agencies.

At the time, commenting on his ambitions for the business, he said: “It’s very important to me to nurture the youngsters, the very bright, aggressive young people in the agency, which is something I’ve always been passionate about. I want to make BDH really famous.

The agency hasn’t been shouting loud enough recently. We should be holding conversations about what’s going on in the agency and what’s going on in the industry and that’s what I intend to do….My job and the reality of coming in as the new chief exec is to be focusing on the future; strong growth and high levels of creativity.”

Just one month away from his first anniversary at the agency, news comes that the chief executive has made a trio of senior redundancies; axing managing director Nick Brookes and joint creative directors Chris Lear and Gary Hulme. And they’re not the only changes either; during his tenure Harwood-Matthews has restructured the BDH team dramatically, with a number of staff moving on and others coming in. With fellow TBWA\\Manchester agency Tequila\\ making an undisclosed number of redundancies in July, the Didsbury-based group is baring little resemblance to the team in place this time last year.

In fact, it was only in April of last year that BDH announced a restructure and promptly issued a photo to the press of their new-look board of directors (pictured). Since then, six of the nine directors pictured have been made redundant.

Aside from Brookes, Hulme and Lear, the other directors that are understood to have been made redundant are Dave Peters (who headed up the agency’s Parklands operation); new business director Liz Bielinska, who now runs Planning Express; chief executive Neil Griffiths, who is rumoured to be involved with an agency in Knutsford; and client services director Carol Smith (not pictured), who is now new business director at McCann Erickson Communications House. Meanwhile, Bryn Jones (not pictured) has also left the company during this time. John Triner, Liz Ingham and Alex Johnson all remain at the company in different roles.

Personnel changes aside, it’s been a turbulent 18 months for the firm. The aforementioned Morrisons loss – rumoured to carry a media spend between £10-30million, depending on your source – hit the agency hardest, while ATS and Odeon have also switched their accounts to other suppliers. However, there have been new client gains since then; Jessops, DWP and, most notably, ghd, have all enlisted the agency in the last six months to handle seven-figure accounts.

It’s not thought that an account move has triggered the departure of Brookes, Hulme and Lear. Instead, the general consensus is that these changes mark the final stages of Harwood-Matthews’ revolution. Both Hulme and Lear are understood to have been offered senior creative posts, but declined to take a step down in their career and all signs point to Harwood-Matthews being on the verge of appointing an executive creative director.

Since his arrival Harwood-Matthews is believed to have made an attempt to lure back BDH’s ex-creative director, and Hulme’s former creative partner, Danny Brooke-Taylor from TBWA\\London, which he joined in 2004. However, Brooke-Taylor - who spent 10 years with BDH (four of them as creative director) - is understood to have turned down the alleged approach.

However, it’s Brookes’ departure that is likely to be the biggest eyebrow-raiser. It was the managing director that led the winning pitch team for ghd earlier this year amd it has since emerged that Harwood-Matthews has hired his wife Charlotte Harwood-Matthews to head up the account.

Whether this is Harwood-Matthews’ BDH revolution nearing completion, only time will tell – but the one thing that’s for sure is that as he approaches the one year mark since his arrival, he’s certainly put his stamp on one of Manchester’s most established agencies.

Robertharwoodmat Feature England

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