Does new chief exec Charlie Rudd face a battle to make a mark at Ogilvy & Mather?

The former Campaign deputy editor Jeremy Lee gives us the inside track on the stories that have got the ad industry talking.

“Some lives leave a mark. Others leave a stain.” So goes the end line to the endlessly repeated radio ad for Charles Saatchi’s new and supposedly amusing tome about death, called Dead: A Celebration of Mortality.

Charlie Rudd

Whether Saatchi left a mark on the throat of his former wife Nigella Lawson during their famous “playful tiff” outside Scott’s restaurant is not known, but it did stain his reputation somewhat.

Nonetheless there’s no doubting that Saatchi has made an enduring impression on advertising, most potently with the agencies that still bear his name, despite his long absence from the industry. Incidentally, it’s also gratifying to see him finally recognising the power of advertising, both radio and outdoor, to get his books up the bestseller lists rather than sending aides out to bulk buy them – a revelation that emerged in the 2013 trial of two members of his domestic staff.

Another man who has left a mark at an agency – and who will probably be too modest to accept the considerable contribution that he has made over the years – is Charlie Rudd, the cheerful and talented chief operating officer of Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

As revealed by The Drum on Wednesday, after 17 years at BBH Rudd is being installed as the new chief executive of Ogilvy & Mather London – a role that, to put it politely, is not without its challenges and that previous incumbents have struggled with.

It’s a shock to see him leave BBH, an agency of which he has always been such a key part. This sense of surprise is enhanced further by him leaving to take the Ogilvy job, where he has become the fourth CEO in the past 10 years.

In a note to staff, BBH’s chief executive Ben Fennell was fulsome in his praise of Rudd’s abilities, particularly when under pressure. Fennell wrote that Rudd’s “defining moments have often been during [BBH’s] toughest times. Times when his unique blend of cheerfulness, resilience and cussed determination always carried the day.” Rudd’s persistently affable demeanor is a carapace for something rather tougher underneath.

Few doubt that Rudd will be required to draw heavily upon these resources, which he used to help BBH bounce back from its mid-2000s nadir and reestablish itself as a formidable force in UK advertising, when he starts at Ogilvy at the beginning of next year.

But then Rudd – and his impressive new boss the Ogilvy Group CEO Annette King – will have worked this one out themselves.

Rudd started his career at Ogilvy & Mather in 1989 as part of a particularly gilded graduate intake recruited by Cilla Snowball that also included Ben Priest, Neil Simpson and Karen Buchanan (and whatever happened to them?), so at least he knows his way around the body corporate.

He has already acknowledged that the previous attempts at reigniting Ogilvy have not been successful, telling me that no one’s expecting him to do the same job as his predecessors but get different results, so significant change could be underway.

An untangling of the convoluted reporting structures and an abolishment of the account baronies must surely be on the cards if Ogilvy is to be more than just a moribund if famous heritage agency brand and achieve the domestic potential that both King and now Rudd seem committed to.

The final word must go to Fennell, who also wrote: “If I ever had to go to war, I would want Charlie Rudd by my side. He has spent his career throwing himself on grenades, and charging fearlessly into whatever the business asked him to.”

Let battle commence. It’s time that Ogilvy made a mark.

Follow Jeremy Lee on Twitter @jezzalee

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