Size doesn’t matter when there’s strong leadership

The size issue continues to dominate the letters page, prompted by FutureBrand London boss Charles Trevail’s recent outpourings on the subject. And while the big players like FutureBrand continue to claim universal reach across complementary communications platforms, smaller independents maintain they are nimbler and more creative.

But isn’t the issue moving on now from one of size to one of leadership? Whatever the strengths of any consultancy, whatever its size, isn’t the real power in the personalities at the helm?

Take Fitch. When ailing Cordiant Communications Group brought its design interests together under the Fitch banner at the start of the year, it was probably difficult for clients and staff to get their heads around the restructuring. But at least the leaders of the constituent parts were still in post as managing partners.

Now all members of that original line-up have left the business, for one reason or another, along with Fitch Worldwide supremo Paul Stead. The current managing partners, former Fitch London managing creative director Tim Greenhalgh and head of client services Lucy Unger, both have a great track record with the group and are talented people. But both are new to management at this level, within a consultancy that, through the fortunes of its parent, is currently going through the mill.

This is not to say that Greenhalgh and Unger aren’t up for it, or that they might soon be joined on the Fitch management team by equally good folk. Nor does it mean that Fitch’s work will decline in volume or quality. It is just that it isn’t the group it was a few months ago.

Of course, a change in senior personnel can work well. Richard Ford’s shift from Landor Associates’ London office to New York some five years ago was a seamless process, with Peter Knapp more than competent to step into his shoes as London managing creative director. Meanwhile, at the smaller end, Williams Murray Banks seemingly moved effortlessly to become Williams Murray Hamm, when Garrick Hamm took over as creative director from Justin Banks three years ago.

But with Fitch and other big groups currently going through a bit of blood-letting it’s not just one key name that’s changing. It is entire senior teams.

Design being famously a ‘people business’, this is bound to have a big impact all round. And that impact is to do with culture rather than competence, which is where the point of difference between creative rivals surely lies. We’ve seen some fairly scary examples, with prominent groups becoming anonymous overnight. Let’s hope that Fitch has learned from them as WPP Group comes courting.

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