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Did Follows prove a step too far for JWT's old boys?

When Tracey Follows breezed into JWT London in June 2012, her arrival felt like a breath of fresh air. Her sudden resignation, announced to shocked staff last week, was almost as dramatic. Despite pleas to stay, she leaves the agency after two years later this summer. Her mind was made up and, for those who know her, there's rarely any changing of that.

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Follows is one of those real forces of nature: an incredible capacity for work and lashings of strategic prowess (evident in her chairmanship of the Account Planning Group), combined with an innate determination – fierceness, even – that was probably needed to shake up an agency with a reputation, fair or not, for being run by posh blokes who seem old before their time.

Like a whirlwind, Follows did her best to blow away this staid reputation by a virtual total clear-out of the planning department she had inherited from her predecessor, Tony Quinn, and the installation of people who rather more fitted her way of thinking. It’s likely that JWT’s old-timers probably didn’t know what had hit them.

It's difficult to imagine any agency where Follows wouldn't feel the same frustrations given her drive

From the outside looking in, Follows seems to have done a pretty good job given the size of the task at hand. While the agency’s creative reputation has been slowly but steadily on the rise thanks to the leadership of Russell Ramsey (Andrex’s "#scrunchorfold" notwithstanding), Follows, along with the other two executive partners, helped create something resembling if not a buzz then a reassuring hum about the place. Her decision to quit will leave a large hole in its strategic planning credentials, as well as a personality gap that may prove difficult to fill. Maybe the pace of change at JWT wasn’t fast enough for Follows but, then again, it’s difficult to imagine any agency where she wouldn’t feel the same frustrations given her relentless drive.

Another move, also announced last week, seemed to suggest evidence of the beginnings of the fallout from the Publicis-Omnicom farrago. Olivier Altmann, a key lieutenant to Maurice Lévy and a one-time Publicis global creative director, has quit after ten years for his own start-up. Given that the already famously parsimonious Publicis Groupe blew its share of $100 million on the failed merger, it’s likely that it will want to recoup the money somehow – if only to go some way to sparing Lévy’s blushes as hints of the 72-year-old’s retirement become stronger. That’s a legacy he won’t want. Cutting staff costs is an obvious place to start and, if stalwarts such as Altmann are ready to walk, then it doesn’t seem inconceivable that there will be further repercussions over here. And if key personnel start to leave, then surely it’s only a matter of time before clients, err, follow.

jeremy.lee@haymarket.com
@jezzalee

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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