Will Roger Bentley and Rob Feakins prove a charm for Ammirati Puris Lintas?
On Oct. 30, a month after former McKinsey & Co. executive Rick Hadala was named North American chairman and CEO of Ammirati Puris Lintas, the New York shop went through a sweeping restructuring.
When the dust settled, there was a new head of client services, a new media director and–as many expected–new creative leadership. Tom Nelson and Mark Johnson, co-creative directors since October 1996, were replaced by Roger Bentley, 39, and Rob Feakins, 42.
Nelson and Johnson are “great creative guys,” says Martin Puris, chairman and chief executive of APL Worldwide, “but I thought it wasn’t working as well as it should. We’re determined to do the best, and sometimes that means moving things around.”
This isn’t the first time APL has tried to recapture the creative luster of Ammirati & Puris, which has dulled since it merged with Lintas in July 1994. In fact, Bentley’s and Feakins’ appointments mark the third creative chief since the merger. Helayne Spivak, former chief creative officer of APL, was replaced by Johnson and Nelson.
The new team assumed creative control in a tumultuous year. Apart from personnel changes, the agency lost its $200 million Compaq Computer account and two assignments from signature client Unilever.
At press time, APL was defending its $20 million General Motors OnStar account. In addition, APL is attempting to recast itself as a “communications company” rather than an ad agency.
“We have a huge challenge,” says Bentley. “We have negative talk on the street about senior management who are gone and [questions] about who [Hadala] is.” But there are pluses: “Not being homegrown here is an advantage,” adds Feakins. “Not knowing how [APL] operated in the past and coming with our own philosophy will help us.”
Ensconced in the agency’s offices overlooking the East River, their mandate is simple. “We’re trying to challenge everyone to do great work,” says Bentley. Thus far, Bentley and Feakins have distinguished themselves with their work on the $150 million Iridium account and a strategic branding assignment for Goldman Sachs.
Both men say they take a more hands-on approach to managing the 75-member department than their predecessors and retain day-to-day responsibility on Iridium, Goldman Sachs, Bacardi, Lego and Four Seasons accounts. On a supervisory level, they oversee a roster that includes Unilever, Burger King, General Motors, RCA and Johnson & Johnson, among others. Installing pride is a top priority. “You have to make people feel that every ad is an opportunity,” says Feakins.
To extend a sense of creative ownership, the team is focusing on building stronger relationships between creatives and account managers. “Everyone has been aware of what department they are in, and that’s not always a good thing,” says Feakins. “It would be nice if everyone was into doing good ads.”
Both Feakins and Bentley come from agencies with strong creative reputations. Bentley worked at Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., and Feakins spent the bulk of his career at TBWA/Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif. Each has a distinct creative style. Bentley’s art direction for clients like Coca-Cola often yields stark results. He favors contrasts, mixing color with black-and-white footage or placing figures on neutral backgrounds.
Feakins employs humor; he helped develop parody Bunny spots for Chiat client Energizer, as well as witty, self-referential dialogue for Dunkin Donuts and emotionally charged copy for Volvo while at Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer.
The duo’s work for Iridium shows how their styles meld. Dramatic images of snow-capped mountains, desolate deserts and exotic rain forests combine with witty copy.
Their careers may have converged at APL, yet each took a different path. A native of Silverton, Ore., Bentley joined the Navy after high school to earn money for college. He became a draftsman, working with Navy photographers and writers to create fleetwide newsletters. He later enrolled in Portland’s Pacific Northwest College of Art, traveling to Japan for an internship to study with designer Katsu Kimura.
On his return, he took a job as a senior art director at Phias, Schmidt/Westerdahl in Portland, “some little agency that didn’t know any better.” Four years later, in 1991, he opened his own shop, Big Ads. After his work won national recognition, Bentley accepted a full-time job at Wieden.
Bentley spent “a great 10 months,” he says, racking up approximately 30 TV spots and 50 print ads for Wieden clients like Nike and Microsoft. But he had his eye on New York and, in 1996, accepted a job at Hill, Holliday/Altschiller. “Whatever cynicism or skepticism that seems to grow in creative people over their years has not grown in him,” says David Altschiller. “He still wanted to tilt windmills.”
Though Bentley was brought in as Altschiller’s partner, he clashed with president Chuck Kushell and was asked to leave in late 1997. “They showed me the door,” Bentley says, “and I went for it gladly.” He joined APL in January ’98.
Feakins pursued advertising after spending a year as a reporter at the Morris County Daily Record in New Jersey. At night, he cut out pictures from National Geographic and wrote headlines to match them. In 1980, his “book” landed him a job with Ted Bates, working on the U.S. Navy account. Feakins was writing copy for recruitment posters at the same time Bentley was swabbing decks.
After other agency stints, Feakins joined Chiat/Day in 1986, where he worked under creative directors Rick Boyko and Steve Rabosky. “He was intelligent and smart and one of the more thorough people who worked for me,” says Boyko. Jerry Gentile of TBWA/C/D, adds, “We were always laughing. He’s going to make that place fun.”
Feakins joined APL in 1998 to work with Bentley on Iridium and wrote the “Calling planet Earth” tagline. John Windolph, Iridium’s vice president of marketing and corporate communications, describes the task as “delivering dial tone to the planet.”
Bentley made the initial presentation to Iridium backers in Bangkok last year and broke the ice by using his limited knowledge of Japanese and Chinese to greet the investors, which charmed executives.
At APL, Bentley functions as the stern taskmaster. According to one creative staffer, he wants people to “bring him solutions, not problems.” Feakins, a Westport, Conn., family man with two daughters, is characterized as more of a cheerleader. “[Feakins] can rally people behind him,” says Gentile, while Rabosky, now worldwide creative director at APL, says, “People believe if they have good work, [Feakins] will champion it.” An added bonus: APL
co-workers say the two are in sync. “They speak with the same voice,” says Bob Manni, account director on the Bacardi account.
Another selling point: Clients love their attitude. “We have fabulous interplay and always have,” says Windolph. “If Rob and Rog can’t say to me, ‘You’re being an idiot,’ we’ll never get anywhere.”
The team admits that despite the awesome challenge APL presents, the process will be slow. “People are getting used to us,” says Bentley. “It’ll take time to see that Ammirati is a force to reckon with creatively.”
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