AOY '08: Q&A With TBWA's Tom Carroll


Can you put your finger on the issues in London? What will it take to get them back to being a leading agency in that market?

The story on London is simple. London was flying very high five years ago, and then all of a sudden -- like London -- everybody left and started their own agencies. [Simon] Clemmow and [Johnny] Hornby went off and started their own agency. And Trevor Beattie went off and started his own agency. Somebody else got hired to be CEO of some other agency. There was a talent drain in less than 12 months. All of the talent that made it a great office was gone. It was a bit of a blow for a lot of reasons. And we had some fits and starts. [Ex-ecd] Steve Henry is a talent. It just didn't seem to work out.

Why not?

We didn't seem to have the kind of momentum and success that we expected, right? [TBWA Group U.K. CEO] Tim Lindsay is in, who is obviously a proven talent. It's just that you can't turn those things [around] overnight.

It has been years, though, right?

It hasn't even been two years yet [since Lindsay joined]. So, Tim inherited something, and then the [opportunity to acquire] Beattie McGuinness [Bungay] came along. It seemed like a really interesting opportunity, simply because we'd had a lot of success with those guys five years ago. So, why wouldn't you look at it? Why wouldn't you consider it? At the end of the day, it was probably a blessing in disguise that it didn't happen. When we talked to Beattie McGuinness, it was no comment on Tim and the management of London. It just seemed like one of those things that you had to look at.

Why was it a blessing in disguise?

CARROLL: Trevor sold his agency to a Korean company, so obviously Trevor was after something other than building the TBWA network, helping be a part of the TBWA network. Which is fine. I mean, I love Trevor. He's one of the unique talents. I love guys like Trevor. I think it's what makes the industry fun. It makes the industry interesting. So, I've got a lot of time for Trevor. But that's not what he wanted to do. Talking to us and having conversations with us, and then signing 49 percent of the agency to a Korean organization, suggests maybe we weren't in the same place. So, it's probably a blessing.

Visa CMO Antonio Lucio said TBWA pitched work that was strong strategically, adaptable regionally and "almost finished." What did he mean by that?

Because creatives are very much part of the disruption process -- the smart ones -- we tend to get pretty bulletproof by the time we get to execution. It seems to be very consistent -- the strategy and the execution. So, yes, we did close-to-finished work because as a group we worked together.

Was there a point in the process where you felt like you really cracked the brief?

There were two stages, and we had a very good response after the first stage. But that's always dangerous when you get a really positive response after the first stage, because it gives everybody else [in the pitch] room to improve, and it gives you an opportunity to go backwards. What happened was, Carisa, more than anyone, was possessed. She had the strategy and the brand just pumping through her veins every minute of every day, and there was no way that woman was going to let us lose or let us do anything but improve. It was really her leadership and passion. ... I think of L.A. like the Lakers. She's like Magic Johnson. She can shoot, she can pass, she's the emotional leader. Schwartz is like James Worthy. He's like a power forward who can score, rebound, defend. And then I've got Kareem [Clow] in the middle, who's the veteran who can get you 30 a game, never makes a bad pass and knows what winning looks like. So, when you've got power like that, I'm another dumbfuck from Schenectady who just happens to be at the right place at the right time. You know Pat Riley is from Schenectady?
Was Visa's decision as much about the strategy and idea as it was about credentials and capabilities?

I think [Lucio] truly bought the idea and the work, period. Because, remember, he has a long history with BBDO and a lot of success. He also admired the work that Grey was doing, and he admired work that Burnett was doing around the world. And he made it clear to us from the beginning that this was wide open. It was a level playing field. I'm not sure I believed that at first, because you don't know. But what we basically decided to say was, "Let's just focus on winning the pitch," and forget about whether both politics and our relationships mattered. That probably had an awful lot to do with our winning in that they all saw we were single-mindedly about their business. There was no conversation about anything else. I'm a New Yorker, so I'm always worried about agendas. The guys in L.A. don't spend any time worrying about agendas. They just do. That's the beauty of L.A. -- they just do.

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