Dooner’s Return to McCann, 9 Months In

When John Dooner returned for a second tour of duty as CEO of McCann-Erickson WorldGroup nine months ago, he met with the 20 members of the network’s board and said, “Let’s get on with it.” But would it be that easy?

His re-entry at the estimated $30 billion global network was met with no small measure of doubt and anxiety. Dooner had just resigned under pressure after two often turbulent years at the helm of parent Interpublic Group. IPG’s financial troubles had stemmed in large part from accounting imbalances at McCann’s European operations, for which WorldGroup CEO Jim Heekin was dumped last February. Inevitably, McCann was split into two camps: pro-“Johnny” and pro-“Jimmy.”

“A lot of people were very suspicious in the beginning,” said one source. “Did [Dooner] save his own ass? Did Jim take the fall? … Morale was pretty bad at first. Now, people are more neutral. The dust has settled. Some people are feeling more optimistic.”

Dooner, known as a high-energy, no- nonsense manager, was head of McCann and then WorldGroup from 1994 until 2001, when he rose to lead IPG. Since his return, he has mostly made carefully thought-out personnel moves, sources said, most significantly at McCann’s European hub in London. The network has done well in new business in 2003, winning some $600 million in billings in the U.S. and globally from L’Oreal Plenitude, Capital One, Nikon, Budget Rent a Car, Bass Ale, Sepracor, Pfizer and others. And Dooner has put his philosophical stamp on the shop by defining and developing the four pillars he set as goals when he returned to WorldGroup: people, product, profit and partners (clients).

“John has made significant management changes at McCann and taken important, decisive actions on the right issues,” IPG CEO David Bell said through a representative.

Still, one source said, “I don’t know that I have a sense of his vision yet for the agency.”

That may change in Hollywood, Fla., on Nov. 12, when Dooner will detail for about 300 of WorldGroup’s top managers his plans to restore the luster of the agency he has called home for 18 of his 30-plus years in the business. The occasion will be WorldGroup’s quinquennial meeting to outline an agenda and mission for the next half-decade.

Dooner, sources said, will hammer home a growth theme centered on McCann’s need to rebuild itself—a vision that an agency representative described as a “new and larger positioning and go-to-market strategy.” No details of the plan have been disclosed, but Dooner is sure to outline them in his usual upbeat and confident manner—a style even doubters say remains undampened by his IPG experience.

Despite speculation that the 55-year-old’s thirst for the game has waned, Dooner last week said through a representative that he has no intention of leaving. “I’m having a great time, making progress, lots to do,” he said. (The IPG rep said it is holding-company policy not to comment on Dooner’s or any other contract.)

A consummate adman, a streetfighter with a warm streak, Dooner “is the ultimate client-involved agency guy,” said Andrea Alstrup, corporate vp of advertising for McCann client Johnson & Johnson. Ironically, he was criticized for those attributes during his time at IPG, with some observers charging that he was too much of an agency man and not enough of a businessman to tackle the holding company’s myriad financial problems. Indeed, he may be back in his element at McCann. “John’s return has meant a lot more attention to us on a regular basis,” said Larry Flanagan, MasterCard’s worldwide chief marketing officer. “He’s not afraid to roll up his sleeves and get involved in our account.”

“I think Dooner has a foot firmly planted on the company’s present needs—reinvigorating growth, rekindling pride and morale—and another foot firmly planted in the future,” said Marcio Moreira, McCann vice chairman.

There will be plenty of new faces on the team bus to Florida and quite a few players in new positions. Moreira, who had been splitting his time overseeing creative and multinational account duties, was asked to focus on the account work and global staffing.

Oversight for the network’s creative was concentrated in worldwide creative director Jonathan Cranin, who some believe can bring forth at least a few more showcase campaigns like the MasterCard “Priceless” work. “He’s the best we’ve got,” said one source.

In August, Bret Gosper, co-chairman of Havas’ Euro RSCG in London, was tapped to run McCann New York. Another staffing change was forced on Dooner: In June, Eric Keshin, co-leader of the $1.5 billion New York office, was named North American regional director following the death of Mark Gault.

But it was in London that Dooner has made the biggest staffing strides. HHCL & Partners founder Rupert Howell joined as chairman of the $700 million London office around the same time Gosper announced he was headed for the U.S.

The hires of Gosper and Howell helped snare another big fish last week. “I thought, ‘Shit, they mean business,’ ” said Robert Campbell, co-founder of WPP Group’s Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R in London. A close friend of Howell’s, Campbell will join McCann in January in the new positions of vp, creative for Europe and ecd for the U.K.

Also last week, Chime Communications director of business development Robin Price was named COO for McCann’s U.K. and Ireland groups and vp of operations for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

“All the moves in Europe, that’s where the interesting part of the story is,” said Chris Weil, CEO of WorldGroup promotions unit Momentum Worldwide. “That was what was broken, and [Dooner has] brought in new and accomplished talent instead of moving people around the network like before. He’s also taken a strong hand in clarifying people’s management duties, especially in operating companies of WorldGroup, so people can focus on growing their businesses.”