IPG’s Plans For Lowe: ‘Dividing, Conquering’

Last week’s news of Interpublic Group evp Stephen Gatfield coming in to watch over Lowe illustrates the parent company’s growing impatience with Lowe’s turnaround and raises questions about the role of current management, sources said.

It’s unclear what Gatfield’s specific duties will be, what title he’ll take and how that will affect CEO Tony Wright. IPG declined to comment, and Wright was unavailable. Gatfield said the new management structure would be about “dividing and conquering.”

Gatfield’s arrival is said to be part of a series of sweeping changes for the shop, whose 2005 was largely defined by client losses in major markets with few global wins. Lowe also is expected to streamline to less than 20 offices (from the current 80-plus). It’s all part of a long-awaited repositioning plan that IPG will finalize before its March 27 investors’ conference.

Gatfield, 47, is described by colleagues as smart, worldly and brusque. He has a degree in psychology and worked at the U.K. National Health Service before crossing over into advertising. Before IPG, he spent the bulk of his career at Leo Burnett.

For more than a year, the Yorkshire native has worked behind the scenes to help IPG forge a new strategic direction for Lowe. And now, he says Lowe’s challenge is to expand its capabilities via new talent and partnerships with IPG speciality shops. “The real equation is new channels, new content platforms—the ways of engaging consumers,” said Gatfield. Lowe will also forge a “coherent, strategic process,” Gatfield said.