John Hunt at Center of TBWA’s Global Vision

For years, TBWA Worldwide has struggled to turn its global headquarters in New York into a creative force to match the legendary reputation of its Los Angeles office. Now it believes it has the solution.

John Hunt, the 48-year-old co-founder and executive creative director of TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris, South Africa, one of the most respected and award-winning shops in the world, will move to New York in April to be worldwide creative director of the $9.7 billion TBWA network, the agency said last week.

Hunt, who is described as a “gentle, humble and nurturing leader,” will share worldwide creative duties on the network’s global accounts with TBWA chairman Lee Clow, 59, who takes the modified title of chief creative officer worldwide.

“John is one of the go-to people in the network’s thinking about creativity and ideas,” said Clow. “We’re always trying to access his resources, but geographically it was difficult. I felt that if he could be in the New York headquarters office, he could have such an impact for the talent and the ideas we’re searching for.”

Hunt’s arrival will help bolster TBWA\ Chiat\Day, New York, which has traditionally trailed TBWA’s West Coast agencies creatively. It also helps fill a vacancy created last summer when New York’s co-ecds, Patrick O’Neill and Dallas Itzen, were recast as creative group heads. Since then, TBWA\Chiat\Day North American creative director Chuck McBride has been overseeing the New York creative department from San Francisco.

Hunt could not be reached at press time.

“Just his presence will help build a stronger creative product in New York,” said Clow. He said he and Hunt, who are a good match as an art director and copywriter, respectively, will divide up creative oversight of global clients such as Absolut, Nissan, Apple, Masterfoods and Sony PlayStation. “What I’d like both of us to do is have specific worldwide accounts that we demand excellence on around the world in terms of talent and work,” Clow said. “It’s a pretty hands-on responsibility.”

A leadership triad of Clow in Playa del Rey, Calif., McBride in San Francisco and Hunt in New York will give the agency a national creative force unprecedented in its history. “Having John in New York gives us strong creative leaders in all of our offices,” said Tom Carroll, TBWA’s president of the Americas, who is based in New York. “It’s nice to have so much strength. We’re very balanced now.”

Hunt’s partner, Reg Lascaris, will remain in Johannesburg and add global responsibilities to his duties as regional president of Africa, Middle East, Greece and Turkey. Lascaris and Hunt founded their shop in 1983. It became part of the TBWA network in 1991.

“[Hunt] represents the future in terms of finding ideas that are larger than advertising,” said Jean-Marie Dru, president and CEO of TBWA Worldwide. “We believe that New York needs some news. Not only our office, but the advertising scene as well.”

Philosophically, Hunt is a firm believer in Dru’s “disruption” method, and the $200 million creatively driven agency he built in South Africa is testament to his leadership abilities. Its work for clients such as BMW, Range Rover, Standard Bank and Nandos Chicken has displayed a wide range of creative solutions and styles, from the humorous to the emotional. The agency was also instrumental in Nelson Mandela’s first presidential election campaign. “[Hunt] thinks in a very big way about how a brand and a company should act and what it should do to build a brand of choice,” said Clow.

Hunt’s passion and dedication to the creative product is much like Clow’s, as is his style in fostering talent. One of his protégés, Tony Granger, who recently took the top creative job at Saatchi & Saatchi, London, won several international creative awards for work at TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris on Playtex’s Wonderbra, BMW and Bic pens. “[Hunt] has the warmest, most charming way of nurturing and encouraging people,” said Clow. “He’s raised some pretty good talent.”

The hope is that Hunt will do the same throughout TBWA’s network of 214 offices around the world. “We’re all on this worldwide agency bus, and ultimately the best talent has to make the whole better,” said Clow.