Recruiting Hunt

The effort to recruit John Hunt from his home in South Africa to TBWA Worldwide here began in November with a casual phone call from TBWA Worldwide chief creative officer Lee Clow. That initial friendly chat was followed by a full-court press last month when Hunt arrived in Manhattan for a weekend of wining and dining.

Despite the freezing weather, his hosts, TBWA’s Jean Marie Dru and Tom Carroll, showed off the best of the city. They arranged for Hunt and his wife, Kim, to stay at the New York Palace, attend The Producers, tour real estate in Westchester and shop along Fifth Avenue. Finally, the Hunts were guests at a leisurely lunch for 12 at Pastis that included a friend of Kim’s who flew in from San Francisco to encourage the couple to move with their two children to the States. The whirlwind visit made an impression, and the Zambia native agreed to leave TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris, the agency he co-founded 20 years ago, and come to New York to become worldwide creative director.

“It’s always nice to be wanted,” the understated Hunt, 48, said last week.

Hunt, who says he has committed to at least three years here, knows that on the day he arrives in late April it will be “time to deliver.” Certainly he has his work cut out for him.

Historically, TBWA\Chiat\Day New York rides a roller coaster of performance. Aside from the typical account wins and losses, a revolving door of creatives and suits has spun for years. Since 1997, Mary Maroun, Carl Johnson and now Shona Seifert have led New York. The shop has had three creative chiefs in five years, most recently the team of Patrick O’Neill and Dallas Itzen, who were recast as creative group heads last summer.

“Every office has its ups and downs,” said Carroll, president of the Americas. “I’m not interested in the past. I’m only interested in the future, and now, with John here, we have that aircraft carrier in the middle that makes New York a powerful office.”

Despite the upheaval, Hunt senses a receptiveness among the troops. The department is “ready, ripe,” he said. “All the people I’ve spoken to are dead keen” to make the work great.

While he hasn’t “overanalyzed the situation” in New York, Hunt said, “I have a feeling a lot of it is attitudinal.” He added that it goes beyond broadening the client base at the $400 million shop, whose top accounts are Kmart and Absolut. “You have to get a sense of purpose and mission. And then, by the fruits of your efforts, you will be judged.”

Hunt and Clow will divide up creative oversight of global clients such as Nissan, Apple and Masterfoods.

A former TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris colleague described Hunt as an inspirational leader. “I would urge him to listen to everyone and take it all in,” said Tony Granger, a protégé of Hunt’s who is on his way to London to join Saatchi & Saatchi as executive creative director. “But make changes quickly before you get sucked in to the running of an agency.”

“Inclusive” is how Hunt characterized his management style. But don’t expect a group hug. “It’s not all kumbaya,” he said. “It’s inclusive but with boundaries. You’ve got to achieve certain things.”