So, Tim Lefroy is to be the next chief executive of the Advertising Association. Tim who? you may say. But don’t dismiss him so easily. Lefroy has an interesting track record.
Yes, he is a former, eighties, adman: not necessarily the best qualification for the job in the era of Big Tent, holistic marcoms inclusiveness. He was once the managing director of Young & Rubicam London (remember Tell Sid?), and also chief executive of Yellowhammer. This last, though famous in its day, went spectacularly bust in 1990 owing the Telegraph – among others – millions of pounds. It should be stressed that Lefroy had little or nothing to do with Yellowhammer’s unfortunate demise, the finger of blame eventually pointing at wayward founder Jon Summerill.
But back to the point. It’s what Lefroy did subsequently that’s interesting. He set up a consultancy called Radical, which he still heads, specialising in ‘corporate positioning and transformation’. Among his clients has been the Association of Investment Trust Companies, which hired him to reflate the reputation of what had become a tired and discredited financial instrument. Channel 4 and GSK followed as clients. Also, and more importantly, the Government. Lefroy was given the task of, discreetly, helping to privatise the research and technology arm of the Ministry of Defence, which he did very successfully; it is now known as QinetiQ. He’s also a prominent member of the Pensions Reform Group – dedicated to ameliorating people’s old age – of which Frank Field MP is the founder. His knowledge of public affairs, politics and personal savings is not, therefore, to be doubted.
All will stand him in good stead in his new position. His predecessor, Baroness Peta Buscombe, departed early in slightly mysterious circumstances. Ostensibly the Press Complaints Council position being vacated by ex-top-flight diplomat Sir Christopher Meyer was too good an opportunity to turn down. And it is true the post of PCC chairman is better paid. Yet, that’s not the whole story.
Buscombe was favourably regarded in her role at the AA. She was a breath of fresh air after Andrew Brown’s 13-year reign of dullness. Peta’s problem was she was just too dynamic. A former politician herself, she immediately saw the problem: that the only way forward for a marcoms industry under constant assault from politicians and lobbyists was to rally its multitudinous trade bodies behind a single banner – her own at the AA as it happened.
But, as with many things in life, it all came down to money. The AA is dependent for its rather meagre budget upon these self-same multitudinous bodies – most of whom are in a state of constant low-key warfare over the issue of precedence. The direct marketing crowd look down on the sales promotion crowd, who in turn bitterly complain that the AA is really just a cover for old-style television advertising (the IPA). No one likes, or understands, the uppity digital folk (the IAB). And then there’s the advertisers’ trade body, ISBA, which reckons (maybe rightly) that it’s superior to all of them. It’s certainly the biggest contributor to the AA’s coffers.
So a falling out between the AA and ISBA would not be good news for the AA. And all the less so if its chief were to find she lacked the financial wherewithal to complete her mission without a supplementary levy on ISBA members. Which seems to have been roughly the situation when Buscombe suddenly discovered the superior merits of a senior post at the PCC.
Into this den of lions the more circumspect Lefroy must now step, like some latter-day Daniel. We wish him luck. His track-record in effecting successful corporate change suggests he deserves nothing less.