Steve Gatfield gets Naked and it’s not cool
Ten years ago, the terribly cool Naked Communications team would have baulked at hiring a man in a suit with a reputation for running US-based ad networks as its figurehead. But this week that’s what it did when parent company Photon (which somehow steered itself out of the financial effluent last year) appointed the former Leo Burnett and Lowe Worldwide chief Steve Gatfield as Naked’s co-chairman.
Naked’s founder Jon Wilkins, who remains on board as co-chairman, knows Gatfield from talks dating back to 2006 when Gatfield’s Lowe explored a tie-up with Naked due to the apparent paucity of its own planning talents. That never got off the ground but Naked has now returned to Gatfield as it attempts to turn its diverse collection of 14 offices across the world into a meaningful network.
India (where Naked is established in Mumbai) and China are obvious targets for expansion and Gatfield’s experience of corporate network building could come in handy as Naked attempts to introduce more rigour into its approach.
And while Gatfield hardly seems as cool as some of the kids and clients that Naked has employed perhaps it’s high time someone like him arrived to kick it into some coherent global shape. Nigel Long was Naked chief executive until recently (he now has a job at Photon) and his years in charge were tricky – steering it through the deal with Photon and the turbulence that followed was enough of a task and seemed to fully occupy him.
Wilkins (who could be returning to the UK from Australia but is also said to be considering New York as a base) is the only one of the three Naked founders who maintains considerable influence outside London. John Harlow is no longer involved and Will Collin contents himself with family life and some planning and client work for its London agency. So Naked needs leadership and a partner to work alongside Wilkins on hiring strong local management and distinguishing between a good investment and moonshine.
These days Naked, in the UK at least but you also hear the same about certain offices in other markets, does a few things very well but not enough of them. This contrasts with its early years when it did a lot of things in OK fashion but shouted very well, and very loudly, about them (mainly due to the considerable but wayward talents of Harlow). It’s also been prone to hiring the wrong people and making ill-judged attempts at JVs when it would have been wise to steer clear.
Should Gatfield and Wilkins be able to hone Naked’s proposition (something it has struggled to do since everything went “digital”) and invest wisely in new markets then the business has a chance. But it’s entering a mighty scrap on ground where the advertising and the former “digital” agencies are converging so will need to introduce the values of tenacity and perseverance, not to mention talent, that some hired to build on the ability of its founders seem to have lacked.