PROFILE: Crossing the divide - Adam Kirby, Global head of advertising procurement, Diageo

At first glance, Adam Kirby's decision to accept a job as global head of advertising procurement at global drinks giant Diageo seems akin to Tory MP Shaun Woodward's defection to Labour.

Apart from a stint as marketing manager on Cabbage Patch Kids when he first graduated, Kirby is an adman through and through. He boasts 13 years' experience running high profile accounts such as Yellow Pages, Stella Artois, Heineken, Superdrug and Heinz at agencies including Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, Lowe and Bates.

It is not merely the fact that he is jumping the industry fence that is so startling - after all, plenty of people make that leap - but his decision to do so after bitching about clients when he bowed out of the advertising industry three years ago.

"Where are the relationships built on mutual trust?" he moaned at the time, before slinging on a backpack and tripping off round the world for a year. "It's very dispiriting when clients are not interested in what we are saying. It's become like a World War One battle."

But in his new job, where he will liaise with Diageo's creative agencies over contractual issues such as performance, best practice, and pay, it is these words that may come back to haunt him the most: "Clients have to understand that the vast majority of their brand equities have been added by the skills of their agencies, which need to be better rewarded."

Kirby has no regrets about the outburst. "I felt spiritually weary with the industry. I had witnessed a change in the attitude by which clients and agencies traded with each other. But, having come back from travelling and after the dotcom boom, I think things are changing for the better. And anyway, surely someone who has strong points of view about all this is the best person to make the situation better."

Former colleagues on both the agency and client side agree he will probably do the job brilliantly. "He knows what it's like to be in the agency's shoes," says John Lowery, chairman of Lowe and Kirby's close friend. "He is intellectually at least a match for all the people he will encounter in the agencies. He's very bright and very amusing."

But Lowery also warns that Kirby's outspokenness will be something Diageo will have to get used to. "People either love him or not. He has always been true to himself, and never let the potential for upsetting people get in the way of expressing his point of view."

Thus, Kirby's biggest challenge may be learning to work as one cog within a massive corporate engine. Diageo's wheels probably grind quicker than in many large companies, but still much more laboriously than in agencies.

While part of his remit will be to advise Diageo's brand marketing directors as to which agencies to work with, his will only be one voice among many.

Lowery says: "At Lowes he had a track record for selling superb advertising to Whitbread, the question is whether he will be able to buy it. In his new role he will not be presented with individual ads himself, but he will be trying to get people within the organisation to buy good ones."

But Diageo must think he will fit in, because it hired him. "Within 30 seconds people get an idea of what he is like. It must have been looking for somebody that is going to change things," says Lowery.

Frazer Thompson, the former Stella Artois marketer and now managing director of New Wave Wines, thinks Kirby will fit the Diageo mould. "I think he will find a lot of kindred souls. Anyone who likes football trivia and playing with words will get on with him. He rightly expects those in a position of authority to be as bright as he is."

And, by convincing his new employer to let him talk to Marketing for this profile, it looks like Kirby is managing to wriggle out of the Diageo corporate straitjacket. Perhaps it is his legendary humour that has won the company over. "Oh, by common consent, I am the funniest man ever to work in advertising", he quips when this is referred to.

Thompson agrees that there is a playfulness and creativity about Kirby that is "very youngest child". "He's 41, but he thinks he's 14," he adds.

Not everyone who knows him is a fan, though. One marketing director, who preferred to remain anonymous, says: "He is deeply in love with himself. When he engages himself he is very bright, but he is a bit self-conscious."

Yet Kirby is making few assumptions about the challenge ahead. Lowery says: "For a man who doesn't show much humility, he has been going round talking to loads of people who have made the transition and asking them what it was like. He has also talked to people in big agencies about what they want from a good client."

Mark Cranmer chief executive of Starcom Motive EMEA, says Kirby is "brilliant at bringing discipline, quality and consistency to the business of communications, and great at driving people to a really focused goal. Kester Fielding, who is Adam's equivalent on media at Diageo, is one of the best media men I have met, and Adam is one of the best ad men I've ever met. Diageo has got a very clever double act going on here."

BIOGRAPHY

1990-1997: Board account director, Lowe Howard-Spink

1997-1999: Senior board director, Bates Dorland

1999-2000: Travelling

2000-2001: Partner, Tempus Partners

2001-2002: Business development director, Adgistics

2002-present: Global head of advertising procurement, Diageo

Discussion

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Brand Republic Jobs

subscribe now

Latest

Waitrose boosts content strategy with 'Weekend Kitchen with Waitrose' C4 tie-up
Hottest virals: Cute puppies star in Pedigree ad, plus Idris Elba and Fruyo
Amnesty International burns candles to illuminate new hope
Toyota achieves the impossible by calming angry Roman drivers
Tom of Finland's 'homoerotic' drawings made into stamps
YouTube reveals user habits to appeal to 'older' marketers
Ex-M&S marketing chief Steven Sharp consulting at WPP
Wolff Olins reveals new CEO after Apple poaches Karl Heiselman
Glasgow offers £30,000 prize to best digital idea for 2014 Commonwealth Games
Google's revenues surge but shares drop as it grapples with transition to mobile
Facebook beats Twitter to most 'marketing friendly' social media site crown, says DMA
Fableists believe children like Finn should be outdoors enjoying life
Homebase, Baileys and Camelot join the line-up at Media360
MasterCard renews Rugby World Cup sponsorship to push cashless message
Lynx unleashes £9m 'Peace invasion' campaign
Social Brands 100 Youth: Pizza Hut most social youth brand in UK
Cheryl Cole is wild and arresting in new L'Oreal work
Morrisons told not to show alcohol ads during YouTube nursery rhymes
O2 head of brand Shadi Halliwell departs after 23 years at company in restructure
Tesco hit by further sales decline as it turns to digital Clubcard and social network
Branding guru Wally Olins dies aged 83
Duracell short film captures epic Transatlantic voyage
Ash runs Tinder experiment to show smokers are less desirable to opposite sex
British Airways teams up with Gerry Cottle Jnr for summer of rooftop film screenings
Arklu says 'girls can be superheroes too' with doll design competition
Coke enters squash market with Oasis Mighty Drops
Virgin Galactic signs up Land Rover as space flight sponsor
Motorola marketer Andrew Morley departs as Google gears up for sale to Lenovo
US Airways apologises after tweeting obscene image at a customer
Mumsnet admits users' emails and passwords accessed via Heartbleed bug