Confirmation, should any be needed, that New Labour is a true
believer in the marketing industry finally came last week.
Eric Salama, WPP’s strategic development director, was selected to sit
on the government’s Task Force for the Creative Industries.
The new body, which was launched alongside the renamed Department for
Culture, Media and Sport, will be chaired by the new secretary of state
for culture, Chris Smith. Along with other ministers of state it will
include Richard Branson, designer Paul Smith, the record company boss
behind Oasis, Alan McGee, and film maker Sir David Puttnam.
At 36, Salama is the youngest member of the group and could easily be
outshone by his more glamorous colleagues. He is an unlikely recruit to
New Labour’s glitterati, but then again he’s not there for the
He has a reputation for being one of the worst- dressed men in
advertising and is believed to be the first main board director of WPP
to turn up to a senior management seminar in flip-flops and swimming
costume. It was intended as a joke.
It is fortunate that his mind is sharper than his dress sense. Those who
know him, even those who don’t, regard him as highly intelligent.
David Jenkins, group chief executive of Millward Brown International,
says he was selected because of the negotiating and mediating skills he
acquired working for the leviathan WPP Group. ’He’s a very good
conciliator of opposing views and different personalities. He is a good
mediator and a very smart guy,’ he says.
As a passionate advocate of the creative industries, Salama is likely to
be a driving force in the new group.
As he refused to comment on his new role, it fell to friends and
ex-colleagues to shed some light on what he will be bending Chris
Smith’s ear about.
He has long thought the creative industries were badly served by the old
’ministry of fun’ and he is determined that as the creative industries
move to the forefront of UK business this opportunity should not be
Dave Allen, chief executive officer of Sampson Tyrrell Enterprise, says
of Salama: ’He believes the time is right for the emphasis to shift away
from information technology to the creative services industries, with
communications companies re-establishing themselves as the key advisers
to industry. He is full of big ideas; he just needs people to implement
Salama is particularly keen to use the task force to boost the status of
the advertising and marketing industries in order to attract younger
talent into them.
But when it comes to the more controversial issues facing these
industries, he is expected to steer clear. Some observers may be
disappointed that he is apparently not keen to address the issue of
creeping restrictions on advertising, clearly demonstrated by the
looming ban on tobacco advertising.
Salama’s reputation as an ideas man grew at WPP’s economic forecasting
subsidiary The Henley Centre, where he initially worked as a consultant
before being appointed managing director. His subsequent move to the
main board of WPP was seen as confirmation of his skill in strategic
thinking and his diplomatic approach to business.
He is also renowned for his boundless energy. Fiona Stewart, marketing
director at The Henley Centre, says Salama was the only person she had
ever met who thrived on endless travelling to and from business meetings
’He was very exacting to work for, he had an extraordinary amount of
energy and a prodigious output that verged on the superhuman,’ Stewart
says. ’He is very bright, but he has a kind of laid-back, easy manner
and there is a bit of laddishness about him.’
Stewart says Salama is not a political animal, but having started his
career in the early 80s as a researcher for the Labour Party Shadow
Foreign Office team, which included Dennis Healey, Robin Cook and George
Robertson, he clearly still has connections within the party. His
political beliefs, too, are said to fit with New Labour’s liberal
interpretation of socialism.
Above all, he is a believer in the free market.
Salama is married with one young child and another one on the way. He
likes beer, is an Arsenal season ticket holder and recently cycled
across the Sinai desert. According to friends he has found work less
challenging than he has his young family.
He may not fit in with New Labour’s beautiful people, but one colleague
said Salama’s lack of glamour should not be regarded as a weakness.
’Eric is not the showbiz type. He will fit in well because he won’t
challenge them, but he is smart enough to set the agenda for the
Researcher and speech writer,
Shadow Foreign Office team
Consultant, then managing director,
The Henley Centre
Strategic development director,