Confirmation, should any be needed, that New Labour is a true believer in the marketing industry finally came last week.

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,

WPP Group.


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