CHEP hires Mike Deane and Tim Russell, sending Saintsmiths into ‘hibernation’ after less than a year

CHE Proximity has hired Mike Deane and Tim Russell in senior roles following Ben Shepherd’s exit, seeing the duo consequently ‘hibernate’ their consultancy Saintsmiths after less than a year in business, Mumbrella can reveal.

Deane directly replaces Shepherd – who left the agency in July to become Thinkerbell’s general manager of media – as chief media officer, while his Saintsmiths partner Tim Russell joins in the newly-created role of head of strategy, media.

Russell (left) and Deane

Deane will lead a media practice whose leadership now includes Russell, in addition to head of investment and general manager of media, Daniel Bradley, and head of addressable, David Shen.

The duo “didn’t see this coming” but it was “too good to turn down really”.

“There’s few other agencies that we… well there’s probably none… other agencies that we would have joined that are doing this kind of full service piece really, really well,” Deane told Mumbrella.

“Thinkerbell are obviously doing it a bit, but CHEP are one of those key players who are in this space. So it made sense.”

Shepherd starts in his Thinkerbell role this month, and attracted CHE Proximity CEO Chris Howatson’s praise.

“Ben leaves the team in great shape, and we’re grateful of everything he has brought to the agency,” the chief executive said.

“A measure of an individual’s impact is they leave a team better than they found it, and Ben has certainly achieved this.”

Howatson noted that Shepherd’s successor is a “rare talent”, saying that Deane’s “left brain is equally balanced by his right. I worked opposite his team during his time at Mediacom and witnessed first hand his mastery of balancing precision and persuasion”.

Deane left as chief strategy officer of Group M’s Mediacom in October last year to team up with Russell, who had spent two years as a freelance consultant after departing from Mediacom as director of digital strategy and innovation in 2017. Saintsmiths came to life seven months ago, in February, and was introduced to the market in May.

The pair confirmed the new jobs will result in the ‘hibernation’ of Saintsmiths, but clarified that “we’re not actually retiring the business”.

“But we won’t be trading under Saintsmiths at all, of course, whilst we’re employed by CHEP,” Deane said.

“Essentially, we’ve come in as an entity, like they’ve brought in our IP, and the both of us, all our thinking, everything we’ve created from a product perspective thus far, and we’ll be deploying that across CHEP clients.”

In an interview marking the consultancy’s official launch just four months ago, Deane and Russell referred to the “no man’s land” between media and creative agencies. They had observed a “strategic void”, and Saintsmiths was there to fill it, they told Mumbrella at the time. Was CHE Proximity filling it all along?

“We believe in the same kind of philosophy as those guys believe here [at CHEP],” Deane replied.

“We could either keep pushing that plight ourselves, and grow that. Or we could almost step into the start of a mould with a couple of big clients and help accelerate that.

“And that was a decision that we made. So obviously the guys here have got Samsung, there’s a kind of end-to-end, full service business and we’re helping the continuation of that story and fusing that media and creative piece. It fits in very neatly into our model and what we wanted to do.”

And “the number of divisions at CHEP … can help facilitate that creative/media fusion”.

“They’ve got an experience department, they’re very heavily investing in tech, it allows the realisation of the creative/media piece much faster, I think,” Deane added.

Howatson’s leadership – as of last year, he’s responsible not only for CHEP, but all Clemenger Group agencies – was a big drawcard, Deane explained; he’s “this young, forward thinking, progressive CEO”.

“He really believes in a modern, diverse, creative product, which isn’t just anchored in old school thinking,” he said.

Deane said Howatson is a “young, forward thinking, progressive CEO”

In May, the same month Deane and Russell officially launched Saintsmiths, CHE Proximity made 35 redundancies in response to COVID-19’s impact on the business’ clients and introduced “temporary salary reductions to protect jobs”. Two months earlier, the agency had made Vanessa Nicol’s role of Sydney managing director redundant “to protect the jobs of the wider agency”.

But CHEP has also recorded a number of wins this year. As Deane mentioned, it won Samsung’s consolidated account in January, worth $60-70m, and last week became lead creative agency for 7-Eleven, concluding a pitch process that began at the start of the year.

Chief creative officer Ant White concluded that Deane’s appointment adds to that tally.

“When I first met Mike I thought he could be applying for a brand planning role, not a media one,” White said.

“He has a rare understanding of brands and how they exist in our lives, and is genuinely excited about creativity and doing interesting things in the world. Watch this space.”


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