What just happened at Ikon?


As gobsmackers go, last night’s announcement on the departure of Dan Johns from Ikon was up there.

One of the architects of one of Australia’s all-too-rare local media agency success stories, his exit after a decade with the agency is a shock.

While Johns wasn’t there quite from the beginning, he was close to the agency’s original DNA.

And that’s admirable DNA.

When I chat to contacts in the market, I often ask about their relationships with agencies. If I ask media owners who will support new ideas, or are easiest to deal with, the answer tjhat comes back more than half the time is Ikon. When I ask agencies from other disciplines who is easiest to collaborate with, they also answer Ikon.

It wasn’t a surprise when Ikon won the culture of the year award at last year’s Mumbrella Awards. They were also the top scoring agency in the Mumbrella Media Agency Review last year. And they were Mumbrella’s media agency of the year in 2011.

Looking back now, there were a couple of hints that the band was breaking up. Annik Perrin’s move to Initiative in September was a big move. She was credited with being  a major force behind Ikon’s formidable culture.

Then national trading director Nicole Turley left for a role at Starcom.

Even then though, it all seemed understandable – Ikon is known for having good people, so they make good poaching targets.

But even as Ikon was announcing wins, including Labor’s election campaign, the departures were continuing. And then communications director Tom Rankin shifted to UM Sydney.

But when I spotted the 8pm press release in my inbox, Johns departure was still a complete shock.

So where to from here?

In large part, that depends on Simon White, who along with Gary Hardwick co-founded the business.

STW has announced White is now the organisation’s media chairman, a title which sees him overseeing both Ikon and Bohemia, which White helped launch in late 2011. That launch, incidentally, saw the departure of director Brett Dawson from Ikon.

Matters wouldn’t have been helped when Bohemia took the Vodafone strategy account off Ikon in August.

But White’s role raises a few questions. Is a merger between the two agencies on the cards? Is White’s role a full time one, or more a title to keep the clients happy that the old faces are still around? Given the many millions White made from the sale of Ikon, I can;t see him going back to five days a week.

And of course, will STW be able to keep Johns in some other role? He would, I suspect, be able to walk into a job at any agency – or media owner – he wanted. I suspect that the line in the announcement about trying to keep him in the family will be little more than spin.

Meanwhile digital director Ellie Rogers and people and culture director Leonie Kerley are among those out of the door today.

Clearly somebody in the senior ranks at STW has a new plan.

I don’t think we’ve yet heard anything like the whole story yet. But it’s starting to look more like a coup than a transition.

Tim Burrowes


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