NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Rosemarie Ryan and Ty Montague -- JWT North America's outgoing leaders -- are mum about plans for their new venture, but industry executives say their shop will be touted as more of a marketing consultancy than a traditional ad agency.
Ms. Ryan and Mr. Montague are negotiating their exits from JWT and are under contract with the shop and parent company WPP until April and June, respectively, but could be released earlier, said people familiar with the matter. Ms. Ryan and Mr. Montague said they were both unable to share any details at this time.
They have already secured office space in Manhattan, and while it's unclear if any investors have signed onto the venture yet, one interested party is Toronto-based MDC Partners, execs say. The small-but-growing holding company has been on an acquisition spree, snapping up agencies in a variety of marketing disciplines from social media to events. MDC's Miles Nadal knows Ms. Ryan from her days at Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, and Mr. Montague is friendly with MDC's newly-anointed chief creative insurgent, Alex Bogusky.
An MDC Partners spokeswoman declined to comment.
When Ms. Ryan and Mr. Montague open the doors of their agency, they'll probably do it with at least one founding client, but it's unlikely to be a current JWT one. WPP's strict noncompete is said to state that for at least a year the pair would be banned from working with JWT clients, or recruiting JWT employees.
Still, finding talent shouldn't be a big obstacle for the new agency; the duo has fans in the business and Mr. Montague's wife Dany Lennon is a top industry recruiter at the firm Creative Register.
Morale at JWT
JWT's chairman-CEO, Bob Jeffrey -- who held an all-staff meeting last week to discuss the changes and the installation of David Eastman, JWT's worldwide digital director since January 2009, to succeed Ms. Ryan as JWT North America's CEO -- said morale at the agency in the wake of the announcement is "better than I expected."
"The worst thing that could have happened is, if I attempted to replicate what we had with Rose and Ty," said Mr. Jeffrey. "I think people were very excited [about Mr. Eastman's promotion]."
Replicating the dynamic between Ms. Ryan and Mr. Montague would be a tall order. Ms. Ryan joined JWT in 2004 from her post as president of Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners and in 2005 convinced Mr. Montague, then-top creative of Wieden & Kennedy's New York office, to become her creative partner.
At the time, JWT was struggling to rope in new clients and stop losing current ones, but they overhauled staff and quickly began prevailing in pitches, scoring Kimberly Clark and JetBlue. They're credited with elevating the 800-person New York office's creative reputation, increasing business and re-establishing a strong agency culture, all of which led to their 2008 promotions to leading North America.
While there were bright spots in 2009, like JWT's work for Microsoft's Bing, it was a tough period. The pair oversaw the virtual shuttering of JWT's storied Chicago office and the folding of its standalone Detroit operation into WPP's hybrid " Team Detroit." JWT also parted ways with key its Kellogg business and saw its JetBlue account go into review.
According to Mr. Jeffrey, Ms. Ryan and Mr. Montague spoke to him "on and off for awhile" about leaving, but those discussions "got more formal more recently."
Mr. Jeffrey spoke to potential replacements outside of JWT for the CEO role over the past couple of months, but in the end chose Mr. Eastman to lead the charge. It was a move Mr. Jeffrey says was intended to send a signal to both clients and to JWT that the agency is serious about digital.
"Until I did something like that the organization would never really believe or take it seriously enough to put digital at the center at the agency," he said.
His No. 1 priority now is finding a replacement chief creative officer for Mr. Montague.