More Layoffs and Departures at Barbarian Group Amid Restructure

Execs Sophie Kelly and Ben Palmer Recently Left the Shop

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The exodus at The Barbarian Group continues as Executive Creative Chief Edu Pou departs and the shop grapples with more layoffs, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Pou wrote on his public Facebook page, "This month I close an amazing chapter of my life. Thanks to The Barbarian Group for keeping it awesome. Already excited about the next adventure."

Edu Pou
Edu Pou

It's not immediately clear what percentage of the staff is being laid off. The Barbarian Group is owned by Cheil Worldwide.

What is clear is that the departures of various executives are causing concern at PepsiCo, for which Barbarian is the lead digital agency on beverages, according to a person familiar with the matter.

PepsiCo and Barbarian declined to comment on that statement.

However, Barbarian CEO Peter Kim said: "The evolution of the tech industry and its impact on consumer communications has transformed the agency landscape. In response, The Barbarian Group reorganized and refined its focus this week in support of client needs. We are confident that this strategic shift in business direction will make us a stronger company in the long run."

In December, The Barbarian Group announced that Mr. Kim, former chief digital officer at Cheil Worldwide, would replace Sophie Kelly as CEO after her two years at the helm. A few months later, co-founder and chairman Ben Palmer also left the shop.

The move followed numerous leadership changes at parent Cheil. In May, the Seoul-based Cheil appointed freelance creative consultants Dean Pinnington and Luke Ashton as global creative directors. Two months later, the shop promoted China Chief Aaron Lau to the new role of president of international. McKinney Chairman-CEO Brad Brinegar also took on the additional responsibility of CEO for Cheil's North American operations in August.

Mr. Pou joined the agency in 2014 after serving as head of creative innovation at Wieden & Kennedy, Amsterdam. There, he worked on notable projects for FIFA, Nike and EA among others. He had also previously worked at Crispin Porter & Bogusky and DoubleYou.

The Barbarian Group, originally headquartered in Boston, first gained notoriety for its inventive digital work, perhaps most notably the award-winning Burger King "Subservient Chicken" campaign.

For PepsiCo, the agency helped relaunch Crystal Pepsi last year, which came back for a limited time. The shop has also handled PepsiCo's social media efforts related to the Super Bowl, in addition to working on "Pepsi Pass," an app and loyalty program. Other clients include Kind Bar, Clinique and General Electric, according to the agency's website.

The company had also created work for IBM and GE. The latter included the brand's blog, GE Adventure, an interactive online series The GE Show, as well as a brand film for which musical artist/DJ Matthew Dear composed an original tune using GE machines. It also brought augmented reality to the cover of Esquire in 2009.

Barbarian also worked with Samsung and created its digital showroom called CenterStage. The idea leveraged the company's open-source software Cinder, which took the first Cannes Lions Grand Prix for Innovation in 2013.

Cheil in December 2009 bought a 47% share of digital agency Barbarian Group and in April 2010 increased its ownership to 75.56%. In first-quarter 2014 Cheil increased its stake in Barbarian Group to 100%. In 2015, Barbarian Group had revenue of $22.8 million, according to the Ad Age Datacenter.

Samsung Electronics, with a 12.6% stake, and affiliate Samsung C&T Corp., with a 12.64% stake, as of September 2015, together owned 25.24% of Cheil Worldwide, according to Cheil regulatory filings and the Ad Age DataCenter.

Contributing: Ann Christine Diaz

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