Leo Burnett Worldwide Names Rich Stoddart CEO

Tom Bernardin Will Stay on as Chairman Through June 2017

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Rich Stoddart
Rich Stoddart Credit: Leo burnett

Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett is putting its succession plan into action, naming Rich Stoddart to CEO of Leo Burnett Worldwide effective Feb. 1.

Mr. Stoddart, 52 and currently Burnett's North American CEO, succeeds Tom Bernardin, 62, who has been the chief executive of Leo Burnett since 2004. Mr. Bernardin will remain in his chairman role through June 2017. Mr. Stoddart will continue to oversee the North American business, at least for the foreseeable future.

"Leo Burnett is a leading force within Publicis Communications," said Arthur Sadoun, CEO of the newly constructed Publicis Communications umbrella, in a statement. "We want to make sure that this brand and its unique culture are stronger than ever as we pursue our ultimate goal -- to be the indispensable creative partner to our clients. Maurice Lévy and I are both confident that Rich is the best person to incarnate Leo Burnett on this new journey and lead the teams to great successes for our clients and our agencies." Mr. Stoddart will report directly to Mr. Sadoun in his new role.

The move is a long time coming, said Mr. Bernardin, as the two have worked together for years and have been planning the change for some time. "Rich is the obvious successor," he said. "I take a great deal of pride in this succession plan," he added, noting that as he stays on board for the next year and a half, he'll continue to work closely with the international markets.

Mr. Stoddart is indeed an obvious successor, given the importance of the U.S. operation for the rest of the network. It accounts for more than one-third of the network's revenue and Mr. Stoddart said it is the "leading edge of innovation" for the global network. "Some agencies when they announce successors have an institutional brain drain, but we are not going to have that because Tom knows this network, he built it," said Mr. Stoddart, referring to the fact that Mr. Bernadin will be staying on for more than a year. He added: "I don't need a seeing eye dog [to run the network], but there is so much Tom knows and it's incredibly valuable."

Mr. Stoddart said his goal in his new role will be to drive results for clients, make sure the agency has the talent to do so, and make certain the agency attracts new talent and growth as the industry evolves.

Mr. Bernardin said timing is optimal, because as the industry continues to change, agencies need to be able to adapt to market demands, and having CEO at the helm now who will be here in five or 10 years is critical.

The move comes after Publicis Groupe in early December announced a reorganization that, among other things, brings the holding company's creative shops under one umbrella, Publicis Communications. Mr. Stoddart's promotion marks the first major top executive change since the group's formation, which is overseen by Mr. Sadoun, who also runs the agency Publicis Worldwide. The network houses Publicis Worldwide, MSL, Nurun, Saatchi & Saatchi, Leo Burnett as well as BBH and Marcel. It also includes production hub Prodigious.

It's expected that the agencies under this new umbrella will tap the resources of one another when necessary. Under Mr. Bernardin's and Mr. Stoddart's watch, Leo Burnett has worked to bring more resources into its fold, including integrating those from Arc Worldwide, which specializes in retail, promotions and direct marketing.

Mr. Bernardin recruited Mr. Stoddart from Ford Motor Co. in 2005, naming him president of Leo Burnett USA. Mr. Stoddart later became CEO of North America, and has been overseeing offices including those of Rokkan in New York, as well as Burnett's offices in Detroit, Toronto and its Chicago flagship. (Burnett last year closed its New York outpost, which had about 15 employees.) In his new role, Mr. Stoddart will be overseeing Leo Burnett's 36 offices globally.

Mr. Stoddart, a longtime account management executive, got his start in advertising at Leo Burnett in 1985. In the mid-'90s he went to Fallon as director-account management, and after that, to Ford Motor Co. as director-marketing communications. From there he went back to Leo Burnett to be president of Leo Burnett USA.

Leo Burnett is the eighth largest agency in the U.S., according to Ad Age's Datacenter. In 2014, the most recent year for full-year data, the agency had an estimated $487.5 million in revenue, down 0.5% from 2013. Globally in 2014, Burnett is the 15th largest consolidated agency network with an estimated $1.38 billion in revenue, up 1.1% from the prior year, according to DataCenter.

Major campaigns that Burnett has handled include the Always "Like a Girl" work, which brought the agency and the Procter & Gamble brand numerous accolades. On the awards circuit, Leo Burnett had a remarkable year last year thanks to "Like A Girl," putting it atop Ad Age and Creativity's 2015 Awards Report and bringing it 69 Cannes awards. Though "Like a Girl" accounted for most of the awards, the network also brought home trophies for Allstate, McDonald's and Samsung.

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