McCann Bets Big on Nick Brien to Fix the Adworld's Largest Global Network

'Dynamic Leader' Will Succeed Dooner at IPG's 80-Year-Old Institution

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CHICAGO ( -- Fixing what ails Interpublic's McCann Worldgroup may well be the toughest job in the agency business right now, but the consensus among analysts and Interpublic and McCann executives (as well as their competitors) is that outsider Nick Brien is well suited for the challenge.

Nick Brien
Nick Brien
Mr. Brien, who was tapped as John Dooner's successor as CEO of the agency last week, inherits a network that is reeling not only from the structural issues that plague most multi-billion-dollar global ad networks in an era of rapid change, but also from crucial defections and cutbacks by its biggest clients.

While there are some positive signs of late -- like McCann winning a pitch for Holiday Inn's global creative and some stability restored to McCann's West Coast operations -- the agency has some ways to go to make up for its performance in 2009. In the U.S., the agency was pummeled by the General Motors bankruptcy and stung further as mega clients Microsoft, Verizon and Pfizer all moved significant pieces of their business to other shops. Another headache is also scheduled: The massive U.S. Army account is due to go into review later this year.

In a memo to staff about the changes, Mr. Dooner called Mr. Brien "the ideal choice" to lead Worldgroup and the companies that fall under it, because he "has demonstrated exceptional grasp of where the marketing industry is going" and, in his combined four years heading Universal McCann and Mediabrands, gained "access to the highest levels of our global account relationships." Mr. Dooner, who will remain chairman for the rest of the year to aid the transition, stressed that he and Interpublic are in full agreement about the choice.

To say keeping 80-year-old McCann relevant will be tough is an understatement, say folks in the industry. On top of that, Mr. Brien will oversee McCann Worldgroup, its global, multi-business parent.

He is a "dynamic and charismatic leader," said one rival media agency chief. "He has a lot of vision, is a good strategist, an excellent client guy and is in tune with how the marketing-services world is evolving."

Path up
Mr. Brien got his start in advertising at Grey, London, after studying business at King's College School in Wimbledon and the University of the Arts in London. He went on to hold various roles around the industry, joining Leo Burnett London as media director in 1992 and then hopping to Starcom MediaVest Group to head corporate development and Publicis Groupe's Arc Worldwide.

He came to New York to be CEO at Universal McCann, and after three years went to run MediaBrands -- which encompasses both UM and Initiative -- in 2008.

While there, Mr. Brien presided over a resurgence at Initiative that saw the agency score accounts from the likes of Hyundai, MillerCoors and Dr Pepper Snapple Group, a spree that earned Initiative Ad Age's Media Agency of the Year last year and made Universal McCann our comeback agency of the year in 2010.

His challenges
Modernize the agency
This is a common one these days, but it seems more urgent here due to McCann's size and scale.

Fill the new-business pipeline
There do seem to be signs of momentum on this front, like the late 2009 win of Holiday Inn's global creative account. Mr. Brien will need to stoke that.

Recruit creative talent
Mr. Brien must quickly identify top talent, and find a way to keep them at McCann.

-- Jeremy Mullman
That performance, along with McCann's stumbles, helped him beat out a slew of insiders who were long thought to have a better shot at Mr. Dooner's job. His outsider status is likely to give Mr. Brien a better shot at being successful.

"McCann needs to be completely overhauled, remodeled, reworked -- start from scratch in my opinion," said one Interpublic executive.

He'll also have the advantage of having reached the CEO suite without being beholden to any entrenched power players within the agency, which gives him "the objectivity to lay waste to people that should have gone a long, long time ago," said one executive close to the situation.

Mr. Brien also brings with him strong client relationships that will be an asset both in new-business pitches and, perhaps more urgently, repairing relationships with current clients. He's said to be a favorite of Microsoft's marketing leadership, a status that could help McCann stop losing the software behemoth's key projects to the likes of JWT and Crispin Porter & Bogusky.

"Though McCann Worldgroup remains the industry's biggest global network, we believe the company's brand has suffered recently and that Mr. Brien will have broad license to make changes," said Credit Suisse's report.

The stakes could not be higher for Interpublic, which gets 40% of its revenue from the business units Mr. Brien is about to helm.

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Contributing: Rupal Parekh, Kunur Patel

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