Sarah Fay on Her Exit From Aegis Media: 'It Was Inevitable'

Nigel Morris, Head of Digital Network Isobar, Will Take Over as North American CEO

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- After holding the position for only 13 months, Sarah Fay is stepping down as CEO of North America for Aegis Media and being replaced by Nigel Morris, who has been CEO of Aegis' digital network, Isobar, since it was launched in 2003. Ms. Fay, whose exit is being described by the company as a "mutual agreement," has been with the group since 1998.

Sarah Fay
Sarah Fay
WPP's Mindshare announced last week that Scott Neslund was leaving the agency to pursue other opportunities. Ms. Fay's and Mr. Neslund's exits, which both come as the TV upfront is set to get under way, serve as strong indicators of just how highly competitive and results-driven the media-agency landscape is in North America, in particular the U.S.

Aegis Media CEO Jerry Buhlmann told Ad Age the timing of Ms. Fay's leaving suited "us both mutually" and was in no way related to the rather tough year Aegis Media's Carat had in 2008. Last year included the loss of the $735 million Hyundai/Kia account to Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative and the New Line Cinema business, as well the internal e-mail faux pas that alerted the entire U.S. operation to a major restructuring that included an undetermined number of layoffs. The agency recently retained its $50 million Re/Max account.

"[2008] was a difficult year, but many of the elements that were difficult were in the beginning of the year and in the distant history in relation to where the business is now," Mr. Buhlmann said. "So the change is not in relation to those issues at all. We didn't pre-stipulate the amount of time [Ms. Fay would be in this position], but we came to the conclusion that this would be the right time."

Mr. Buhlmann said growing the Aegis footprint in the U.S. would be Mr. Morris' immediate focus. "We have big ambitions here," he said. "Our footprint is relatively smaller here than it is in other parts of the world, so it's really a market of great opportunity for us, and Nigel is going to drive that."

Mr. Buhlmann said Carat has been on a slight turnaround path from the beginning of last year and he expects Mr. Morris to build on its current momentum. He said that momentum comes from the work Martin Cass, who was named president of Carat's U.S. operation in October, has done in revising "our product, reorganizing the Carat organization, becoming more competitive and creating strong ambition in the business." He added that Mr. Cass' efforts are "on plan and on schedule, and I'm very confident that [his efforts] will show through and deliver tangible benefits very shortly."

A wearing commute
Ms. Fay said she is happy with the state of the group as she exits, and hinted that the past 18 months of commuting to New York from Boston were starting to wear on her. "I always knew I wasn't going to move to New York, so it was inevitable that I was going to move on from this position," she said. "I have been absent from my family for almost every day of every week for 18 months, and I plan to micromanage my daughter's homework for a while."

Ms. Fay said 2008 was a hectic year with a fair number of "ups and downs," but the company is in a strong position. During her time at Aegis, Ms. Fay headed up the creation of Carat Interactive in 2001, and two years later was named CEO of Isobar U.S. She became CEO of Carat U.S. in 2007 and was named CEO of Aegis Media North America in April 2008.

Her replacement, Mr. Morris, said he has been a close observer of the North American division for a long time and that his primary reason for leaving Isobar was to take on the challenge of the market here.

"I have some clear ideas about where the world of communications is going," Mr. Morris said. "Agencies are looking down the barrel of the gun, and I think we are in a fantastic position to transform the model. I need to make sure I understand the dynamics of the market, needs of the clients and get my arms around what are real capabilities so we can drive greater specialization and integration."

He promised a "very thoughtful approach for the first couple of months." In his new post Mr. Morris will be responsible for all Aegis Media businesses in the U.S. and Canada, which include Carat; Vizeum; Aegis Media Canada (Carat Canada, Mindblossom and Genesis Vizeum); Copernicus; Velocity Sports and Entertainment; Vivid Marketing; Posterscope USA (the Brand Experience and Hyperspace); and Isobar agencies Freestyle Interactive, Ammo Marketing, iProspect, Range and Molecular.

Replacing Mr. Morris at Isobar will be Mark Cranmer, who has served as CEO of Starcom Mediavest EMEA.

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