Just two months after leaving his post as chief marketing officer of Wendy's, Mr. Rowden has emerged in a top job at Saatchi & Saatchi, running its Asia-Pacific operation and reporting to Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts. The two longtime mates (Mr. Roberts often calls Mr. Rowden by his nickname, "Rowdy"), who once worked together in Coke's Australia operation, were reunited early last year when Wendy's parked its $435 million account at Saatchi.
But the situation raises some questions, including whether it goes too far in turning the business into a game of who-you-know and, more important, whether it's entirely proper to jump from client to agency this way. Advertising is, of course, a business of relationships, and Mr. Rowden is not the first to hop to an agency from a company it works for. But, in the past, even intimations of these kinds of moves have raised eyebrows. The highest-profile example came when Wal-Mart, in a legal action now dismissed, accused fired marketer Julie Roehm of discussing job opportunities with an agency she was considering to hire for Wal-Mart.
So is there an ethical problem here? "It's atypical, but I wouldn't necessarily say it's unethical," said Patrick E. Murphy, professor of marketing and co-director of the Institute for Ethical Business Worldwide at the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business in South Bend, Ind.
Assuming "that there was not any implicit agreement" between the two parties, one of the biggest factors in examining the ethics surrounding this kind of executive move is the amount of time elapsed, said Mr. Murphy. In this case, the two-month break between Mr. Rowden's positions helps, as "you need a cooling-off period so that this person isn't walking out of one position right into another," Mr. Murphy said.
Saatchi will likely also have to ensure "that there's some sort of separation" between Mr. Rowden and any work the agency handles for the Wendy's account, he said. (Kirshenbaum & Bond now handles most of Wendy's advertising, including online and digital work, but Saatchi remains on the roster doing, among other things, in-store work via Saatchi X, the network's shopper-marketing unit.)
Lastly, said Mr. Murphy, it's key that "both sides are willing to be transparent about the discussion, and are willing to answer questions."
Saatchi maintains that its hire of Mr. Rowden was above board, and that a job offer was never made while Mr. Rowden was still working at Wendy's. "Discussions about Ian's new role were initiated once he had resigned from Wendy's," a Saatchi spokeswoman said. A voice-mail message for Mr. Rowden was not immediately returned, nor did Mr. Roberts immediately respond to an e-mail inquiry seeking comment. A Wendy's spokesman declined to comment on the matter.
In a Saatchi-issued statement about the hire, Mr. Roberts said: "Asia is experiencing change on a quantum scale, with progress fueled by education, hard work, timeless values and vast numbers of people. Someone with Ian's unique ability and knowledge of the region and its dynamics will be an asset in building success and strong emotional connections."
A little over a year ago, it was Mr. Rowden who was putting out press releases about Saatchi. In January 2007, he stunned the ad world when he yanked the fast-feeder's account from Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann Erickson and handed it to Publicis Groupe's Saatchi without a formal pitch. That marriage turned out to be ill-founded. Late last month, with Mr. Rowden gone, Wendy's shifted the lion's share of creative responsibilities to MDC Partners' Kirshenbaum, including the launch of a new product-centric campaign that marks an end to the Saatchi-spawned red-wig ads that drew criticism from franchisees, and even spurred an outcry from the family of Wendy's founder, David Thomas.
Personal reasons for resignation
Mr. Rowden, who spent three years in the top marketing spot at Wendy's, stepped down in December 2007 amidst sluggish same-store sales and talks of a potential sale of the company. At that time, Wendy's cited "personal reasons" for Mr. Rowden's resignation, noting that he planned to return to his native Australia with his family. (His new job is based in Sydney.)
Messrs. Roberts and Rowden first worked together when the former was head of Coke's Australian bottler Lion Nathan and the latter head of Coke's marketing division Down Under. Mr. Rowden eventually worked his way up to VP-worldwide director of advertising at Coca-Cola and later served as exec VP-CMO at Callaway Golf prior to landing at Wendy's.
Mr. Rowden replaces Jim O'Mahony, who left Saatchi to become managing director of Inspiros Worldwide, a New Zealand-based consulting company that coaches business teams in peak performance.
Wendy's search for a new CMO, meanwhile, is still under way, saidspokesman Bob Bertini. Wendy's has retained Spencer Stuart to handle the search. Bob Holtcamp, VP-brand management, and Paul Kershisnik, senior VP-marketing strategy and innovation, have been splitting the CMO duties in the interim, reporting directly to CEO Kerrii Anderson.