Stephen Butler Named Chief Creative Officer at TBWA L.A.

Internal Pick Comes as Agency Tries for Turnaround

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Stephen Butler
Stephen Butler

Less than three weeks after Luis DeAnda was named TBWA/Chiat/Day's president of the Los Angeles office, the shop has tapped a new creative officer: Stephen Butler.

Mr. Butler, 43, was one of three exec creative directors (the other two are Fabio Costa and Brent Anderson) overseeing creative at the agency after the departure of Chief Creative John Norman, who left for Translation in February.

Mr. DeAnda said that Mr. Butler's appointment marks a "pivotal" moment as the shop seeks to stage a turnaround and regain footing as the creative powerhouse it once was.

Since January, he said, "we set out to make significant changes at the agency...we knew we needed to make drastic ones." Indeed, the shop has faced recent challenges: Its Infiniti account is in review, and the agency has seen work from the Pepsi brand deamp. (The shop still handles PepsiCo's significant Gatorade account, however.) Other senior employees have moved on and the shop in March had some layoffs.

Mr. DeAnda came to flagship TBWA in January as managing director after working as managing director its Media Arts Lab, the unit formed to handle the Apple account.

Luis DeAnda
Luis DeAnda

There were rumors that the agency was gearing up to hire BBH's David Kolbusz to partner with Mr. Butler and run the shop about the time that Mr. Norman moved to Translation. Mr. DeAnda said that the agency had, in fact, been in conversations with Mr. Kolbusz as far back as the middle of last year, but said that the agency "hadn't gotten to a place with David that was solid. It was merely conversations at that point."

And so, the agency turned inward for a candidate. "Pulling someone from the outside didn't seem like the right thing to do," said Mr. DeAnda. "We have some amazing talent here in the agency, going through and living through significant changes. There's something to be said for people who are rolling up their sleeves and making it a better agency."

Mr. DeAnda said that the three executive creative directors were tasked with running the agency's creative in a "divide and conquer" manner, but the shop still needed " that clear creative leadership within the group."

Lee Clow, the longtime creative mind at the agency on ads such as the famed Apple "1984" ad and director of Media Arts for TBWA, said in a statement: "Stephen has an iconic portfolio of work. Clients want to work with him, agencies want him on their team. His brave, groundbreaking and unforgettable ideas will help push our creative boundaries."

Mr. Butler joined TBWA in July 2013 as exec creative director from Mother London, where he was also responsible for founding Mother's Experience Design unit in 2012. He joined Mother in 2006, and prior to that he was creative director at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, where he led creative for Levi's across Europe. He started his career as an art director at Condé Nast from 1994 to 1999, for titles including GQ and Vogue.

Mr. DeAnda said the agency is working on other changes as well. "We started peeling back issues and figured out what we needed to focus on this year," he said, which included breaking down silos and more collaboration within the agency.

Mr. DeAnda replaced Carisa Bianchi, who left the agency after leading it since 2005. The shop has seen a number of other senior departures lately, including Exec Creative Director Jason Clement; Larry Lac, who handled the agency's social-media discipline and went to Havas; and Richard O'Neill, head of integrated production, retired. In March the agency laid off 24 people.

Mr. DeAnd added that despite the Infinity review, the shop still has some upcoming working coming out for the brand. Its largest account is Nissan, which is not in review.

TBWA/Media Arts Lab found itself in headlines this month when an email between Apple CMO Philip Schiller and Media Arts Lab's CEO James Vincent became public during Apple and Samsung's court dispute over patent violations. According to that exchange, TBWA and Apple hit a rough patch in their relationship early last year.

Mr. DeAnda said he could not comment on the matter.

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