Marketing veteran Wendy Clark's shift to DDB Worldwide from Coca-Cola caught the industry by surprise, but it was a welcome one for the agency world, and a win for DDB and parent company Omnicom Group.
Noting that no news – good, bad, or indifferent – has come out of DDB in awhile, one senior industry exec said the firm "needed a Hail Mary kind of a move, and from that perspective, she's a bold, big name and they needed it."
Ms. Clark, most recently Coca-Cola's president of sparkling brands and strategic marketing in North America, will succeed Mark O'Brien as president and CEO of DDB North America in January. On the surface, it seems like an odd leap for her: DDB is a smaller entity and its parent company has ties to Coca-Cola archrival Pepsi. But upon reflection, industry observers said it makes sense.
"Coca-Cola is a gigantic company, but in the world of agencies, DDB is a pretty big-branded company as well," said Bill Power, managing director of FleishmanHillard's global marketing practice. "It's a pleasant surprise that she sees the agency side as stimulating and challenging as the brand side."
Another senior-level agency exec said Ms. Clark knows how to "finesse the partnership" between clients and agencies since she worked at Omnicom's GSD&M earlier in her career, yet she also understands the deluge of client issues that exist outside of advertising and communications, such as pricing, distribution, metrics, and stakeholder management.
Troy Ruhanen, president and CEO of TBWAWorldwide, said Ms. Clark, a former AT&T exec who was his client during the AT&T-Cingular merger, "was a great client with an appreciation for all things creative and strategic." Likewise, Mr. Power cited her "optimistic tone toward change."
The news, which was a big subject among the 1,400-plus attendees at the annual Ad Council dinner last week – follows on the heels of Kraft Heinz exec Julie Fleischer moving to OMD, another Omnicom agency.
The roles are different in scope, with Ms. Fleischer serving as managing director of OMD's Chicago-based retail practice, but Pivotal Research senior analyst Brian Wieser said it still points to the fact that Omnicom can "attract and retain very well-regarded marketers to work at their agencies."
"Is it truer for them than any other holding company? That's hard to say," he added. "Omnicom is very large, has very well-managed business units, supposedly pays reasonably well, and has top-tier clients."
Even though Omnicom has a longstanding relationship with Pepsi, Mr. Weiser said he doesn't think it will cause conflicts, since DDB is not a major Pepsi agency. (It has done work for the Pepsi/Lipton Tea Partnership.)
DDB representatives and Ms. Clark were not immediately available for comment.
But it's clear that Pepsi, which delights in tweaking Coke, is already reveling in Ms. Clark's shift. Brad Jakeman, president of PepsiCo's global beverage group, tweeted, "The best thing about the news today is going to be watching [Ms. Clark] drink her first Pepsi." He later posted a picture of himself and Ms. Clark at the Ad Council dinner.
Ms. Clark's departure appeared to take Coca-Cola by surprise, considering the company did not immediately name a successor. But Sandy Douglas, president of Coca-Cola North America, said the company will name Ms. Clark's replacement soon. In an internal memo, he signaled that Coke would look internally, saying Ms. Clark had "built a talented team and a deep bench of Coca-Cola North America marketers who are ready to assume their place as our next generation of brand leaders."
Ms. Clark's replacement must confront continued soda sales declines and a fractured beverage market as non-sparkling options like teas and water rise in popularity and smaller brands gain traction. "At Coca-Cola, sparkling is still a huge job and is the backbone of their industry," said beverage consultant Jonas Feliciano. "But the approach has to be more integrated. You need a guiding hand across all those brands to lift each one up."
One candidate to replace Ms. Clark is Ivan Pollard, senior-VP for connections, investments and assets at Coca-Cola North America. "I think he's the best qualified person from within their four walls without question," said one agency executive familiar with Coca-Cola. "He's a smart marketer. He's a strategic planner. I think he really understands what it takes."
Mr. Pollard, who joined Coke in 2010 after serving as a global partner at Naked Communications in London, has a reputation for taking a holistic view of agencies with an eye toward bringing creative and media functions together. He recently led the company's North American media agency review that resulted in UM taking over as lead media agency. As a part of the move, Coke has begun embracing what it calls a "hybrid approach" that includes handing some media strategy assignments to other shops, including creative shop Ogilvy.
Other people on Ms. Clark's leadership team that could get a look include Emmanuel Seuge, senior VP-content; James Sommerville, VP-design; and Andrew McMillin, senior VP overseeing Coke brands. Trade publication Beverage Digest speculated that one executive that could get a bigger role is Hendrik Steckhan. He is the former president of Coke's German business unit who recently came to North America to oversee the non-carbonated beverage portfolio.