Chuck who?

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That was the reaction of many observers as Omnicom Group last week chose Chuck Brymer to head DDB Worldwide during a crucial period of flux for one of Madison Avenue's giants.

Omnicom President-CEO John Wren plucked the relatively unknown Mr. Brymer to succeed Ken Kaess, who died two weeks ago at the age of 51. Mr. Brymer is the longtime chief executive of the Omnicom-owned brand consultancy Interbrand Group. Mr. Wren also added the role of chairman to Chief Creative Officer Bob Scarpelli as Keith Reinhard moved to chairman emeritus.

Many expressed shock that Mr. Wren didn't cull someone with more of a public profile to fill the large shoes of Mr. Kaess, who in his five years atop DDB became a towering figure. Not only did he help drive periods of intense new-business growth, Mr. Kaess was also instrumental in promoting the ad business during and after the economic recession. A two-time chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, he was probably most famous for the creation of Advertising Week, the annual celebration of the business.

But, in an interview, Mr. Wren blanched at the suggestion that Mr. Brymer, who, for instance, has never been quoted in these pages and isn't a regular on the ad conference circuit, wasn't up to the task because he doesn't come from a large ad agency.

"The fact that it would be someone who comes from a traditional agency background who would fill the pages of the trade magazines in the United States is not even a consideration for someone in my job," he said. "Interbrand is in the business of branding. It's in the business of ideas. There's no variance here. It's just that nobody saw it coming."

Mr. Brymer, 46, will step into the spotlight as he takes the reins of a storied agency and one of Omnicom's largest business units during a time of immense change for both DDB and the ad business at large. Pretty much every global ad agency is trying to reposition itself to take on the challenges of a changing media environment that, as it empowers consumers, is ultimately making them harder to reach.

DDB is nearing the midway point of what it calls a three-year plan designed to increase the client work it does in disciplines like direct marketing, interactive communications, in-store activation and content creation. "We feel we're near the top of agencies who create 30-second spots and we want to be in the same place in all the other areas," said Mr. Scarpelli.

Mr. Scarpelli cited Mr. Brymer's experience in developing high-level relationships with a client base that includes AT&T, Samsung and British Airways.

"He's an interesting choice," Mr. Scarpelli said. "He had an agency background, but his way of thinking and approaching problems is different. And I think that friction is going to be good for clients. We're trying to get more upstream with clients, like consultancies are. It's where we want to go."

Mr. Brymer, a native of Louisville, Ky., who still speaks with an accent, entered the ad business in 1982, starting BBDO's office in Houston. He joined Interbrand in 1985 and, at the age of 26, was tasked with growing the British-born company in the U.S. He hit Mr. Wren's radar screen in 1992, when the executive, then CEO of Omnicom's Diversified Agency Services group, was looking into buying Interbrand.

In 1994, he was named chairman-CEO of Interbrand, the year after it was purchased by Omnicom. During his time as CEO, he oversaw an expansion that brought it to eight to ten times its size when he took over, he said. His biggest PR coup was helping to create what would become an oft-referenced and oft-copied annual ranking of "The World's Most Valuable Brands" with BusinessWeek magazine.

Mr. Brymer was eventually added to the list of 30 to 50 executives that comprise Omnicom's watch-list for promotions, and following Mr. Kaess' diagnosis with cancer late last year he entered the frame as a potential successor.

"I spent a great amount of time with Ken the past six months and we covered just about every topic known to humanity, business and otherwise. Included in that were several lengthy conversations about the attributes his successor needs," Mr. Wren said. "He wholeheartedly supported this."

Mr. Brymer "built Interbrand largely from scratch and he's been doing that for 20-odd years," Mr. Wren said. "There's a not a place on the planet where he's not comfortable and he's used to working with very senior clients."

Mr. Brymer's ascension could also complicate the succession picture at the Omnicom level, potentially adding another horse to the race to succeed Mr. Wren. Insiders said that current front-runners are BBDO Worldwide President-CEO Andrew Robertson, Omnicom Chief Financial Officer Randall Weisenburger, and Michael Birkin, vice-chairman and head of its crucial Asia-Pacific region. All are in their mid-forties. Mr. Wren declined to comment.
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