Can't Fudge it: Ann cedes Y&R shop job

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Martin Sorrell's bold experiment in hiring a client-side executive to reinvent one of the nation's most storied ad agencies has failed.

Ann Fudge's turbulent term at the helm of Y&R Advertising will come to an end as soon as a successor is found, the agency said last week. Ms. Fudge will remain chairman-CEO of Young & Rubicam Brands, an umbrella over Y&R and several other marketing agencies.

The admission ends months of industry speculation and confirms a scenario first reported by Advertising Age two months ago (AA, Feb. 14).

Ms. Fudge, who turns 54 on April 23, is in the second year of a three-year contract. A spokeswoman said last week she was traveling and not available to comment.

Mr. Sorrell, chief executive of WPP Group, made a splash in May 2003 when he hired Ms. Fudge, a career marketer who was the first African-American woman to run a major general-market advertising agency. Even then, a report noted that she "faces some stiff challenges."

Ultimately, she didn't meet them.

During her tenure, Y&R's North American offices lost multiple major accounts, from Burger King to Computer Associates International, Sony Electronics to Ford Motor Co.'s Jaguar. Other clients scaled back consumer advertising considerably or exited the arena, including Toys "R" Us and AT&T Corp.

Ms. Fudge-like Mr. Sorrell, a graduate of the prestigious Harvard University M.B.A. program-was a high-profile risk. In an industry whose senior echelons are dominated by men, the appointment of an African-American woman to run one of advertising's oldest and most white-shoe agencies was a watershed event.

While respected as a marketing executive at General Mills and Kraft Foods, she brought no hands-on experience to the task of running an agency.


Her mid-2003 arrival came at a delicate time: Y&R appeared to be regaining momentum-thanks to the win of Burger King, a $335 million account-following several difficult years after the agency's 2000 purchase by WPP.

Ms. Fudge focused initially on improving agency operations and efficiency, and then turned her attention to hiring senior executives, which she dubbed her "Catalyst Team."

In February, she appointed agency veteran Gord McLean as CEO of North America. It's not clear who's in the running for the global CEO spot.

Supporters argue Ms. Fudge shouldn't be blamed for problems inherited at an ailing enterprise. Critics charge she failed to respond to what they characterize as tenuous key client relationships, and didn't fire up new business efforts fast enough.

Now, it will all become someone else's problem.

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