Does experience with Huggies diapers and Campbell's soup translate to basketball? We're about to find out as a former agency executive with a wealth of packaged-goods experience takes a whack at leading a professional sports league.
Laurel Richie, who has spent the better part of her career as an agency exec with Ogilvy & Mather and Leo Burnett Worldwide, has been named the new president of the Women's National Basketball Association, NBA Commissioner David Stern announced today.
Ms. Richie will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the WNBA, which tips off its 15th season this summer. She assumes her new role on May 16, replacing Donna Orender, who resigned in December to launch her own marketing, media and strategy company. Ms. Richie will report to NBA Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer Adam Silver.
In a statement, Mr. Stern said, "Laurel combines extraordinary marketing and brand management skills, with a tremendous enthusiasm to help evolve young women into leaders. She joins the WNBA at such an exciting time in its history and we know her expertise will be key to continuing the growth and success of the league."
Ms. Richie is stepping down as senior VP-CMO of the Girl Scouts of the USA to join the WNBA. In her three-year stint with the Girl Scouts, Ms. Richie is generally credited for moving the organization away from its cookies, craft and camping reputation by rebranding the Girl Scouts as being more forward thinking, including activities such as robotics, fashion design, space camps and more.
Prior to the Girl Scouts, Ms. Richie made her mark on the agency side. She worked at Leo Burnett, Chicago, from 1981-1983, handling a host of Procter & Gamble brands. In 1984, she moved to Ogilvy, where she spent more than two decades building brands for clients such as American Express, Pepperidge Farm, Oscar Mayer, the Partnership for a Drug Free America and Unilever, among others. During her tenure at Ogilvy, she led the team that helped Huggies become a multibillion-dollar brand.
Whether her marketing and brand management skills translate to the WNBA remains to be seen. Ms. Orender, who served as president for five years, was instrumental in both negotiating an eight-year extension of the league's TV rights deal with ABC and ESPN2, as well as a six-year extension of the labor agreement with the WNBA's players.
"The WNBA is comprised of the best female basketball players in the world and I'm looking forward to working with these talented women as they strive to achieve their professional goals both on and off the court," Ms. Richie said in a statement. "I am fortunate to have worked with an organization as inspiring as Girl Scouts, and I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to build upon the successes of the WNBA and help grow this league into a world-class business."
The most recent agency executive to make the move to running a league did not have a happy ending. Carolyn Bivens, the former president-chief operating officer of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative Media North America, as well as the former worldwide advertising operations chief for USA Today and USA Today's international edition, became the commissioner of the Ladies Professional Golf Tour in 2005. Her tenure was marked by controversy.
Seven LPGA executives serving under Ms. Bivens quit in her first eight months on the job, frustrated by her management style. Her "English-only" speaking policy rankled players on a tour where the majority of golfers are from foreign countries, and the LPGA quickly backed off after the resulting public relations disaster.
The players were also critical when Ms. Bivens was quoted in a Bloomberg story as saying she wanted the players to tweet during tournament play. After 15 high-ranking players signed a letter in July 2009 demanding her ouster, Ms. Bivens resigned.