Hill, Holliday hires Ayres to complete exec team

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When Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos executives planned last week's 32nd anniversary party around an Academy Award theme, they didn't know it would coincide with the top-level hire of a woman who gave up show business for the agency business.

Ruth Ayres, a former stand-up comedienne and tambourine player, will join Hill, Holliday as exec VP-chief marketing officer. Prior to her first agency position in 1983 at Needham, Harper & Steers -- now DDB Worldwide -- Ms. Ayres made her living on the stage. She spent the last year as chief marketing officer at TBWA Worldwide.

Ms. Ayres' hire marks the completion of a five-person U.S. executive team, according to Hill, Holliday Chairman-CEO Jack Connors Jr. In addition to Mr. Connors and Ms. Ayres, Hill, Holliday's other top executives are Chief Operating Officer Joe Norberg, Integrated Strategic Marketing Officer Laurel Rossi and Stever Aubrey, who was recently promoted to general manager.

"I'm very proud of the team," Mr. Connors said. "I don't see any reason to add to it or change it."

TRANSITION PERIOD

Ms. Ayres joins Hill, Holliday as the agency comes out of a substantial transition. In the last two months alone, Hill, Holliday gained a West Coast presence through its merger with fellow Interpublic Group of Cos. shop Goldberg Moser O'Neill, San Francisco. Soon after, Mr. Connors enacted top-level changes to the agency's flagship Boston office. June Blocklin moved to office co-president from exec VP-director of advertising. She shares the office presidency with new hire Mike Sheehan, former executive creative director at DDB Worldwide, Chicago. Mr. Sheehan also takes the post of chief creative officer.

In addition, Hill, Holliday bulked up its account planning department with several high-level hires.

Mr. Connors said he expects to make other executive changes in the New York and San Francisco offices. In fact, a new president for the New York office, to work with New York Chief Creative Officer David Wecal, is expected to be named by this week.

While building up Hill, Holliday's three established offices -- Boston, New York and San Francisco -- Mr. Connors has an eye on expansion to other U.S. cities, with Austin, Texas, a likely target.

Mr. Connors said he's "not in any rush" to venture to international expansion.

"We need to put a little more meat on the U.S. bone first," he said.

As for Ms. Ayres duties, she's charged with bringing in new business and putting the word out about Hill, Holliday's offerings.

"She's going to take the show on the road," Mr. Connors said. "No one knows how big we are, how integrated we are or how profitable we are. No one knows how good our work is. We don't promote ourselves."

MAKING A HULLABALOO

During her advertising career, which included stints at DDB Needham, another DDB Worldwide predecessor, and at N.W. Ayer & Partners, Ms. Ayres has shouldered a variety of responsibilities, such as coordinating creative and corporate communications. Eventually, she settled into a new-business role. She's been integral in luring clients such as Liz Claiborne, Hasbro, Bank of New York, Dial Corp. and Continental Airlines to her past agencies.

Hill, Holliday has billings of $1.2 billion, with clients such as Dunkin' Donuts, Fleet Financial Corp., John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co., Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits and Priceline.com.

"Hill, Holliday has been quietly revamping its business model, and not making a big hullabaloo about it," Ms. Ayers said. "So, of course my first job is to make a hullabaloo."

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