Mr. Heffernan, 47, is leaving the agency after four years at the helm of the WPP Group shop, but he will be available to aid in the transition.
"I feel very good about the way I did my job and the relationships I've got with people and I think everyone knows," Mr. Heffernan told Adage.com. "I feel like we as a group withstood some difficulties and came out in pretty good shape. Now there's a chance for team to take it to a different level."
Joined agency in 1985
Mr. Heffernan joined JWT, Detroit, in 1985 as an account manager and has served in several posts for the agency, including executive vice president and director of global business development in New York. He led the Chicago office on new assignments for First Data Corp., Western Union and Haagen-Dazs Ice Cream.
Until the agency finds a successor, Bob Jeffrey, 49, president of J. Walter Thompson North America, will lead the office. "JWT Chicago has been an important engine of our growth and a marketplace leader for its blue-chip clients since 1891," Mr. Jeffrey said in a statement. "We are committed to enhancing its creative success, business momentum and reputation as a center of innovation and talent for our worldwide company."
The agency last month managed to retain its assignment for Miller Geniune Draft after SABMiller Brewing initiated a shootout with sibling Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, which also handles Miller Lite. Both shops now will share the account, but many observers consider the outcome a hollow win -- and a temporary one, depending on what further decisions regarding the account might be made under Miller's new parent, South African Breweries.
Kraft Foods, part of Philip Morris Cos., which was also Miller's previous owner, also shifted an assignment from the agency to crosstown rival and Kraft roster shop Interpublic Group of Cos.' Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide.
Mr. Heffernan said his resignation had little to do with the MGD and Kraft issues, but more the cyclical nature of the advertising business. "I don't think it was a result of MGD specifically," he said. "We've done a good job in general of marshalling the resources of the agency behind those clients. That will still be challenging and who knows what will happen."
He conceded that he might have been too much of a fairweather manager for the current recession. "I'm built more for offense and optimism, and I couldn't do the difficult things. There's no joy for me in that. Maybe there are other types of managers for that kind of a market."
Looking ahead, Mr. Heffernan said he will launch a marketing and business development consultancy called Side Drawer to help clients with what he called the "important but not just the urgent," he said. "There's a great opportunity right now in Chicago for a different structure in creative enterprise. I've gotten a lot of interest in the idea."
He suggested that the current model of agency networks leaves room for improvement.
"I think it's going to be very good that Bob Jeffrey will be more connected to the office and will have a sense of ownership and progress in the future," he said. "In a leaner environment, by necessity, the offices have to work better. I don't think any agency network has figured out how to do that as well as will be required in the coming future."