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Ad Lib: DDB's Wendy Clark and Ari Weiss on Creative Tension, the Year's Highs and Lows

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It's been just under two years since DDB brought Wendy Clark—a former top marketer at Coca Cola—on board as its North American CEO. And it's been just under one year since she brought on Ari Weiss as the Omnicom network's first chief creative officer. The honeymoon would have to wait, though.

"Parternships are a leap of faith," Clark says in the latest edition of Ad Lib. "The work won't be done in just a year."

In 2017, there was certainly plenty of work. The two discuss pairing creativity with business realities and break down a few of the highs and lows of the year for DDB.

"If we're going to have the right tension between the bottom line financially and creatively then we have to be side-by-side on these decisions," Clark says of her working relationship with Weiss. "He has to be as interested in the P&L and budget dialogue and discussions in what we do as I have to be on the creative agenda and the work."

It wasn't always this way. Weiss is the first creative chief for North America. Not having the position previously, says Clark, was "anathema for an agency called DDB," named in part for legendary creative Bill Bernbach. The agency had "run afoul of whatever it was created to be."

Also on the topic of running afoul, Clark weighs in on the tsunami of sexual harassment news in recent weeks in the broader culture and at agencies specifically. DDB, she says, has a zero tolerance policy.

"We've now seen the pervasiveness," she says. "Any of us can put up rhetoric. What are the actions you're taking? What are you doing to demonstrably say this environment, this culture, will be better and intolerant of that."

DDB is implementing mandatory sexual harassment training in 2018, on the heels of the unconscious bias training program it introduced last year, she says. As for her own personal experience, Clark demurs when asked if she'd ever personally encountered appropriate behavior or cultures of toxicity.

"It's not something I really spend a lot of time thinking about, about myself," she says. "I think about it all the time on behalf of our approximately 2,000 associates in North America. I don't want anyone to have that experience ever."

Among the highs of 2017, Weiss cites the work that DDB has coming down the pike for Skittles, as well as the work by the agency's bespoke McDonald's shop We Are Unlimited (this podcast was recorded days before We Are Unlimited brought in a new CEO).

"We are myopically focused on growing our revenue so we can in fact invest and add the capabilities and the people we want in the places we need them," says Clark.

As for lows, the standout was losing the Airbnb business to Wieden & Kennedy in the final round.

"It was a crushing emotional blow for us," says Clark.

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