Advertising Week 2006

A Rare Glimpse Into the Mind of John Wren at Advertising Week

Ad Age Video: Q&A With the Spotlight-Averse Omnicom Chief

By Published on .

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The ad industry yesterday got a rare extended glimpse into the mind of John Wren when the Omnicom Group chief sat for an hour-long interview as part of Advertising Week.
Mr. Wren, speaking with Disney Theatrical head Tom Schumacher, narrated his life from his childhood in New York to his entry on the ad scene when he joined Needham Harper, now part of DDB, in 1984, to his current role as head of the largest ad-holding company. The interview was probably most notable for giving some insight into the biography and personality of an executive who doesn't enter the public spotlight very often.

An audience of about 100 included a healthy dose of Omnicom bigs, including DDB CEO Chuck Brymer, BBDO CEO Andrew Robertson, Diversified Agency Services CEO Tom Harrison and TBWA President Tom Carroll.

A few highlights:

Mr. Wren's near-miss as a philosopher: In college, he was interested in texts like the "Bhagavad Gita" -- that is, until his future wife helped direct him into business. "She was worried about how we'd pay the rent."

But it's not quite Dante's "Inferno": He paraphrased Milton's Satan in describing his choice to run Omnicom's DAS unit over becoming the No. 2 at DDB, back when the holding company was formed. He said, "Better to rule in hell than serve in heaven."

Why holding companies are necessary: "Individual [agencies] don't lend themselves to the short-term volatility of the marketplace."

On the decline of the Madison Avenue executive stereotype from the 1950s, '60s and '70s: "They were all from Connecticut and they all started drinking at lunch." Also, "there were only three [TV] networks and you didn't have to have a hell of a lot of imagination."

Most colorful quote: "There have been a few times when I felt like I pulled a duck out of my ass."

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