Ms. Applebaum's departure also comes as the
shop loses PepsiCo Brisk business to WPP's VML, which was named creative AOR for
the brand in the U.S. The recent
talent drain at the Cheil Worldwide
shop, which included layoffs on
top of the executive departures, was causing concern at PepsiCo, Ad
Age previously reported. Mr. Pou, who left in May, was
credited with having won the Brisk business during his tenure. Ms.
Applebaum also worked on the Pepsi account.
Barbarian and its founders have been known for their creative
prowess and a culture that matched, but the shop wasn't profitable
last year, according to people close to the agency. But the shop
was focused on top-line and longer-term growth, with the launch of
content studio and new hires, according to people familiar with
Mr. Kim, after taking on the Barbarian CEO role, mandated that
executives -- some of whom have since left -- make significant cuts
that would ultimately mean layoffs, according to multiple people
familiar with the matter.
"We wouldn't have been able to service the business," said a
former Barbarian employee with knowledge of the situation.
"There's been financial challenges which started from the point
of [Cheil's] acquisition in 2009," said another person close to the
Mr. Kim said recent changes were necessary to move the business
forward. "The Barbarian Group is renowned for its
creative delivery of systems and stories," he said. "However,
relying solely on what made us famous won't necessarily help in the
face of changing consumer behaviors, evolving client needs, and an
increasingly competitive agency landscape. The hard decisions we've
made this year to reinvent and refactor enable us to partner more
closely with clients, work with new specialized talent, and run a
financially viable shop."
Mr. Kim wouldn't comment on whether or not he'd be replacing the
senior executives who have since left beyond saying, "We respect
the work that's been done in the past, like Subservient Chicken or
the creation of Cinder, but now we know we need a new strategy for
a new environment."
Other people close to the agency said it's too early to tell if
Mr. Kim can help the agency grow. They also said leadership changes
and departures have much more of an impact on staff and culture at
a small shop, like Barbarian, than at a large shop where it's more
common and less noticeable.
Sophie Kelly, former CEO, declined to comment for this
Barbarian contributed to one of Cheil's first global, joint
agency pitches for the Etihad business, which is now being serviced
out of the U.K., according to people familiar with the matter.
However, it's unclear whether or not Barbarian has won any new
large accounts this year.
Cheil executives did not immediately respond to a request for
Cheil in December 2009 bought a 47% share of digital agency
Barbarian Group and in April 2010 increased its ownership to
75.56%. In first-quarter 2014 Cheil increased its stake in
Barbarian Group to 100%. In 2015, Barbarian Group had revenue of
$22.8 million, according to the Ad Age Datacenter. Samsung Electronics, with a 12.6% stake, and
affiliate Samsung C&T Corp., with a 12.64% stake, as of
September 2015, together owned 25.24% of Cheil Worldwide, according
to Cheil regulatory filings and the Ad Age DataCenter.