Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide announced early Monday morning that Global CEO Wendy Clark would be stepping down. She will be assuming a new role as global CEO of Dentsu Group's Dentsu Aegis Network.
"Wendy Clark has advised us that she will be leaving DDB Worldwide in the very near future," DDB Chairman Chuck Brymer wrote in a note to staff. "In order to ensure that our teams and clients across the network are supported, I have agreed to lead the company on an interim basis until which time we have established the new leadership structure."
According to a statement sent by Dentsu, Clark will report to Tim Andree, executive chairman of Dentsu Aegis Network, and "will be appointed Executive Officer at Dentsu Group Inc. at the same time she joins the business in September with the approval of the Board of Dentsu Group Inc." Dentsu Group uses the title "executive officer" for the holding company's various corporate officers.
Andree, who led the search, has been executive chairman of London-based Dentsu Aegis Network since 2013. Andree also holds the title of executive VP at Dentsu Group, the Tokyo-based agency holding company.
Dentsu Aegis Network oversees holdings outside Japan for Dentsu Group.
In an interview with Ad Age Monday morning, Clark said conversations with Dentsu began last year and “culminated in February.”
“The people are incredibly intelligent, kind, hardworking, passionate,” Clark says of Dentsu. “You look at the over 170 acquisitions they’ve done in the last five years, they have been very deliberate.”
In 2016 Dentsu bought a majority stake in Maryland-based digital agency Merkle, in a high profile acquisition estimated at the time at $1.5 billion. In 2020 alone, Dentsu bought both identification and data services company 4Cite Marketing and Media Storm, one of the largest independent data-driven audience planning and targeting agencies.
Clark, speaking from her home in Atlanta, tells Ad Age she will commute to Dentsu offices in New York and London, and “Japan a little bit,” as she has done in previous roles. “I’m very comfortable being on an airplane,” she says.
In the global CEO role at Dentsu Aegis Network, Clark says she will oversee all operations outside of Japan and brands including Merkle, Carat, Isobar and mcgarrybowen. She praised Dentsu as being a holding company that has succeeded in “integrating technology with creativity” through its acquisitions.
Ad Age will be updating this story as it develops throughout the day.
"I know that these next few months will be very tough for all of us," DDB's Brymer wrote in his note to staff. "The challenges that we and our clients are facing are beyond anything we could have imagined even a few months ago. Fortunately we possess an incredible leadership team, spirit and resolve. Each one of us is dedicated to ensuring as smooth a transition as possible."
Clark was appointed DDB’s president and chief executive of North America in 2016, joining the agency from Coca-Cola, where she served as North American president of sparkling brands and strategic marketing. Previously, she had been responsible for the global leadership of all Coca-Cola’s sparkling brands.
During her early tenure at the Omnicom-owned agency, DDB expanded existing relationships with clients Conagra Brands, Johnson & Johnson and State Farm; the last client severed ties in November. Under Clark, the agency brought in new business from Molson Coors, Time Warner Cable, Merck and, notably, McDonald's.
For McDonald’s, Clark oversaw the brand’s custom-created agency We Are Unlimited, which was launched in 2016 following an agency review and selection process led by Deborah Wahl, McDonald’s U.S. chief marketer at the time, who left the company in 2017. Omnicom won the McDonald’s account in a pitch led by Clark, who would later be promoted to CEO of DDB North America and, in February 2018, CEO of DDB Worldwide. We Are Unlimited officially began working on the account at the start of 2017.
But the relationship failed to gain meaningful traction, and in September of 2019 McDonald’s announced it had decided to go with Wieden+Kennedy, New York, as its lead creative agency in the U.S. The move toward an independent creative agency was a major shift for the country's largest restaurant chain, which had for decades worked with shops that are part of large holding companies. It also suggested that a bespoke agency within a holding company structure, hailed by Clark and her acolytes as an exciting new model at the time, may not be the answer for major marketers when it comes to creative partners.
Clark’s early tenure at DDB was blessed (or possibly cursed) with high visibility. A 2017 Ad Age Executive of the Year, Clark was inducted into the Marketing Hall of Fame in 2019, for among other things, having “driven a renewed sense of new business winning helping to land over 32 pitch wins, including Volkswagen, McDonald’s, Johnson & Johnson, AT&T, Kellogg’s, Miller Lite and the U.S. Army, to name a few.”
It was understood at the time that the Army win would provide DDB with a consistent revenue stream from a multi-year government contract. The contract was for "a full array of advertising and marketing services for a five-year base period and two successive option periods of, respectively, three years and two years, for a total possible period of performance of 10 years," according to a Government Accountability Office document.
According to an earlier Ad Age story, McCann was believed to take in $30 million to $40 million a year with its Army deal.
In October 2018, Clark stepped down from the leadership committee for Time's Up Advertising, an initiative aimed at addressing sexual harassment and inequality in the workplace, after reportedly hiring creative Ted Royer as a freelancer. Royer had previously left his post as Droga5's chief creative officer under a cloud of still-unspecified controversy.
And after DDB lost McDonald’s last September, State Farm announced in November it would be switching up its agency roster, naming Omicom’s Marketing Arm as lead creative agency, dealing yet another blow to DDB, this time in Chicago, an agency partner of State Farm’s for seven decades. While DDB still works with the marketer, its shift away from lead agency on creative was a significant demotion.
In January of this year, DDB announced the loss of client Capital One, marking the end of a 16-year relationship.
Here is Brymer's note to DDB staff in full:
First off, I hope everyone and their families are keeping safe through this crisis. This is truly an unprecedented time and the health and well-being of our people is paramount.
I want to share some important news with you. Wendy Clark has advised us that she will be leaving DDB Worldwide in the very near future. In order to ensure that our teams and clients across the network are supported, I have agreed to lead the company on an interim basis until which time we have established the new leadership structure.
For those of you who may not know me, I was the global CEO of DDB for twelve years from 2006 to 2018, at which time I became Chairman. For those of you who do know me, I hope you will attest that my first priority is making sure that the DDB network and its people reach their full potential. And that the work we do is celebrated as some of the best in the world.
I know that these next few months will be very tough for all of us. The challenges that we and our clients are facing are beyond anything we could have imagined even a few months ago. Fortunately we possess an incredible leadership team, spirit and resolve. Each one of us is dedicated to ensuring as smooth a transition as possible.
We remain, as always, committed to pursuing excellence in everything we do.
Contributing: Judann Pollack, Lindsay Rittenhouse and E.J. Schultz