Essence, the global data and measurement-driven media agency within WPP's GroupM, has promoted North America CEO Steve Williams to global chief operating officer. Jason Harrison will succeed him as the chief executive of North America.
Williams, who joined Essence as CEO of North America in 2018, tells Ad Age that he has "always been a globalist at heart, growing up in the U.K., so there is a natural expansion there."
He began his career in the U.K., working as a TV buying manager for BBDO and DDB in London, before moving to OMD U.K., where he would become the CEO in 2007. Williams emigrated to New York in 2012 to become the U.S. president of Omnicom's PHD, and then he served as the CEO of WPP's Maxus (now part of Wavemaker) before shifting to Essence.
As global chief operating officer, Williams will be charged with managing Essence's business operations and continued expansion in the Americas, APAC and EMEA. As the North American CEO, he's credited with leading new business efforts and evolving Essence from a programmatic specialist to a full-service media agency.
On the expansion, Williams says it will be done "in a valuable way," and that the agency has no plans of becoming "a 60- to 80-office agency operation." Essence currently has 18 offices in 12 countries with a staff of 1,600. Williams says his main focus will be on further developing certain markets. "There are some obvious regions we need more great coverage in," including Latin America and China, he adds.
Harrison, who was recently president and client partner, and has overseen the agency's Target account since 2018, will now be responsible for leading Essence's key business relationships, along with its seven offices that house 800 employees across the U.S. and Canada.
"I see my role as a continuation of the good work that has already been done; nurturing a culture and place that people want to be a part of," Harrison tells Ad Age. "That's a huge responsibility and I take that very seriously."
He was the CEO of GroupM's bespoke Target unit, Team Arrow, before it was folded into Essence in 2017. Before that, he was the worldwide CEO of consultancy Gain Theory; chief information officer for Maxus and UM; and the director of information management at Johnson & Johnson.
Harrison will remain in Minneapolis and Williams in New York, reporting to Essence's incoming global CEO, Kyoko Matsushita, who is headquartered in San Francisco. Matsushita suceeds Christian Juhl, who will become global CEO of GroupM on Oct. 1.
Essence has counted Google as its largest client for more than a decade, which was a major factor in GroupM's decision to buy the agency in 2015. Today, Essence's client roster has expanded to include Target, Flipkart, NBCUniversal and T-Mobile, among others.