Hill Holliday Names Karen Kaplan CEO

Thirty-Year Veteran Has Worked Her Way Up From Receptionist at the Boston-based Shop

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Karen Kaplan
Karen Kaplan

Hill Holliday veteran Karen Kaplan is stepping into the role of CEO, completing a long-expected ascension to the top post at the Boston agency.

Ms. Kaplan, 53, is taking over for Mike Sheehan on his 10-year anniversary of being named CEO at Interpublic Group of Cos.-owned Hill Holliday. Her career trajectory is a true example of what it means to work your way up. She joined the Boston-based firm in 1982 with no formal advertising education. Initially, she was a receptionist but eventually she transitioned to account management, working on consumer, retail, financial-services and technology accounts.

In January of 2001, Ms. Kaplan was promoted to managing director of the Boston office and in June 2007 she assumed the role of president of the agency. It's been long rumored in agency circles that Mr. Sheehan -- who succeeded Hill Holliday founder Jack Connors as CEO in 2003 -- would hand over the torch to Ms. Kaplan when he retired. But he's now planning staying on as chairman for the next two years.

Last fall, Ms. Kaplan was named to Ad Age's list of the 100 most influential women in advertising. She's also part of a group of female leaders in the ad business that's growing slowly, but surely. Last month, Sarah Thompson was named CEO of Droga5's flagship New York office.

Ms. Kaplan's tight relationships with clients are a boon to the shop. "Karen has been a great partner to me for many years," said Anne Finucane, CMO at Bank of America, in a statement. "She's that rare talented executive who recognizes the power of great creative while being deeply committed to our strategy and business success. Best of all, she knows how to tie it all together to create modern marketing that works. She's savvy, confident and driven; a born leader with sharp instincts, and there's no one better equipped to take Hill Holliday -- and its clients -- into the future."

While it's not one of the biggest shops in Adland and hardly a frequent player on the new business circuit, it's growing. Despite a review that moved a huge part of Bank of America's to WPP, Hill Holliday expanded its portion of the account with the marketer. It also recently added Merrell and VH1 to its client roster. It's proved good at client retention too; the agency continues to work with longtime clients Dunkin Donuts, Liberty Mutual, John Hancock, Novartis, Cigna and Chili's.

As CEO, Ms. Kaplan will be focused on continuing the shop's upswing. According to the Ad Age DataCenter, Hill Holliday achieved annual revenue growth of 5.7% in 2012, ending the year with $184 million in revenue.

"There is no one who has worked harder or who is better positioned to lead Hill Holliday to new levels of growth and success," said Mr. Sheehan. "She was born to be CEO."

While serving as CEO, Ms. Kaplan will also continue to serve in a number of roles outside the firm. They include chairman of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and president of the Massachusetts Women's Forum, among others.

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