Interpublic Installs New CEO at Campbell Ewald, Aligns Shop With Lowe

Can Latest Attempt at Giving Lowe a North American Boost Work?

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Storied Detroit agency Campbell Ewald has named Jim Palmer its new CEO.

Most recently Mr. Palmer served as chief client officer, succeeding Bill Ludwig. Mr. Ludwig suddenly departed the shop in mid-June after clocking more than 30 years at Campbell Ewald -- during which time he ascended from a copywriter to chief exec. The timing of the exit was surprising, on the heels of CE picking up Cadillac's account (along with sibling shops Hill Holliday and Lowe) after a pitch. He's moving on to an unspecified new ad venture that "could see him remain connected to IPG," according to a statement from Interpublic.

Ad Age previously reported Mr. Palmer was the front-runner for the post. He's another longtime CE staffer, having joined in 1991, initially focused on the agency's publishing division. Before that he held sales and marketing positions with Westin Hotels and Merrill Lynch. Under him, Kathleen Donald, the agency's current president, will become chief operating officer and take on additional management responsibilities.

"These are exciting developments in the evolution of Campbell Ewald that position the agency for the future and place it on the global stage," said Interpublic Chairman-CEO Michael Roth in a statement. "Jim Palmer has been a key driver of client growth at the agency for some time now and recently led the IPG team that won the Cadillac assignment. He'll be a strong CEO for Lowe Campbell Ewald, working alongside Kathleen, Chief Creative Officer Mark Simon and a cohesive senior team."

A new shop: Lowe Campbell Ewald

As part of the series of changes, Interpublic is once again rejiggering global micronetwork Lowe. Under a new arrangement, Campbell Ewald will join Lowe and the new agency is being renamed Lowe Campbell Ewald.

The move effectively unties a partnership with Deutsch that was struck back in 2009 -- though Deutsch and other domestic shops under Interpublic could still tap the network for global work if it doesn't conflict with Lowe Campbell Ewald clients.

Whether the latest experiment to give Lowe a North American boost can work remains to be seen. That was the thinking behind the Deutsch partnership, while also attempting to create a global mechanism for Deutsch to pitch business via Lowe. And although that did happen on occasion, the two cultures never really meshed. (Deutsch, Los Angeles largely removed itself from that merger process.)

Lowe is the product of numerous agency mergers and the notion of another one -- especially one that will align it with a Motor City shop, which has its history entrenched in auto work -- will give adland yet reason to balk at whether the relationship will work.

On the other hand, it has to for the sake of their shared new client, General Motors' Cadillac. The two shops must operate on the same page.

"As our organizations worked closely over the past three months preparing for and winning the Cadillac brief, led by Jim and Tony, we came to the realization that this is an alignment that makes too much sense for us not to pursue," said Lowe CEO Michael Wall in a statement.

The creation of Lowe Campbell Ewald doesn't impact Boston-based Hill Holliday, which also pitched for the Cadillac business and is the creative engine for the work.

Going forward, Lowe Campbell Ewald will need to weigh whether a Detroit presence will be enough; it may need to consider opening a New York presence to service GM.

"This is a great honor personally, but above all it's a terrific opportunity to continue building our agency with a group of senior executives who have been together for some time and whose focus has always been on doing what is best for our clients," said Mr. Palmer. "When you add to that the potential of representing Lowe in the U.S. and partnering with such a great global network, then you realize that this is a big day in the history of our agency."

Indeed. The trick will be making it not just a big day, but a promising one that helps grow both shops' business.

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