Tonise Paul steps down as Energy BBDO CEO, continuing a streak of changes in Chicago agency market
Tonise Paul, a fixture at the top of Chicago-based Energy BBDO for 24 years and one of the longest-tenured female CEOs in the agency industry, is stepping down from the president-CEO role. She will become chairwoman and hand day-to-day management to Jeff Adkins, currently Energy BBDO’s executive VP and managing director, who will assume the president-CEO title at the 230-person office on Jan. 1.
Paul’s move continues a streak of executive changes sweeping Chicago’s agencies, which has amounted to a big game of musical chairs affecting top creative and CEO jobs at most of the city’s holding company-run shops.
Paul, a well-known figure in the Chicago business community, started at BBDO’s Chicago office in 1984 as an account executive working on the Wrigley account, helping to launch Extra gum, which the agency still handles today. She was elevated to the top job in 1995.
In a press release announcing the move, the agency credits Paul with transforming the agency “from a fledgling satellite office into a global, integrated, award-winning creative organization partnering with industry-leading companies to build some of the world’s most iconic brands.”
Energy BBDO’s clients include Wrigley’s gum brands, Pearle Vision, Bayer aspirin, Champion, MillerCoors-owned Cape Line malt beverage and Avocados from Mexico, which in February will run its second-straight Super Bowl ad from Energy BBDO. This week, the agency won global creative for Jack Daniel’s and several other Brown-Forman brands, besting FCB Chicago in a Windy City battle.
Adkins joined Energy BBDO in 2002 from EuroRSCG (now called Havas). The agency credits him with running its new business engine, while overseeing key accounts including Wrigley, Pearle Vision, Avocados From Mexico, Kerrygold and MillerCoors.
“We believe firmly in succession planning and nothing could be more seamless than promoting Jeff to the role of president and CEO of our agency,” Paul stated. “It’s the same approach we took earlier this year when promoting Josh Gross and Pedro Pérez to the roles of co-chief creative officers.” She added that “Jeff has more than the full-throttle capability to continue our agency evolution as the leading-edge creative organization that energizes people and brands.”
Chitown’s musical chairs
Gross and Pérez were promoted to the co-chief creative officer roles in August after Andrés Ordóñez, chief creative at Energy BBDO since 2016, left to take the same job at FCB Chicago. The FCB job opened in May after Liz Taylor left for Leo Burnett Worldwide, where she is chief creative officer. Taylor arrived at Leo after the agency’s U.S. chief creative officer, Britt Nolan, left for DDB, where Omnicom appointed him as the agency’s North American chief creative officer.
More changes came in late September when FCB Chicago president and CEO Michael Fassnacht stepped down effective at the end of the year amid a broader North American restructuring of the Interpublic Group of Cos.-owned shop that aims to deemphasize individual office distinctions, including moving to a single North American P&L. Kelly Graves, the chief marketing officer of FCB Chicago, is set to become president of the Windy City office, but she will not get the CEO title Fassnacht had.
Notably, all of the shuffling resulted in roles being filled by people already in Chicago. From a positive standpoint, it signals Chicago as a place where executives feel comfortable, and where, at least of late, there is room to advance. On the negative side, the insularity potentially keeps the city’s agency scene from getting the fresh perspective an outsider might bring.
Fassnacht, who ran FCB Chicago for nearly 10 years, in an interview today pointed out that agencies are still filling roles just beneath the C-suite level from people who come from outside Chicago. As for why top executives stay, “the reality of the opportunities to do great things are much bigger than the perception of Chicago,” he said, pointing to things such as the city's burgeoning tech scene.
Fassnacht, a native of Germany who has worked in New York and San Francisco, added that “it’s a much more approachable, accessible city than cities on the coast. You can make a real difference here business-wise and civically. If you want to make the city a better place you can.”
He pointed to Paul’s outside activities as proof. Her civic engagement includes serving as chair of the Executives’ Club of Chicago, which is a networking group for local business leaders. She also belongs to The Chicago Network, which is an organization for local women business leaders; and The Commercial Club of Chicago, which focuses on a range of issues, including economic development, business climate and transportation infrastructure.