Fudge Y&R posting lauded as watershed

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Clients, colleagues and rivals heralded Ann Fudge's arrival at the helm of Young & Rubicam as a landmark in the advertising business since she is both the first African-American woman to head a major agency and a career marketer, but warned she faces some stiff challenges at the agency.

In succeeding Michael Dolan as chairman-CEO of WPP Group's Young & Rubicam and Y&R Advertising, Ms. Fudge becomes the highest-ranking woman of color in the ad business-by quite some distance.

James D. Speros, chief marketing officer of Ernst & Young and chairman of the Association of National Advertisers, commented: "It's sensational news. Not only do we have another woman now breaking through the glass ceiling, but one of color, and one who is extraordinarily talented. I hope this is the beginning of more talented people from the multicultural communities" landing top roles.

Others placed greater importance in the fact that Ms. Fudge is not an agency executive, but rather a marketer whose career has seen her work on numerous iconic brands such as Maxwell House, Kool Aid and Jell-O. WPP Group Chief Executive Martin Sorrell, who appointed Ms. Fudge, commented: "She brings the strategic perspective of a client and an understanding of marketing which is very strong. She's great with people, smart, articulate and a great presenter."

Understanding marketers

Mr. Sorrell will be hoping that what Ms. Fudge lacks in experience of running an agency, she will more than make up for in understanding marketers' needs. That is certainly what some clients are expecting. David Goodman, exec VP-marketing, Infinity Broadcasting, which uses Y&R's Brand Buzz unit, said: "Every client is caught between pressures from within their company and pressures from their agency. Ann, who knows the client mind-set, may be able to help bridge that gap."

John Bowlin, who retired as president of Miller Brewing and was Ms. Fudge's boss at Kraft, said: "She had a really good handle on what motivated the consumer and what the brand was really about." Rick Roth, worldwide managing director, Ogilvy & Mather, who worked with Ms. Fudge on a campaign for Maxwell House Coffee, credits Ms. Fudge for empowering her team to make a controversial move and use emotional ads at a time when many superiors questioned the move. The tagline introduced then, "Make every day good to the last drop," is still the global brand platform today.

Such attributes should appeal to clients, but rivals and even Y&R insiders admitted Ms. Fudge faces major challenges in her new role. Like the chiefs of many of the leading agencies, she faces a battle to eke out the kind of profit margins shareholders would like to see, said executives familiar with Y&R. Those executives also noted that its revenue growth rates have lagged behind those of WPP siblings J. Walter Thompson Worldwide and Ogilvy & Mather and that Ms. Fudge will have to look at cutting costs. "She's got to work out how to make the service organization work at lower cost and higher quality," said one observer.

Continue integrated path?

Ms. Fudge must also work out whether to continue to push to provide an integrated offering, a path that Mr. Dolan pursued as he reunited Y&R Advertising with direct marketing agency Wunderman in markets around the world. She may also have to decide whether to ramp up Y&R's strategic media planning operation and how to position and expand Y&R's fast-growing integrated marketing unit, Brand Buzz, if the entire agency were to have a more integrated approach. Executives close to the situation doubt that Mr. Sorrell wants to see Wunderman reunited with Y&R.

Although Y&R has been on a small new-business roll recently, landing the Burger King account and a consolidation of business from Chevron-Texaco, former Y&R Advertising CEO Ed Vick said it will also be important that Ms. Fudge shows she has the appetite for the new business fight. "You have to have a hunting mentality to be successful," he said. "A pitch against three competitors can cost $1 million for a 25% chance of winning. Do you want to take that risk?"

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