Cuts in Production Ranks 'First Step' in Restructuring

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson, Chicago, yesterday laid off 18 executives, or 10% of its head count of roughly 180, a spokesman said.

The layoffs follow a shakeup last month in the agency's key Kraft Foods Inc. account in which senior executives handling the brands in Kraft's cheese and enhancers unit were replaced.

New ad exec for Kraft unit
Erin Clark, senior partner-group management director, who joined the agency in November to work on the Western Union account, took over the Kraft cheese and enhancers unit, which houses brands such as Kraft Singles, Breakstone's cottage cheese, Grey Poupon mustard and Miracle Whip mayonnaise. She replaced Jean McLaren, who now has a consulting role with the agency.

The agency's account teams for Kraft-owned Nabisco snack brands and Oscar Meyer were not affected by the restructuring.

The agency has also brought in Toby Barlow from JWT's New York office as interim group creative director on the cheese and enhancers business, replacing Matt Canzano, who led creative for the brand team. Mr. Barlow will remain in Chicago until the agency finds a permanent successor, but he will also be tapped for the account long-term, said Rick Kemp, executive vice president and executive creative director.

Approval from up top
Mr. Kemp said that the moves were made with the counsel of Ron Burns, global business director for the Kraft Foods account for JWT in New York, and Barry Krause, who starts on Monday as president-managing director of JWT's Chicago office; he was previously chairman-CEO of Publicis Groupe's Publicis, New York.

JWT has struggled on the Kraft business for more than a year and now is trying to shore up the relationship and keep the business in Chicago.

"It's important for us and our agency's health that we have that relationship with Kraft here," he said.

Restructured production teams
To improve accountability and quality of in the creative, the agency plans to assign production teams under three units rather than have a pool of producers handling all the agency's creative production. Clients Kraft, Nestle and a group of smaller businesses would split teams, and team leaders would have greater responsibility over the work. The layoffs this week were the "first step to create room to do that," Mr. Kemp said. Many of the jobs cut yesterday were in the production department, where radio, TV and print advertising is produced.

Mr. Kemp acknowledged that due to the agency's lack of consistency and execution, Kraft and others questioned whether the agency "had the capability to execute flawlessly," he said. "I need to work hard to regain that confidence in our ability to execute. It's fair to say we need to continue to prove ourselves in that area."

He was quick to point out that the agency's challenge is "not much different" than any other agency, and that the restructuring is "paving the way for [he and Mr. Krause] to build our own destiny.

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