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NEW YORK-Rod Wright rejoins Ogilvy & Mather Direct at a time of tremendous change for the agency and the direct marketing business in general, as more marketers embrace the discipline.

Mr. Wright, 36, last week was named chairman-ceo of O&M Direct North America, a new post that assumes duties held by Jerome Pickholz, 61, who remains worldwide chairman but has given up the ceo title he held since 1977.

The agency, by far the largest worldwide direct shop, reported impressive growth last year. Worldwide billings rose 10.6% to $928.7 million, and U.S. billings were up 12.8% to $440 million.

But O&M finds itself vulnerable on its two biggest, most profitable accounts, which represent about 55% of the agency's U.S. business: American Express Co. has moved several assignments to Bronner Slosberg Humphrey, Boston, and Wunderman Cato Johnson, New York, while AT&T's consumer long-distance business is now up for review, threatening a modest 15% of O&M's total AT&T billings.

Mr. Wright said the competition has gotten much tougher.

"While we used to have a position of clear pre-eminence among our clients, certainly Bronner and Wunderman, to some extent, have adopted very focused strategies with our common core clients," he said. "We have got to learn how to add value to clients whose business problems are immense, and we have got to be more flexible."

The agency also faces a "complicated transition" from first-generation management, led by Mr. Pickholz and Stan Winston, the agency's top creative director. Joe Cupani was named last month to succeed Mr. Winston as exec utive creative director of the flagship New York office. Mr. Winston remains vice chairman.

The new guard differs in age and temperament, and Mr. Wright described himself as "more of a risk taker" than Mr. Pickholz.

The agency is already forming an alliance with Fletcher Spaegt, a Boston management consul tancy, to provide more in-depth strategic thinking for clients, a skill now perceived to be Bronner's strength. Mr. Pickholz will also explore new-media technol ogies for parent WPP Group.

Mr. Wright joined O&M when the agency acquired Trenear-Harvey, Bird & Watson, London, and became ceo in 1986 of what's now called O&M Direct. Two years later, he became chairman of the parent O&M's Far East operations. Last fall, he moved to New York as executive director, office of the chairman, working with O&M Chairman-CEO Charlotte Beers.

Mr. Wright was tapped after Bob Perkins, formerly senior VP-marketing at Pizza Hut and head of Chiat/Day's direct marketing unit, turned down the job.

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