DDB New York gets a CMO to champion its own brand

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During "free" afternoons at business conferences, attendees divide into roughly three groups: golfers, daytrippers and poolsiders. Abigail Hirschhorn is a poolsider, as am I, which means I've had the opportunity to spend unscheduled hours chatting with her about everything from account planning to parenting. (Memo to our bosses: This was after our work was done.)

It's fairly easy, after some time with her, to see why Abby is a rising advertising star. (She was named a "Woman to Watch" by Advertising Age in 1999 when she was 32 years old.) She's intelligent and charming, and exudes an unchecked, and therefore infectious, enthusiasm for the work she does. As she now steps into an elevated role at DDB, New York, she has a chance to essentially carve out a new job category by bringing a fresh perspective to the ways in which ad agencies go to market.

Hirschhorn, now all of 35, was just named chief marketing officer, an uncommon title in the agency business. A planner by training, she previously was chief strategic officer and worked for months with DDB New York Chairman Bob Kuperman to craft the scope of her new job before she would commit to it.

There are at agencies around the country a few people with the CMO title but there is no consistent definition for the post. One of the best I've heard was from Peter Drakoulias, who effectively acted as CMO during his tenure at Deutsch. "I'm an account guy," Peter used to say, "and Deutsch is my account."

Abby's CMO definition, shared with me over lunch at media hot spot Michael's on a recent, rainy Monday, is fairly similar. "I'd like to see the marketing of DDB New York be on par with the energy, the creativity, the professionalism that we bring to marketing clients' brands," Abby told me.

"As a planner, you have to become the trusted expert in understanding the audience for the brand and their emerging needs and wants," she said. "One of my key tasks is to understand the audience for my brand." She defines those audiences as "our clients and our clientele-the people you would like to have as your clients over time-and our talent."

Abby will use the same research and planning tools the agency has developed for clients to gain strategic insights that will "capture the essence" of the DDB brand to set the agency apart from its rivals in a business marketers too often view as a commodity.

"That's an advantage that can separate you from the pack," she said. Among the departments she will work closely with to market the agency to its target are public relations, new business and philanthropy.

I asked Abby if she had a sense at this point of DDB's brand image. "We are fortunate that our heritage is creativity," she said. "Wherever we go, creativity and world-class ideas that can move markets will be part of the sense of who we are."

The new-business potential of such an undertaking is obvious, but I was intrigued by her classification of "talent" as a target for DDB's marketing. "In order to attract and retain talent, DDB New York has to deliver clients and projects that will motivate employees to work at the top of their game," she said.

Hirschhorn, a Harvard grad, began on the account management side at Levine, Huntley, Schmidt & Beaver. She joined DDB a decade ago as an account planner and rose to executive director of planning. "Our work," she told Ad Age in 1999, "puts our clients in touch with the souls of their brands, which becomes a powerful competitive advantage as they go to market."

Her new job is a fascinating experiment to determine if that same strategy can give an agency an edge.

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