The 12 most shocking agency leadership shakeups of 2020
The revolving door might have never swung so hard and so often as it did in 2020, as agencies adjusted and shuffled leadership ranks amid the disruption of the pandemic.
Interpublic Group of Cos. names Michael Roth's successor
Perhaps the biggest of this year's leadership changes came in the form of IPG's new CEO, Philippe Krakowsky. Described by executives who work with him as a reserved but reliable force and right-hand man to predecessor Michael Roth, Krakowsky, 58, takes on the top role after wearing many hats for IPG over his two decades of experience with the holding company's agencies including McCann, R/GA, The Martin Agency, MullenLowe, Initiative and others.
His tenure at IPG began in January 2002 as senior VP and chief communications officer. Three years later, in 2005, he was appointed executive VP of strategy and corporate relations and in 2011 he assumed the role of chief strategy and talent officer. In 2016, the holding company shifted him to chairman and CEO of IPG Mediabrands before tapping him as chief operating officer of IPG last year. Krakowsky is credited with leading, most notably, IPG's massive $2.3 billion purchase of Acxiom Corp.’s Marketing Solutions business.
Most executives say Krakowsky was the most obvious choice for the top role, though there was one close runner-up, Harris Diamond, which leads us to our next major shakeup of 2020.
Bill Kolb replaces Harris Diamond as McCann Worldgroup CEO
McCann Worldgroup announced the appointment of Bill Kolb, a 20-year veteran of the network who most recently served as its chief operating officer, as its new CEO. He replaced Diamond, who said he would be retiring at the end of 2020 after running McCann for eight years. Some executives speculated that Diamond's departure, announced right around the time of Krakowsky's appointment as IPG CEO, was not so coincidental but instead a direct result of him not getting the top job. The idea was denied by Diamond.
Wendy Clark leaves DDB for Dentsu
Wendy Clark left her post as global CEO of Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide to take up that same role for Dentsu International (formerly known as Dentsu Aegis Network). Clark was appointed DDB’s president and chief executive of North America in 2016, joining the agency from Coca-Cola, where she served as North American president of sparkling brands and strategic marketing. Clark announced the move in April, prompting Omnicom Group CEO-Chairman John Wren to comment on an earnings call later that month that he was “off-put" that she would “move on in the middle of a crisis.”
DDB replaced Clark by promoting Marty O'Halloran to global CEO and Justin Thomas-Copeland to CEO of North America.
John Seifert departs Ogilvy after 41 years
WPP's Ogilvy Worldwide CEO-Chairman John Seifert announced he would be departing the agency after a whopping 41 years—he served as worldwide CEO for five of them. In a statement at the time, Seifert said it was decided earlier this year with WPP CEO Mark Read “that we should begin the process of searching for my eventual successor, knowing that this process takes time and thoughtful engagement with potential candidates internally and externally."
Seifert, who took over as worldwide CEO and chairman in 2016, did not have the smoothest of runs. When he took on the CEO role, Seifert inherited a host of legacy issues at Ogilvy similar to those that have plagued most traditional creative agencies in recent years. Despite a rebrand in 2018, Ogilvy has still struggled to overcome certain legacy issues, mainly the impression—rightly or wrongly—that it is traditional and somewhat stodgy.
In July of 2019, Seifert also came under fire, including from the agency's employees, over Ogilvy's work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Deloitte exec Andy Main rises to the role
In tandem with Read's drive to merge creative with digital, Ogilvy appointed Andy Main, a longtime Deloitte executive, to succeed Seifert as worldwide CEO. Seifert remained with the agency through 2020 to ease the transition. Main, meanwhile, was global head of Deloitte Digital, a role he took up in June 2018. He first joined in 1999 and is credited for leading the consulting behemoth to enter the creative space through the acquisition of several ad agencies, including Heat in 2016.
Commenting on the appointment, Read said Main's "belief in the power of creativity to transform businesses and the importance of people and culture in organizations aligns closely with our vision for WPP and our agencies.”
It was also later announced that Devika Bulchandani would be departing IPG's McCann Worldgroup, where she spent 23 years, most recently as president of North America, to become CEO of Ogilvy North America.
Kirk McDonald takes the helm of GroupM North America
GroupM named Kirk McDonald, former chief business officer and interim head of AT&T’s ad tech unit Xandr, as CEO of North America. He officially joined in September, taking control of GroupM's $17.6 billion in media investment billings across the U.S. and Canada. McDonald replaced Tim Castree, who left the company in November 2019, just a year after becoming CEO of the North American operations. Castree's exit came amid a larger reshuffling within GroupM that saw Christian Juhl succeed Kelly Clark as global CEO. Clark, now a senior advisor to GroupM, had hired Castree, who helped lead the creation of Wavemaker, born from the merger of MEC and Maxus in 2017.
Juhl, who previously was the global CEO of GroupM's Essence, oversaw the North American region in Castree's absence. WPP's Read said at the time of Juhl's appointment that the new executive had the "right combination of leadership, people and technology skills to build the modern media company."
Jess Greenwood leaves R/GA for Apple
Following in the footsteps of her former colleague, Nick Law, former R/GA Global Chief Marketing Officer Jess Greenwood announced she would be leaving the agency where she spent nearly 10 years to become senior director of strategy and marketing communications for Apple.
Greenwood first joined R/GA in 2012 as a director of business strategy, transitioning from a career in journalism that included a post as deputy editor of Contagious Magazine. She left R/GA two years later, serving only a few months in a strategy role for Google Creative Partnerships, before she returned to the agency in October 2014 as VP of content and partnerships. Greenwood swiftly rose through the ranks, becoming head of strategy for North America in 2017, U.S. chief strategy officer alongside Tom Morton in February 2019 and then global chief marketing officer in September 2019.
As a 2019 Ad Age Woman to Watch, Greenwood called R/GA at the time "my love. We get to decide here what we want to do, how to optimize the company for the future, where we should and shouldn’t invest." But maybe love isn't all you need. The move did reunite Greenwood with Law, Apple's VP of marketing communications integration, who logged 17 years at R/GA before briefly joining Publicis and later departing there for the tech giant in the summer of 2019.
R/GA wave of exec departures
Greenwood wasn't the first or only bigwig to leave R/GA this year. Just a week before her departure was announced in September, Ad Age broke the news that three other of top executives would be exiting to start their own consultancy: Vice Chairman and Global Chief Strategy Officer Barry Wacksman, Global Chief Innovation Officer Saneel Radia and New York VP Executive Creative Director Mike Rigby. The most shocking of the departures was Wacksman, who had been with the agency since 1999 and was one of its most public faces, but all three execs held critical roles within R/GA's business transformation group. And the departures didn't stop there.
Not long after, we learned that soon to join the new venture from Wacksman, Radia and Rigby would be R/GA's Rachel Mercer, VP and head of strategy in New York, Colby Dennison, global head of operations, business transformation, and Philip Rackin, VP of business transformation.
As if that wasn't enough, R/GA Global Executive Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Carl Desir also left in September. It was later learned that he joined Netflix as director, inclusion strategy.
Tiffany R. Warren heads to Sony Music
Tiffany R. Warren, Omnicom Group's senior VP and chief diversity officer for the past 11 years, announced she was headed to Sony Music Group in November to become its executive VP and chief diversity and inclusion officer. Warren joined Omnicom in January 2009 and, as the leader of the holding company's Open Leadership Team, was credited with growing that group to include 25 diversity consultants across the company's agencies and networks.
Warren is also the founder and president of the lauded Adcolor awards, which has long celebrated the achievements of diverse advertising professionals as well as work that promotes diversity and inclusion. Her role with Adcolor remains unchanged.
Cristena Pyle leaves Time's Up for Dentsu
Christena Pyle stepped down as executive director of the Time's Up Foundation to become Dentsu International's first chief equity officer, Americas.
Pyle took over as Time's Up's first executive director of advertising in June 2019 with the mandate "to create safe, equitable and harassment-free workplaces for all" across the ad industry. Dentsu International said at the time that her impact went beyond advertising and marketing, citing the guidelines Pyle created in May for all businesses to follow to protect the diversity of their workforces as they downsize during the pandemic. Pyle took up the helm of Time's Up Advertising after her new boss, Dentsu's Wendy Clark, was forced to step down from its leadership committee after reportedly hiring creative Ted Royer as a freelancer. Royer had previously left his post as Droga5's chief creative officer under a cloud of still-unspecified controversy.
Paul Marobella leaves Havas
Paul Marobella exited his role as chairman and CEO of Havas Creative North America. Havas announced his departure in July, saying Global Chief Client Officer Stephanie Nerlich would take on additional oversight over the Havas Creative North America network, choosing not to replace Marobella.
Marobella took on the role in 2017 and previously served five years as CEO of Havas Chicago and nearly three years as president of Havas Worldwide before that. To some, the departure was not exactly shocking. Under Marobella's leadership, Havas Chicago had been criticized for fostering a polarizing internal culture and, in 2018, Marobella himself got backlash for appearing in a video alongside former Chief Creative Officer Jason Peterson in which he characterized shops like Leo Burnett, FCB and BBDO as "shitty agencies."
Stan Richards turns the lights off
Finally, Stan Richards, the 88-year-old founder of The Richards Group, stepped down after making racist comments during an internal review of an ad for client Motel 6, which has since fired the agency and hired Barkley as its new creative partner. The controversy began in October when Richards said in an internal ad review that a proposed concept for Motel 6 was "too Black" and that it risked alienating the chain's "white supremacist constituents." Following that remark, a string of clients departed, including Motel 6, Home Depot, Keurig Dr Pepper, Orkin, H.E.B. and Advance Auto Parts.
“If this was a publicly held company, I’d be fired for the comments I made. But we’re not public, so I am firing myself,” Richards said in the statement. “Our employees, first and foremost, deserve that.” Glenn Dady, a creative director for The Richards Group, took over as a result.