Creative executive moves in 2021 came at the pace of a speed round of musical chairs. Our heads spun watching the arrivals and departures of advertising’s top creative talents who stepped into bigger roles, unexpected gigs or even said “farewell.” Here, a look back at the biggest agency creative leadership changes of the past year.
The biggest creative executive shuffles of 2021
In one of the year’s most unexpected moves, on Sept. 1 Droga5 Founder and Creative Chairman David Droga stepped into the roles of CEO and creative chairman at Accenture Interactive, the consulting giant that acquired his agency in 2019. It was perhaps the most significant example of the trend of creatives moving into business-side roles in 2021.
Just before year's end, Ad Age learned that veteran industry leader Nick Law would be leaving his post as VP-marcom integration at Apple, a little more than two years after joining the Cupertino, California-based giant. The circumstances around his departure were unclear, and it's yet to be determined if Law is headed for another post elsewhere. He had joined the company just 18 months after he joined Publicis Groupe as its chief creative officer. Before that, he had established a respected reputation as a future-facing advertising leader during his 17-year tenure at R/GA.
In February, Publicis Groupe opened Le Truc, what it describes as a “center of creative excellence” that united the more than 600 creatives, producers and strategists from the holding company’s New York agencies in a single space. One of its co-founders was Neil Heymann, who had departed his post as Droga5 global chief creative officer to take the role. Not even a year into the post, however, Accenture Interactive announced Heymann would be reuniting with his former boss Droga to become its first global chief creative officer.
The year kicked off with major news in January that McCann Worldgroup Creative Chairman Rob Reilly was leaving his post at the Interpublic Group of Cos. network to become the global chief creative officer of WPP, tasked with championing "creativity within and beyond the company, fostering a culture that delivers extraordinary work to clients." His arrival kicked off a string of other key creative leadership moves we’d later see at the holding company's agencies throughout 2021.
With Reilly no longer at McCann Worldgroup, the Interpublic Group of Cos.' agency made a move that arguably no one would have predicted. It hired Alex Lopez, Nikes global VP for brand marketing and global men's creative director, to become its new president and global chief creative officer. “One of the things that I really am excited about … is that this isn't a job of just overseeing the creative work and overseeing the creative teams,” he told Ad Age. “This is really about thinking ‘How does our entire organization really embrace creativity?’” Last month, McCann’s New York office also elevated former Global Executive Creative Directors and Executive VPs Pierre Lipton and Shayne Millington to the roles of co-chief creative officers, while former Executive Creative Directors and Executive VPs Caprice Yu and Cristina Rodriguez Reina stepped up to global executive creative directors.
In May, Publicis' Leo Burnett promoted U.K. Chief Creative Officer Chaka Sobhani to the role of its global chief creative officer. Sobhani, who had been U.K. chief for five years, retained her oversight over the London agency in addition to the worldwide role. She stepped up to replace Liz Taylor, who at the time had announced she was leaving the agency for an undisclosed post.
It turned out that Taylor was heading to WPP’s Ogilvy to become its new global chief creative officer. She departed after a two-year stint at Publicis Groupe, as both chief creative officer of Leo Burnett and creative lead for the larger Publicis Communications North America (and also one of the key leaders of Le Truc). She moved into the post vacated by Piyush Pandey, who became chairman of global creative and remained chairman of Ogilvy India.
In October, the agency hired Chris Beresford-Hill, chief creative officer of Omnicom’s TBWA\Chiat\Day New York, to become president, North America advertising, in yet another move entrusting business-side duties to a top creative.
In July of this year, FCB Worldwide Creative Partner Fred Levron, one of Global Chief Creative Officer Susan Credle’s top lieutenants, departed the agency to become Global Chief Creative Officer at Dentsu International, joining Wendy Clark, who stepped into the agency’s Global CEO post last year. FCB went on to fill the gap this month with the hire of Ogilvy New York Co-Chief Creative Officer Danilo Boer in the post of global creative partner.
In August, the agency also hired former No Fixed Address President and Partner Jordan Doucette to become chief creative officer at FCB West, filling a role vacated by Karin Onsager-Birch, who moved client-side to Lyft. Doucette had also previously served as chief creative officer at Leo Burnett Chicago.
Prior to the departure of Beresford-Hill in October, TBWA\Chiat\Day New York said goodbye to Executive Creative Director Julia Neumann, who moved to Johannes Leonardo to become the agency’s new chief creative officer. Founders Jan Jacobs and Leo Premutico, who previously served as co-chief creative officers, moved into the newly-created roles of creative chairman.
TBWA\Chiat\Day New York
Neumann’s former partner at TBWA, Executive Creative Director Amy Ferguson, remained at the agency and rose in rank to become the shop’s chief creative officer this month, filling the post vacated by Beresford-Hill in October. It was a full-circle moment for Ferguson, whose first major industry job was as an art director in the agency’s “Youngbloods” program designed to nurture promising creatives. She was responsible for recently rebooting the program to focus on underrepresented talents.
Following big wins at Grey and its parent WPP that included the Modelo account and the majority of the hotly contested $4 billion Coca-Cola business, the agency elevated two of its top execs. Worldwide Chief Creative Officer John Patroulis rose to global creative chairman and president, creative business, while Global Creative Partner Javier Campopiano stepped up as Grey’s new worldwide chief creative officer. Campopiano had previously been approached for the top post at McCann Advertising Network, but in remaining at Grey, in addition to overseeing global creative, he will also play a key role in overseeing the Coke business, leading a team comprising talent from Grey and all WPP agencies within Open X, the holding company’s bespoke unit dedicated to the beverage giant.
2021 marked a changing of the guard at Wieden+Kennedy. The agency brought on celebrated Mother London leaders Ana and Hermeti Balarin to become executive creative directors at its Portland office, while John “JP” Petty, former head of social based in New York, stepped up to executive creative director and will join them on the west coast.
Colleen Decourcy, the agency’s president and global chief creative officer, also announced her retirement, officially handing the reins to Global Chief Creative Officer Karl Lieberman and Global Chief Operating Officer Neal Arthur.
In July, Omnicom Group's DDB said farewell to its North American Chief Creative Officer Britt Nolan after two years. Nolan moved to back to Publicis Groupe’s Leo Burnett to step into the roles of creative chief and president of the agency’s Chicago office. DDB later went on to fill key leadership posts in both its New York and Chicago offices. McCann Executive Creative Director Mat Bisher became the agency’s New York creative chief in September, while Grey vet Rodrigo Jatene became Chicago’s new creative chief, filling a post that has been vacant since John Maxham departed last year.
After an attempt to rebuild with a new leadership bench, struggling Stagwell Group shop CPB parted ways with its Chief Creative Officer Jorge Calleja. Calleja had just joined the agency a year ago, after serving as a creative leader at Activision Blizzard. His departure continued a string of shakeups at the agency, which also parted ways with key clients including Hotels.com and Fruit of the Loom.
Weber’s big hires in 2021 proved the firm is looking to expand beyond its PR roots. In February, the agency appointed former Dieste creative chief Ciro Sarmiento as New York chief creative officer. In April, it elevated global head of creative Tom Beckman to its first global chief creative officer, moving the discipline into the agency’s C-Suite. Under Beckman’s leadership, the agency created notable pushes for Ancestry, Airbnb, Bud Light and Mattel. The agency also hired former Burell Communications Chief Creative Officer Lewis Williams, a 15-year vet of the multicultural agency, to become its executive VP and head of brand impact. Terrence Burrell (not related to Founder Tom Burrell) replaced him as interim chief creative officer after previously serving as executive creative director on the agency’s Comcast account.
The Richards Group
In July, as part of its efforts to rebuild after the 2020 controversies surrounding its founder Stan Richards, The Richards Group brought back one of its vets, Sue Batterton, to become its first-ever chief creative officer. She returned to the agency after a short tenure as executive creative director at BBDO Minneapolis. Before that, she had served for a decade at The Richards Group, most recently as creative group head.