Here’s Why Agencies Are Hiring Top Execs at Such a Blistering Pace

Hungry for modern talent, growth and fresh ideas  

By Andrew McMains


Even in an industry increasingly defined by change, advertising agencies this year are making high-level moves at a blistering pace. 

In the first six weeks of 2015, some 14 shops have made 19 new leadership hires, including 11 involving the role of creative chief. Some hires filled vacancies but many illustrate a desire for change. Young & Rubicam, for example, replaced its chief creative officers in New York, Chicago and San Francisco after each served several years. Similarly, TBWA installed a new head of New York, and MediaVest tapped a new president of investment.

Other agencies are simply heavying up, adding new leaders over existing ones, as McCann Erickson did last week with the hiring of Eric Silver as North American CCO and Bartle Bogle Hegarty did with the promotion of John Patroulis to New York creative chairman. As BBH North American CEO Pat Lafferty explained, “We wanted to send the message that bulking up in the creative area is absolutely how we wanted to continue to evolve as a leadership team.”

What’s driving these top-level hires is a frustration with the status quo and a desire for leaders with fresh ideas, according to agency bosses and an industry headhunter. In short, marketers want fast, flexible ads, and agencies need new types of executives to deliver the goods. Also, with marketers generally searching and spending more post- recession, agencies see an opportunity to invest in new talent and grab share.

“Solving a client problem is what we’re in the business of, and clearly, with this many CCO changes, you can see [that] many are struggling to get their core product—the work—right,” said TBWA global CEO Troy Ruhanen. “Get the thinking right and ahead of the client, and the outcome will be a strong, valued relationship.”

Several of these changes follow the appointment of new CEOs last year. In sum, the suits have settled in, assessed what they need and are making their initial moves. TBWA’s Ruhanen is a prime example of that. He installed insider Rob Schwartz as New York CEO in early January, six months after assuming the top job.

Cramer-Krasselt, which named new executive creative directors in Chicago (Ken Erke) and New York (Craig Markus), seized an opportunity to find nimble, entrepreneurial leaders after longtime creative chiefs exited for personal reasons. As vice chairman Marshall Ross noted, some 40 percent of the shop’s revenue comes from digital and social media work, and that requires a new approach.

“Part of our motivation is to push that growth even further—not for the sake of it but because that’s where consumers are and that’s how we need to be telling our stories,” said Ross, who’s also CCO across C-K’s four offices. “We need to be leveraging new muscle strength within the agency—analytics being one [example]. And a creative person who’s into that becomes really helpful.”

Headhunter Jay Haines of Grace Blue expects the executive shuffling to continue. After all, advertising is a hypercompetitive industry, and clearly there’s room for improvement. “This has been most prevalent in the creative space thus far, and will now begin to play out across every discipline,” Haines said. “The fascinating thing will now be to watch how this unfolds in the coming months and see who made the right changes.”


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