Rob Norman and Kelly Clark move up at WPP media

Adjusting to life within a big holding company (especially if it’s called WPP) is not always easy, but British media buying types seem to take it in their stride.

Rob Norman (pictured), recently the boss of North America at GroupM (WPP’s media holding company within a holding company) has now been named chief digital officer, a new post, which seems to make him the number two to another Brit Dominic Proctor, one-time media director of JWT London, who rejoices in the title president GroupM Global.

Norman was managing director of Chris Ingram’s CIA (later Tempus) which morphed into MEC after it was bought by WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell in a bitterly contested takeover 11 years ago. As well as heading North America he was CEO of GroupM Interaction, which sounds digital enough but the new role is apparently a step up.

Kelly Clark (left), the coming man in WPP media and currently global CEO of its newest media agency Maxus, will replace Norman. He, in turn, will be replaced at Maxus by Vikram Sakhuja, currently CEO of GroupM India and South Asia.

So is this just rearranging the deck chairs (on a ship that isn’t sinking) or does it mean something?

British media buying is a rough old game, with agency and media owner executives grasping each other warmly by the throat when they’re not playing golf or indulging in decent lunches. But it has spawned a generation of managers who can add up, thereby allowing them to adjust fairly smoothly to holding company rules.

Nick Brien, CEO of McCann Worldgroup, is one such although his fortunes as boss of McCann have been, shall we say, mixed.

So if we’re thinking a few years ahead to life at WPP after Sorrell (SMS is 67 but may well go on until he’s 77) it wouldn’t be a surprise to see one of WPP’s media dealmakers cum number crunchers emerge as his successor. Maybe with a big business noise from outside as a more hands-on chairman than has been the case under Sorrell.

Clark, an American who made his name in the Far East, would seem to be the right generation. But first he has to deliver the goods in the US.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.