WPP has two big agency CEO roles to fill: who will take up the challenge?

WPP is facing a test in the UK as it searches for CEOs to lead two of its biggest agencies, Ogilvy and Grey.

Ogilvy’s Charlie Rudd – who was CEO of the ad agency, but recently had the title of chief client officer thrust upon him in Michael Frohlich’s dramatic revamp – has quit. And Leo Rayman is moving from CEO of Grey London to CEO of a new global enterprise called Grey Consulting.

Leo Rayman

Without a replacement for Martin Sorrell, WPP could struggle to fill the posts. Potential recruits might be encouraged by the absence of the micro-managing Sorrell, but taking on the lead role at one of its agency brands is something of a gamble until WPP has set out its stall with the appointment of a new group CEO.

WPP’s most recent high-profile agency CEO hiring was Paul Lawson, who moved to Y&R London from the same role at Leo Burnett less than a year ago. Lawson is a big name, and enticing him into a sideways move probably cost WPP a lot of money, but with agencies facing such tectonic change, there is a sense that new leaders might need to come from less obvious backgrounds. This is a good opportunity for both Grey and Ogilvy to prove that diversity really matters to them.

At one time, the CEO job at Ogilvy or Grey would have been a plum position; the definition of having “made it” in advertising, but the erosion of the agency brand, which has accelerated in the last year, and the uncertainty of the holding company model, make the roles less attractive than they were.

You’ve got to assume that, if Frohlich wants someone who is really up to leading Ogilvy, he will have to backtrack and advertise for a CEO rather than a chief client officer.

Or maybe Frohlich will absorb the role himself. When Ben Fennell quit as UK CEO of Bartle Bogle Hegarty in June, he was not directly replaced. Instead, global CEO Neil Munn took on the additional UK responsibility.

What does this say about the CEO role? Is it defunct? With silos breaking down all over the place, you might have thought that agencies need leaders more than ever. Grey doesn’t even have a managing director – Olivia Browne left in May – so presumably the agency is in full-on recruitment mode.

Where will WPP look? Internal candidates are not obvious, but may shine through. Adam&eveDDB senior management will find themselves tapped up regularly, Havas’ Xavier Rees is proving to be a respected leader, and BBH is still renowned as a source of talent in the industry: Dentsu poached Jason Gonsalves from there to be CEO of Mcgarrybowen a couple of years ago.

Or perhaps Rudd could move over to Grey? When he left BBH, Ben Fennel’s note to staff praised Rudd’s “unique blend of cheerfulness, resilience and cussed determination.” Grey could do with exactly those qualities, but it seems unlikely that Rudd would move to another WPP agency when he’s been stung once by the group.

WPP may find it tough to tap in to the next breed of CEOs, who want to be hands-on in running the company, and expect to have a genuine say in the direction of the agencies they steer. But if Sorrell’s replacement is settled soon, its chances of recruiting the best talent to run its agencies will be a lot greater.

Update

We have been asked to point out that Michael Frohlich is CEO of Ogilvy UK.

Ogilvy was not able to confirm whether or not a replacement is being sought for Charlie Rudd, who was CEO of Ogilvy & Mather, but was made chief client officer for Ogilvy UK when the sub-brands came under one P&L.

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About Emma Hall

Emma Hall
Emma Hall is the former London Editor of Ad Age, where she covered European marketing advertising, digital and media stories. She has written for newspapers including the Financial Times, The Guardian, The Times and the Telegraph, and was previously a section editor at Campaign. Emma started her career in New York as a researcher for a biography of Keith Richards.

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