Paul Simons: is Ogilvy’s need for a new identity behind yet another dramatic London departure?

The number of senior departures from Ogilvy UK is scarcely believable and now CCO Mick Mahoney is the latest to leave.

Mahoney (below) follows in the footsteps – doubtless still sizzling Road Runner style – of fellow CCO Emma De La Fosse (who’s gone to rejoin former boss Annette King at Publicis), ad agency CEO Charlie Rudd and chief production officer Clare Donald who’s gone to MDC. The head of Ogilvy One also left. All this while winning British Airways, Boots and Vodafone.

The exodus follows a restructuring by new group CEO Michael Frohlich, who came from the PR side. This follows a restructuring in the US by global head John Seifert.

Former Ogilvy UK group chairman Paul Simons describes Ogilvy’s need for a new worldwide identity.

Another senior head has quit Ogilvy without explanation from him or his boss Michael Frohlich. In fact we have heard zippo of note from Mr Frohlich since announcing the reorganisation plans that have led to a steady brain drain. Did they quit or were they ‘let go’?

Whilst many ad agencies change the leadership team on a regular basis Ogilvy is perhaps one of the most extreme examples. One cause is the search for a USP in New York that hasn’t really been achieved since David Ogilvy was there – he was the USP. Certainly in the UK market Ogilvy has been rudderless for many years (Charlie Rudd was perhaps a literal fix) with a few very notable exceptions such as Michael Baulk. Mike Walsh was at the helm of Europe for some years but his agenda was safety first, avoiding any potential pot holes in the road. Not a visionary leader.

I did my three year spell as Ogilvy UK group chairman and CEO of the ad agency and it was often a tough job due to constant internal interference and shocking politics. Too many people with the power of veto but none with the power of inspiring ideas and thinking. It became a brain numbing role, travelling around the world attending meetings about meetings. I had become a very expensive administrator, not my choice but a consequence of the culture.

I compare agencies like Ogilvy with retailers like M&S. They were great once upon a time but the surrounding landscape’s conveyor belt is going faster than them. I recall pitching for the M&S account about 18 years ago and the cracks were very visible then. However they did not want to hear that. Their historic retail supremacy made them blind to the future.

In the same way M&S ignored the tea leaves most ad agencies ignore the navigation screen and plough on, readjusting their services in retrospect hoping to stay on the curve and not behind it.

My advice is practice what you preach and try to be a leader in your world and not a follower.

Mr Frohlich needs a bombshell win of some sort soon like persuading David Droga to join Ogilvy as global creative leader, or winning Nike worldwide, maybe appointing Barak Obama as lifetime president; not more news about senior talent leaving one by one.

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