Seifert’s exit leaves question marks over WPP’s Ogilvy

WPP CEO Mark Read has (another) big decision to make – who’s going to succeed John Seifert as worldwide CEO and chairman of Ogilvy? And what kind of agency will it be?

Seifert (above) has spent a scarcely believable (by current standards anyway) 41 years at the agency, still the biggest WPP creative shop ahead of VML/Y&R, Wunderman Thompson and Grey. His reign has not been without controversy: the agency recently rebranded as ‘One Ogilvy’ (at least that’s what I think it was) and found itself in hot water over its work for the US Department of Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

In 2005 wife Shona Seifert was jailed for 18 months for over-billing the US government’s drug agency while at Ogilvy.

Seifert succeeded Miles Young as global Ogilvy boss in 2016. He says: “In June I will have served Ogilvy for 41 years, the past five as worldwide CEO. I have worked closely with Mark Read since his appointment (as WPP CEO) in 2018 on leadership development and succession planning across The Ogilvy Group, and that includes me as well.

“It’s been an extraordinary privilege to serve Ogilvy since joining the company as a summer intern in 1979. I love this company with all my heart and will be forever supportive of its success.”

For years Ogilvy (Ogilvy & Mather as was) was itself a pretty substantial holding company within WPP, long after it was bought in a fractious takeover battle between WPP founder and CEO Sir Martin Sorrell and David Ogilvy. That was in 1989 for $864m, a dizzy amount that almost downed WPP in the next downturn.

At the time Ogilvy famously described Sorrell as “an odious little shit.” This was later amended to “odious little jerk,” but no-one believed it.

Things were somewhat smoother under Young, who came from direct marketing which fitted in with Ogilvy’s way of doing things. But Ogilvy has struggled to retain its status in recent years although the UK operation, under former PR man Michael Frohlich, appears to have regained its balance after a turbulent start to his reign.

Seifert’s departure may fuel speculation about a possible merger with another WPP creative entity, on the lines of VML and Y&R, Wunderman and JWT. Grey is an obvious possibility, as is digital network AKQA. Or Read might be really radical and merge it with a media agency, there are plenty available in WPP. Ogilvy had its own media operation [email protected] but that was merged into ‘One Ogilvy.’

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About Stephen Foster

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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.