JWT’s New Chairman Has No Patience for Skeptics
NEW YORK–Two years away to reflect on her 26 years in the advertising business have given Charlotte Beers a fresh perspective and a heightened sense for the business and her own abilities, she said.
“I’m more in love with and better at the creative process than I used to think I was,” Beers said last week as she prepared to take on her new post as worldwide chairman of J. Walter Thompson. “Now I know I deserve to participate; Bill Hamilton [ex-Ogilvy & Mather creative chief and current JWT worldwide creative director] has encouraged this.”
“[The media] like to put an emphasis on new business but our number one objective going
forward is about the work,” said Beers. “We want to startle our clients with our creative.”
She characterized the agency’s situation this way: “Today’s JWT is steady, solid blue. I
would like it to become bright blue.”
To achieve this, Beers and Chris Jones, who remains chief executive officer, will put an
emphasis on upgrading talent around the network.
Beers also asserted her belief that she and Jones will be able to learn from each other. She hopes to provide Jones with a historical perspective of JWT, where she started her career in 1972. “I can also help Chris with my understanding of American companies, while he has extensive knowledge of the overseas markets.” Her reputation, of course, is as an expert “client handler,” but Beers said she abhors the term.
Beers will also count on Jones to help her climb the learning curve on new media technologies such as the Internet, which weren’t nearly as prominent in the advertising world when the storied Texan left Ogilvy & Mather as chairman in 1997.
With an arrangement being characterized as a partnership of equals–both will report to WPP Group chief executive Martin Sorrell–it remains to be seen how their egos and management styles will mesh.
Reaction from the industry ranged from approval to skepticism. While Beers’ connections to American boardrooms are widely acknowledged, some question the long-term viability of the equal-partner setup.
Each will cede to the other’s expertise, responded Beers. “I will not second guess Chris on operational issues even if I don’t agree with him.
On long-term strategic issues, we would have to hammer out any conflicts together.”
As for Jones: “I know this sounds arrogant, but an agency run by me and Charlotte has an unfair share of talent. She is a magnet for growth.”
Others wondered if she was committed to the rigors of agency life for the long haul.
“I can see why people would think that, but I plan on being a pioneer once again,” Beers fired back. “It’s less about age and more about energy and interest.” Beers is 63.
Beers said she shelved a book project about her experiences as a “brand builder” to return to the business, after getting her feet wet with JWT recently by helping Jones on several undisclosed new business projects.
Beers also said the presence of talent such as Hamilton and Bob Jeffrey, who arrived as the president of JWT in New York last year, also factored into her decision.
Her return comes at a time when the agency has picked up some momentum. Recently, the agency has won several new accounts in North America, including $100 million in billings from Kimberly Clark, the $50 million Qwest business as well as the Bermuda Tourism assignment.
“I’m sorry they won KC before I got there. Now I can’t take credit for it,” joked Beers.
Get Adweek's Brand Marketing Daily Newsletter in your Inbox
Today's highs and lows of creativity