At 1 p.m. last Thursday, Susan Gianinno, chief executive of J. Walter Thompson here, was summoned to Chris Jones’ office for what she was told was a budget meeting. The conversation between her and Jones, chief executive of JWT Worldwide, led to Gianinno’s abrupt exit shortly afterward, sources said.
Following that meeting, Jones and JWT president of the Americas Peter Schweitzer briefed senior executives, explaining that the situation at the flagship office had become untenable and that a change needed to be made immediately.
In a statement, Jones said Gianinno’s departure from the agency was “by mutual consent.” He added that a successor would be named “in due course” and that the current management team will report directly to him for the time being. Gianinno’s departure is expected to lead to a search outside JWT to find her successor.
In an interview, Gianinno said “significant differences between myself and management in fixing JWT’s problems” led to her exit. “[JWT chairman] Burt Manning hired me to deliver on an objective that would make the agency a creative force, but, unfortunately, I encountered great resistance in that pursuit,” said Gianinno. She added that her efforts to infuse the agency with new creative talent “did not sit well with management.”
A year ago, JWT named Helayne Spivak worldwide creative director. That was followed by the appointment of Tod Seisser, as co-creative director in New York along with J.J. Jordan.
“It is untrue to say that I don’t have a creative focus or priority,” said Jones. He pointed out that a new creative director has been installed in every major U.S. office of JWT this year.
Sources said Jones had become frustrated with flagging morale, infighting and a lackluster new business record in New York.
In recent months, JWT suffered two major client losses: Eastman Kodak and Citibank. The Red Lobster and global Pepsi reviews are recent examples of failed JWT pitches. “The Citibank pitch was led by corporate, and the only instances where New York pitched on its own were for Sprint Youth Marketing and Red Lobster,” said Gianinno. She said she is now exploring other opportunities but would not elaborate. Gianinno joined JWT in April 1995 as executive vice president, general manager, after successful stints at Y&R and BBDO. She became chief executive officer in March.
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