JWT Thinks Locally

CHICAGO — Local ties and packaged-goods experience are key criteria in J. Walter Thompson’s search for a new Chicago president, the agency’s top North American executive said.

JWT Chicago president Brian Heffernan resigned under pressure last week after four years of mediocre new-business results and, according to sources, in the midst of a search for his replacement. The agency has contacted executives at several of Chicago’s major shops, sources said.

The office, which claims $600 million in billings anchored by its Kraft Foods business, remains one of the top five shops within JWT’s worldwide network based on billings and revenue, said Bob Jeffrey, JWT’s president of North America. “They have a long history and are now faced with the challenge of turning themselves around,” said Jeffrey, who will serve as interim president during the search.

While the office won business totaling $55 million this year from Western Union and Nestle’s Haagen-Dazs, it lost a key Kraft assignment and was only partially successful in defending its Miller Genuine Draft business, now shared with fellow WPP shop Ogilvy & Mather.

Heffernan was JWT’s global new-business leader when he took over the office in 1998 from John Clinton. But the shop failed to take off with new business, and the shakiness with Kraft was apparently enough for management to start a search for his replacement.

One source said the job is attractive because the shop has nowhere to go but up. “I think they’re at a nadir,” the source said. “You’re better off coming in at the bottom and building.”