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Can Coke Veteran Wendy Clark Add Some Pop to DDB?

Today, she becomes the agency's North American chief

"I love advertising. I always have," says Clark about why she hopped to an agency.

Can Wendy Clark shake up the sleepy North American operations of Omnicom Group's DDB? The network has a vaunted creative reputation and remains a marquee name on Madison Avenue. Still, some of its buzz has faded, with siblings BBDO and TBWA\Chiat\Day generating more excitement. Despite a decent 2015 performance with new business from Iams, LifeLock and Huawei—plus a smattering of awards—the North American DDB shops produced few headlines.

Enter Clark.

Tapped in November as DDB N.A.'s chief executive and president, she starts her new job today, joining an organization that faces myriad challenges in a fast-changing marketplace. Her last agency post was at Omnicom's GSD&M as director of client services from 2001 to 2004. She spent four years at AT&T (as an Interbrand client of Chuck Brymer, DDB Worldwide's current CEO), before moving to Coca-Cola in 2008. Most recently, she served as the beverage giant's president of sparkling brands and strategic marketing for North America. During her tenure at Coke, Clark earned praise for her managerial acumen and helping to evolve its global "Open Happiness" platform. She recently answered five questions about her new post:

Adweek: Why take an agency gig at this stage of your career?
Wendy Clark: I love advertising. I always have. And if you love advertising, then you love the agency business in all its manifest permutations and iterations. Chuck Brymer approached me about this opportunity a year ago. He talked about his vision and desire to make a transformative move with DDB in North America.

What key challenges does DDB, or any big agency, face today?
The marketplace is always changing, and the pace of that change has only heightened with this generation that's always connected. So, as a partner to these brands, we've got to be constantly thinking about what's next. I think anyone's brief now is managing the present and inventing the future. That can be challenging because the present is this sort of dynamic, real-time thing that you're trying to get your arms around. And yet, at the same time, you've got to have your head up and looking into the future. So that's the brief and remit for any client, and that's the brief and the remit for any agency.

Some say DDB is too traditional or old school.
It's been around for 66 years, so when you've got the sort of hotshot agencies that have been around for a couple of years, I understand the difference in comparison to those. (But) our legacy and our heritage are things that I draw strength from; they will help define the future. For 66 years, leaders at this agency have been defining this brand, and it has continued to prosper and grow. That's the amazing thing about the stature and endurance and legacy of this brand. It's something that's very attractive to me, quite honestly.

Longtime DDB clients Clorox and State Farm are reportedly in play as you arrive. Does that amp up the pressure from the get-go?
Pitches are part of the agency business. I have every confidence that DDB will be able to deliver on the capabilities that our clients are looking for. And so, in a sense, it's an opportunity to early on jump in and see those capabilities at work and be part of bringing these clients what they're looking for, so I kind of like—I don't see it as pressure as much as a massive early opportunity to dig in deep.

How will you measure success?
The highest metric is going to be the recruitment and retention of talent. If you've got the talent, and you've got people who want to put every ounce of their energy and their thinking into creating our clients' businesses and outcomes, then the other things will fall into place. The awards and the revenue growth and everything else will come from peoples' belief and desire to create the best work of their life.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 4 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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