Young & Rubicam global CEO David Sable continues to recast in the agency’s flagship New York office. Seven months after Tom Sebok replaced Jane Barratt as CEO of New York, Sebok has been replaced by Carter Murray, CEO of North America. At the same time, Sean Howard, a global client services director at fellow WPP shop Wunderman in Seattle, will become general manager of Y&R New York. Finally, Y&R has folded BrandBuzz, a multidisciplinary spinoff for upstart brands, into the main agency. Murray, who’s at the center of it all, discussed the moves and his priorities going in.
Is your taking the New York role temporary until you find someone else or permanent as permanent gets in this industry?
It’s absolutely permanent. … David has been spending a year reorganizing the network. And when I came on board, he talked about the structures and removing some layers, which is important. I’m also very much a client person. I like to be involved in the clients’ businesses. And to be able to be involved with the New York office as well makes a lot of sense.
Are their certain accounts that you’ve taken on since you arrived?
The truth is I’ve been here four months, so I’ve been meeting all the clients. And so, when Sean comes on board (in March), what we’re going to work out is which clients he’ll have. He’s going to have some clients that he’s actively responsible for and I will as well on top of the teams. We want to decide that together.
Tell me about Sean.
He comes with a proven track record from working on Microsoft and most recently, on T-Mobile. And he’s got experience working on digital, marketing services and advertising. So, he’s going to bring a real core expertise. Bringing him in and also integrating BrandBuzz back into the core agency (are) going to help structure us for a better and more future-proof organization.
What’s the rationale for folding BrandBuzz into Y&R?
They had a lot of clients that are perhaps on smaller marketing budgets that don’t want to have a digital agency, a media agency, an advertising agency. They want to have one core mean and lean talented team to do everything (and) to help them become the brands of the future. … That particular expertise of working on the clients of the future, taking that talented team, (making it) a specialist team within the agency and helping them infuse that spirit and work practice into the main agency—I think it’s going to be very healthy for us. Y&R is associated with big, multinational clients and leadership brands. Them coming back within the core agency is going to allow us as well to be more focused on bringing in and supporting the smaller and emerging challenger brands that are going to be the brands of the future.
How many people is that?
It’s about 50 people, 50 to 70 people. It’s fluctuating a little bit because they’ve won some new business.
So the BrandBuzz name will go away?
The discipline, expertise and talent of BrandBuzz are going to be part of Y&R. …BrandBuzz as an integrated agency is going to go away.
How do you define Sean’s gm role?
Sean having worked across disciplines has good experience of building and managing operations and teams for the new environment, which is one of the things that made him a natural fit when I first reached out to him. So, he’s going to be involved with looking at how all the disciplines work for clients and how we can better operate with our clients to help them with all of their business and all of their marketing disciplines. He’s going to give us experience and business leadership on the operations in this building.
In contrast, how do you define the New York CEO role?
Sean and I will have sort of a right hand, left hand relationship. My role is helping with Sean and the team that we have in place to find the culture and frankly people like Mike Reese, who’s coming on board from BrandBuzz. … Help define the culture of the place and make sure the most talented people in the industry want to work here. And then, first and foremost, make sure we are a growing and leading agency in North America.
Why hasn’t New York been more successful in new business?
That’s an interesting question. In North America, Chicago has won six pitches in a row. … We’ve won Crystal Cruises in California and we’ve got some good momentum. New York was winning one or two pitches. Y&R is a brand with ambitions for its clients but also given its history. What we need to do is make sure that we are growing our big accounts but also aiming big for substantial new relationships. It’s a really good question.
Casting is always an issue.
You’re right. What wins news business are teams that gel, various kinds of people that gel together that clients want to really gravitate to. We’ve started to win some pieces of business. What we can do better is be a leaner team with less layers and just rejigger a little bit. We still have one of the top creative people in North America in (New York creative chief) Jim Elliott. He’s an extraordinary talent. So, I think it’s more about how we build the team around Jim and doing that in a more rigorous way.
Y&R has invested a lot in office leadership. Do you still need a North American CEO?
It’s a question of culture. I have a very strong relationship with the leaders of the Chicago office, the Toronto office and San Francisco. It comes down to personalities, culture and how you see the role. It’s very much a partnership for me with the CEOs of those offices. … (Also), there is a role in talent in North America—for having one leader who can help make that fluid. So, it depends on the people. You’ve seen a lot of agencies and you’ve seen it work in different ways. I think there’s absolutely a role to do that and I’m doing it very actively. Sean being on board in New York is going to allow me to do both roles with focus.