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Nick Brien Out as McCann Worldgroup CEO [Updated]

Sources say agency revenue has declined by as much as 25%

Nick Brien

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Despite an increasingly tense relationship with parent company Interpublic, McCann Worldgroup chief Nick Brien was surprised and angry when he was told yesterday that his tenure was ending immediately, sources said. Brien, who is said to not have another job lined up, has left Worldgroup offices and could not be reached. The buyout of his contract is $4.2 million. 

Replacing him as chief executive is Harris Diamond, chairman and CEO of Constituency Management Group, Interpublic’s PR, public affairs, sports and entertainment marketing, corporate branding and experiential marketing arm. 

The fate of Brien's close ally, controversial Worldgroup CFO Tara Comonte, is still up in the air. She worked with Brien when he ran IPG Mediabrands and Arc Worldwide and has been a divisive figure within the company. Comonte’s office referred calls to McCann reps, who declined to comment.

In recent weeks, plans had been made to replace Brien, who took the top Worldgroup post in the spring of 2010 with a three-year mandate to turn around the company’s flagship agency network. Since then, the agency won virtually no new business and lost prized accounts from marketers like Nestlé, ExxonMobil, Unilever, Lufthansa and Avis. Revenue at McCann Erickson has dropped as much as 25 percent, according to sources. While Brien has brought in a slew of expensive high-level executives like Mother N.Y. co-founder Linus Karlsson, who is now chief creative officer, global brands, the Interpublic agency has not distinguished itself creatively or in new business performance during Brien’s tenure.

Adweek in July wrote about Brien's struggles in leading Worldgroup. 

Brien said then that the problem was purely a public relations issue, insisting that he needed to better communicate his "great progress" in transforming the legendary agency. But The Wall Street Journal and others have speculated in recent weeks that McCann Worldgroup—which ditched its longtime Erickson name under his tenure—would soon show him the door. The New York Times' Media Decoder blog noted that in keeping with rumors of dissatisfaction, a news release about the change devoted almost no attention to Brien and omitted the typical boilerplate that he was “leaving to pursue other interests.”

At McCann Erickson, Brien was faulted for his lack of client savvy, which may reflect his recent background roles in running media agencies like Mediabrands and Universal McCann. 

Brien recently tried to bring in a new piece of AOL business which may have backfired because of potential conflicts with Microsoft at network sibling twofifteenmccann.

“There is a sense of relief around McCann,” said a source about Brien. “Media companies have a different dynamic. People are nice to you because you hold a lot of money. Harris comes from a service business and understands clients.” 

Interpublic CEO Michael Roth echoed this assessment of Harris' business sense: “Harris understands the business needs of global CEOs, across a range of industries. He has a proven track record of effectively managing a portfolio of agencies and growing the top line."

McCann Worldgroup also gave Luca Lindner and Gustavo Martinez broader mandates and added geographic responsibility as Brien exited. They will support Diamond in a new three-person office of the chairman for McCann Worldgroup.

Lindner will add Middle East and Africa responsibilities to his current title of president of Americas for McCann Worldgroup. Martinez will add Asia-Pacific oversight in his role as president of Europe.