Ad Veteran Being Considered for Top Client Service Post at JWT
NEW YORK--Charlotte Beers, once "the most powerful woman in advertising," may come out of retirement to join J. Walter Thompson, if changes in the works at that shop are fully realized.
The former chief executive of JWT sister agency Ogilvy & Mather is being considered for a position that would strengthen JWT's North American client handling capabilities and generate new business, sources said.
Beers, 63, would come aboard in a complementary role to Chris Jones, JWT Worldwide chief executive officer. She would have a "non-executive chair" function, nurturing top clients and dusting off her "voluminous Rolodex," sources said. Running the global network's day-to-day operations would remain Jones' task.
"It is an open secret that I've been searching for senior North American talent, but nothing has been settled," said Jones. "One thing for sure is JWT leadership will not change."
Beers is credited with taking a key role in the turnaround at Ogilvy, where she retains a chair emeritus title. She is said to have talked in recent weeks about returning to the ad business in a "more active role," sources said. "This arrangement would be similar to the way Charlotte worked with Shelly [Lazarus] at Ogilvy," said a source, referring to the Ogilvy chief executive who succeeded Beers in 1996.
Beers was traveling last week and could not be reached for comment.
"Charlotte would be a short-term solution for a long-term benefit for Chris and the agency; it buys Chris time to develop," said one source.
Jones, who took over as CEO from Burt Manning in 1997, still has the respect and support of WPP Group chief Martin Sorrell, a source said, but he "recognizes that Chris doesn't have the client relationships here that are vital to growth."
By contrast, Lazarus is known for her strong ties with key Ogilvy clients such as American Express and IBM. Jones rose through the JWT ranks in London on such accounts as Unilever and Kellogg, but has had a tough time in America. During his tenure, JWT has been stung by the losses of Sprint and Dell, which quelled momentum gained from winning Merrill Lynch.
If Beers headed to JWT, she would be reunited with Bill Hamilton, worldwide creative director on Merrill Lynch. The potential reunion of Ogilvy talent at another shop has sparked some sibling rivalry. "Some people would have a problem but if she can whip that place into shape, I don't think you'd hear too many complaints," said an Ogilvy source.
Earlier efforts to recruit a North American executive to work under Jones have withered, sources said.