Global Agency of the Year: In Turbulent Times, Ogilvy Seamlessly Ushers in a New Era

By focusing on its goal of 'Twin Peaks': creative and results

When it comes to leadership changes, 2016 will be remembered as a time of disruption. While most will recall it as the year of Brexit and Trump, the ad business saw its own turbulent times, with no less than five top executives at major agencies being fired or resigning abruptly amid scandals.

In contrast, there is Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, whose smooth transition of power, coupled with a breadth of award-winning work, earns it Adweek's Global Agency of the Year for 2016.

When the iconic WPP agency announced in January that Miles Young would hand off the title of worldwide chairman and CEO—ending a 35-year run at the agency, eight as its top exec—Ogilvy plotted a seamless, eight-month transition for his successor, John Seifert. A 37-year veteran of Ogilvy who has led its North American business since 2009, Seifert officially became worldwide chairman and CEO in August. Now he's leading the agency into a new era and building on what was a terrific year for the shop and its network.

This year, Ogilvy expanded its capabilities in social, content, customer engagement and digital media. Meanwhile, it won a slew of awards, including Cannes Lions Network of the Year and, at the Effie Awards, Most Effective Agency Network.

But it's clear Ogilvy isn't resting on its reputation. Much of its best work came from emerging creative offices like South America-based David and Stockholm's Ingo, a Grey-Ogilvy partnership that created the massively successful "Swedish Number" campaign. Meanwhile, the network enjoyed strong performance and growth across Asia and Latin America.

Paving the way

The transfer of leadership from Young to Seifert was a relatively easy one largely because the two had already built a rapport from working together for nearly eight years. From January to August, they traveled the world for meetings with Ogilvy office leaders and stakeholders with whom Young had built relationships. "It did hard work on my sleep patterns, but it was enormously helpful," Seifert says. "There's no leader that came before Miles who knew the network as well as he did. Having been in the job for nine months now, I've found that you don't appreciate what you don't know about everything that goes on in the world until it's your responsibility. Miles shared with me the learning curve he went through in establishing a direction and vision for the company."

Young's advice to Seifert? Build for the future. "Miles came in at the height of the financial crisis," Seifert explains. "When everybody else in our industry was sort of saying, 'How do we cut? How do we scale back?' Miles had come from Asia. The financial crisis didn't worry him much. He wanted to invest for the future, so that was his advice to me."

Young and Seifert also held transitional meetings with global clients like Unilever and IBM. IBM's relationship with Ogilvy goes back to the mid-'90s and the transition from worldwide CEO and current chairman emeritus Shelly Lazarus to Young. "We've been fortunate to have great leadership and great work from Ogilvy during the entire length of the relationship," says Jon Iwata, svp, marketing and communications at IBM, citing "Smarter Planet," created under Young, and the current IBM Watson campaigns, which will continue. "I like everything John has to say about creativity, innovation and trying out new ideas. They really know us, and they constantly bring in new talent from across Ogilvy and WPP, which helps keep the work fresh and strong."

The work

Ogilvy's network has produced a variety of fresh creative this year, particularly "The Swedish Number," which won the Direct Grand Prix at Cannes. The tourism campaign encouraged people around the world to call a number and be connected to a random Swedish person who could talk to them about the country. "There was some risk involved, so kudos to our clients and our people there who believed in the idea," says Tham Khai Meng, Ogilvy co-chairman and worldwide chief creative officer. "You couldn't get more authentic than this."

Meanwhile, David's "#ManBoobs4Boobs" campaign brought awareness to women's breast health and circumvented Facebook censorship of bare breasts by using "manboobs" to demonstrate breast self-exam techniques. "Humor is a great connector," says Tham.

"They know our brands incredibly well, and have both a passion and talent for creating communications that cut through the clutter of today's world with authenticity and relevance," says Aline Santos, marketing evp at Unilever, for which Ogilvy created the iconic "Real Beauty" campaign for Dove.

Twin Peaks of success