Energy BBDO’s new CEO is a familiar face at the agency. Effective Jan. 1, Jeff Adkins will succeed Tonise Paul as Energy BBDO’s chief executive, with Paul moving into a chairwoman role while focusing on client relationships as well as spending time on building culture and supporting talent.
“Tonise and I have been partnering for 17 years. As we’ve added the people that are on our leadership team, we’ve all just built partnerships,” Adkins told Adweek. “A lot of my confidence for the future comes from the point that we are a team.”
Paul called the ability to enact such a transition at this point in time, with the confidence of handing over chief executive responsibilities to a long-trusted partner, “a pinch-myself moment.”
“The agency is at an absolute peak—from a creative standpoint, a new business standpoint, a cultural standpoint, a talent standpoint. If not now, when? The agency is in a great place for Jeff to now take it to the next level,” she said.
While plans for this transition have been in the works for around a year, according to Paul, Adkins was long intended to be her successor. Adkins has spent over six years as managing director of Energy BBDO; he originally joined as chief marketing officer in 2002 and has also served as client services director.
The CEO transition follows a creative leadership transition earlier this year, when Andrés Ordóñez left the agency to succeed Liz Taylor as CCO at FCB Chicago and Energy BBDO promoted Josh Gross and Pedro Pérez to co-CCO roles.
“It’s similar to our ability to move Jeff into this role,” Paul said. “Those two have been here for five years, and we’re ready for this next step. They’re absolutely extraordinary, and they just won a massive competition based upon the quality of our work. I think that shows you the level of talent and leadership that [they possess.]”
This week, Energy BBDO was selected as global creative agency of record for Brown-Forman across the majority of its brands, including Jack Daniel’s, following a review that included Jack Daniel’s incumbent agency Arnold, as well as Cramer-Krasselt, FCB Chicago and Grey.
In addition to handling client relationships, Paul will also provide support around talent and culture at the agency, aspects which she described as paramount to Energy BBDO’s success.
“Preserving the culture is so critical, but something that you have to do every single day to uphold the values of the organization,” Paul said, adding that Adkins embodied a commitment to those values.
“We have a leadership team that has been here in many cases for 10+ years. Everybody gets it and can not only speak to the culture, they live it. The values and the culture just emanates from them.”
Paul explained that diversity and inclusion are among the values of utmost importance to Energy BBDO, as well as “a huge pride point” for the agency.
“As we have become more diverse, we have become more creative. We have become a better agency. We have for many years now been hiring people form all over the world to work here. We’ve had a high percentage of diversity represented … in terms of being multinational, not just multicultural. That has served us so well,” she said. “People talk about it all the time: that they feel so comfortable here, because it’s who we are, not just who we’re trying to be.”
The past year has seen a number of leadership shifts at top Chicago agencies. In addition to Liz Taylor joining Leo Burnett in a global creative leadership and the wave of related creative leadership shifts, FCB Chicago also parted with a number of executive creative directors earlier this year and went through a leadership restructuring in September. Britt Nolan, who’s headquartered in Chicago, left his CCO role at Leo Burnett to join DDB as North America CCO.
Paul stressed that all of Energy BBDO’s major leadership changes were internal.
“We’re planning for the future,” she said, explaining that while the agency didn’t know when the moment would come, Gross and Pérez were planned as successors in the chief creative roles. “A lot of people have reached out about the importance and value of promoting from within. That’s the way it should be done. It’s not easy to do, but it really does make a huge difference for an organization that wants to keep its soul going forward.”
“As we’ve added the people that are on our leadership team, we’ve all built partnerships. How we work together is based on such a high degree of respect for what everybody brings to the party and what everybody can contribute and a deeper respect for who we are as people,” Adkins added.
“As I look around in the industry, I don’t see that very often. A lot of my confidence for the future comes from the standpoint that we are a team and there is such a strong foundation, and we know we’re going to do great things together.”