New Clients Like The Washington Post and Poland Spring Give Ogilvy Much-Needed Momentum

U.S. CEO Lou Aversano talks modernization after a challenging year

The agency is in the latest phase of a two-plus-year restructuring. Ogilvy
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One of advertising’s oldest names is almost done playing catch-up.

“We have about $20 million in revenue to go to recapture what we lost with American Express,” said Ogilvy U.S. CEO Lou Aversano in a recent conversation with Adweek. “But we ended 2018 stronger than we started, and the best indicator is new business—some PR, some advertising, some digital and some integrated. It shows all the work we’ve done and how we’re finally firing on all cylinders.”

Losing lead creative duties on American Express to mcgarrybowen after more than 50 years in the summer of 2017 was indeed a major blow for Ogilvy.

But to Aversano, the addition of several major accounts in recent months—including, most prominently, The Washington Post and Nestlé’s Poland Spring—has given the agency new momentum. “We’re starting to see the fruits of our labor, and the most important thing is that clients are seeing that value,” Aversano said.

"If you look at Ogilvy over the course of 70-plus years, we have a strong track record of making sure we’re staying ahead of where clients are going."
Lou Aversano, U.S. CEO, Ogilvy

Aversano did not elaborate on Ogilvy’s forthcoming work for the Jeff Bezos-owned newspaper, which used this year’s Super Bowl to highlight its journalistic efforts in a somber ad narrated by Tom Hanks. But it won a creative AOR review for Poland Spring, which had previously been with FCB.

According to a spokesperson, the agency picked up a total of $88 million in new business in 2018. Ogilvy also expanded its relationship with the Hospital for Special Surgery by adding PR duties to its remit, picked up lead creative for Country Crock (part of the Upfield family of brands) and won a PR review for the Los Cabos Tourism Board. It also won other undisclosed pieces of business.

“We co-created the campaign ideas in partnership with the client across strategy and creative,” said a representative regarding the Country Crock review. “This was not your typical pitch but instead a series of collaborative workshops that allowed the clients to experience firsthand what it was like to work with Ogilvy.”

Ogilvy is currently in the latest phase of a two-plus-year restructuring. In February, global CEO and chairman John Seifert wrote in an internal memo that it’s time to “simply accept the reality that change is perpetual.”

We saw it coming, and we’ve been working to make sure we have the right talent in the right place to capture client spend,” Aversano said. “While a good portion of folks have left for different reasons, we also managed to bring in about a third of our [current] workforce within the past year.”

Ogilvy U.S. hired approximately 500 people in 2018 and early 2019 while parting with such leaders as head of global public relations Stuart Smith; 19-year veteran Michelle Rios, who led U.S. government relations; head of delivery Gunther Shumacher; and head of U.S. customer engagement Shari Reichenberg.

Aversano said the addition of U.S. chief creative officer Leslie Sims in December has “made an enormous difference,” adding, “It’s always nice to have someone coming in from the outside and telling you that you’re not as bad as you think you are.”

He also believes that a renewed focus on integrating the Specialist Brand Companies David, Ingo, john st. and Coley Porter Bell will strengthen the network’s creative offering. And he argued that Ogilvy has maintained its status as a direct competitor of global groups like Omnicom, Publicis and Havas while acknowledging, as WPP CEO Mark Read has implied in recent earnings calls, that the U.S. network has not been “fighting at our weight” in recent years.

If you look at Ogilvy over the course of 70-plus years, I think we’ve adapted well,” Aversano said. “We have a strong track record of making sure we’re staying ahead of where clients are going, and I’m proud we took the initiative to change sooner than we needed to.”

Work for Ogilvy’s new clients should break in the coming months.

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.