Ogilvy Lays Off 80 People Across U.S., Including CCO Leslie Sims

Global CEO John Seifert pinned layoffs on 'volatility' in client portfolio

Leslie Sims smiling at a panel event
Leslie Sims (center with former NBA CMO Pam El) joined Ogilvy in Dec. 2018.
Getty Images

Ogilvy’s U.S. chief creative officer Leslie Sims has been let go as part of a round of layoffs that affected roughly 80 employees at the WPP agency.

In an email to staffers obtained by Adweek, worldwide CEO John Seifert said the staff reduction impacted nine offices, equating to 3.7% of the agency’s total workforce in the U.S.

“This reduction is in response to a challenging second half in 2019 and a cautious financial outlook for full-year 2020,” Seifert wrote in the memo. “We continue to experience volatility in our diverse client portfolio. Despite important new business wins, we face client budget cuts and pricing pressures, ongoing shifts in the type and mix of work we do, and the dynamics of a project-based business model, which makes full-year forecasting and financial management very challenging.”

According to Seifert, Ogilvy has responded to the changes by eliminating “a whole layer of leadership roles,” namely ones that were tasked with overseeing multiple U.S. locations, barring HR and finance. In the second half of 2019, Seifert said the agency started to implement “location” based leadership teams instead, which is why Sims’ role has been eliminated.

“I want to personally thank Leslie for all that she did over the past year to support our next chapter business agenda, the creative community across the USA … and for her valued partnership among the Worldwide Creative Council,” Seifert wrote. “Leslie joined us at a critical moment in our transformation journey. She led the development of new creative campaigns on several important client assignments and helped re-energize our new business efforts. I’m deeply grateful for her support and wish her our very best. Leslie is a class act.”

The layoffs come less than a year after Ogilvy’s former U.S. CEO Lou Aversano told Adweek that the agency was beginning to regain momentum following its loss of American Express with the addition of accounts such as The Washington Post and Nestlé’s Poland Spring.

“We’re starting to see the fruits of our labor, and the most important thing is that clients are seeing that value,” Aversano said at the time. Ogilvy was also named Instagram’s agency of record in 2019, and the agency’s New York office created a series of ads for Ikea last year.

Despite business wins, Ogilvy found itself on the receiving end of criticism last year due to its work for U.S. Customers and Border Protection, which had come under fire due to reports of poor conditions and inhumane treatment of migrants at border facilities.

In July, Seifert sent a memo to staff to inform them that the agency would continue to create recruitment advertising for the law enforcement organization in spite of the backlash.

“Some of you feel strongly that we should stop working for CBP,” he wrote in the memo. “While I do understand and appreciate this point of view, I have concluded that our work for CBP is genuinely intended to improve the quality of this government agency’s public services. And we should continue to do all we can to support this objective.”

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