Partners+Napier Founder and New CEO Discuss the Agency’s Evolution

After 15 years, they're putting more of a focus on media companies now

headshots of two women
Sharon Napier, founder of Partners+Napier, is stepping into a chair role with Courtney Cotrupe to take over the chief executive role.
Partners + Napier

Earlier this week, Partners+Napier named Courtney Cotrupe as its new chief executive, as Sharon Napier steps into a chair role after 15 years leading the agency she founded. Napier will also take on a global leadership role for parent company Project Worldwide. At the same time, Cotrupe hired Rob Kottkamp as the agency’s chief creative.

Adweek spoke with Napier and Cotrupe about the succession.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Adweek: Why was now the right time for this transition?
Sharon Napier: Timing is everything in life. If you are going to especially make big pivotal leadership changes, the best time to do them is when things are really going well. It’s about leading our change instead of change leading us. It’s about doing the right thing for the agency.

As a founder for 15 years, I did not take it lightly at all, but Courtney and I have been working together for 15 years. You need different kinds of leaders for different life stages in a company. She was absolutely the right leader for today, and we waited until she found her creative partner.

Running an agency today is absolutely more complex than it’s ever been, so you need to be running on all cylinders.

Why is running an agency today so much more complicated?
When we started, we were branding, advertising and retail marketing. Today we have grown our capabilities based on our clients’ needs, so we’re a fully integrated agency. And we just added, under Courtney’s leadership, media planning and buying. But it’s not just having capabilities, it’s making sure they’re integrated. So you need more talent, you need to integrate it. And in today’s world where there are less AOR assignments and more projects, you have to really be able to do that in a way that’s efficient and effective and drives value for your client.

As you mentioned, you’ve been working with Courtney for 15 years. How long has this been the succession plan for the chief executive role?
Any good founder really has to think about the people who report underneath them. And I think the No. 1 responsibility of a good CEO is to make sure they’re thinking about their successor because it’s about building something that endures, not something that only lasts as long as the founder is around. Courtney moved from managing director to president over two years ago, and we were on a clear path to today.

Can you elaborate on what your new role will be at Project Worldwide?
I’ll play a strong role within the global senior leadership team. We meet quarterly and I kind of get to what I do best. What I’m really excited about is helping the agency grow in new and different ways, whether that’s by deepening client relationships, diversifying our talent, developing new prospects or elevating and raising our voice in the industry.

You mentioned things have been going well for Partners+Napier in recent years. To what do you attribute that at a time when many agencies are struggling?
I think we’ve always been an agency that has defined our own success. We’re aligned. We’re very focused. We know who we are. We’ve kept our name in the conversation. When we think about growth, it’s everything from search to awards to client retention to organic growth. We’ve made two acquisitions in the last four years or five years.

So we think about growth in so many dimensions. And I think many agencies think about growth as just new business. If you’re winning new business and you’re losing clients out the door, well, that’s not gonna help. So when we talk about adding capabilities like media planning and buying, that’s about really creating more value for our clients and keeping those clients.

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