Creative Agencies Are Experiencing Super-High CEO Turnover

Fierce competition and a quest for reinvention

Creative agency execs are dizzy from the churn of CEOs over the past 12 months with the appointment of eight new chiefs for New York and North America—and more changes on the way.

Beyond ongoing searches for a New York president of Arnold and a New York CEO for Havas Worldwide, Adweek has learned of at least four more C-suite positions in varying stages of completion.

Mcgarrybowen is discreetly talking to executives about an international position, and Publicis is mulling a succession plan—and parent company role—for U.S. CEO Susan Gianinno, according to sources. Moreover, Berlin Cameron United CEO Ewen Cameron is shopping for a “business partner” in New York, while Translation CEO Steve Stoute is interviewing potential presidents, sources said.

The latest recruitment push follows changes at the top at key U.S. offices of DDB, Havas Worldwide, JWT, McCann Erickson, Hill Holliday, The Martin Agency, TBWAChiatDay and Saatchi & Saatchi.

Fierce competition for market share and an ongoing quest for reinvention in the digital age are fueling the turnover, which comes as the economy picks up and agencies lose talent to marketers and tech companies including Google.

JWT global CEO Bob Jeffrey found his newly appointed New York CEO Peter Sherman at BBDO Italy, where he was managing director of Europe. International experience was a big plus in that hire, given that the New York office handles global brands such as Rolex. What’s more, Jeffrey liked that Sherman was, as he put it, “trained and groomed in America,” having led shops and managed accounts in San Francisco, New York and Chicago.

CEOs in today’s market must have broader marketing knowledge on their CVs and be ready to roll up their sleeves, particularly in new business pitches.

Staff cutbacks have forced everyone to do more with less.

“There continues to be significant pressure on all of our business—both top line and bottom line,” said Havas Worldwide global president Andrew Benett, who is leading the agency’s New York office temporarily while it seeks a CEO. “Therefore, there’s a lot less patience for lack of delivery, and I think it’s a good thing.”

Finding the right leader can take several months.

The Berlin Cameron and Translation searches, for example, began in early summer and will continue into the fall, according to sources.

A quicker route is to identify a CEO candidate internally, as Martin and Hill Holliday did with the promotion of Matt Williams and Karen Kaplan, respectively. Likewise, McCann and TBWACD transferred leaders from London to run their New York operations.

“It’s very beneficial to have people who know your brand,” said Jay Haines, who runs the North American arm of Grace Blue, an executive search firm.

That said, by looking beyond their own walls, agencies obviously have a better shot at finding the right person for the job.

Not surprisingly, the agencies seeking CEOs were mum about their progress.