JWT Seeks Turnaround Artist

Local ties and packaged-goods experience are key criteria in J. Walter Thompson’s search for a new Chicago president, the agency’s top North American executive said.

JWT Chicago president Brian Heffernan resigned under pressure last week after four years of mediocre new-business results and, according to sources, in the midst of a search for his replacement. The agency has contacted executives at sev eral of Chi cago’s major shops, sources said.

The office, which claims $600 million in billings anchored by its Kraft Foods business, remains one of the top five shops within JWT’s worldwide network based on billings and revenue, said Bob Jeffrey, JWT’s president of North America.

“They have a long history and are now faced with the challenge of turning themselves around,” Jeffrey said.

Jeffrey will serve as interim president during the search.

While the office won business totaling $55 million this year from Western Union and Nestlé’s Häagen-Dazs, it lost a key Kraft cheese assignment and was only partially successful in defending its Miller Gen uine Draft business, which it now shares with fellow WPP shop Ogilvy & Mather.

Heffernan was JWT’s global new-business leader when he took over the office in 1998 from John Clinton, who saw several large accounts leave the shop during his two years on the job. Despite his background, the shop failed to take off with new business, and the shakiness with Kraft was apparently enough for management to start a search for his replacement. “He didn’t have the entrepreneurial and aggressive business sense the office really needed,” a source said.

One source suggested the JWT job is attractive simply because the agency has no where to go but up. “I think they’re at a nadir,” the source said. “You’re better off coming in at the bottom and building.”

Jeffrey, who will come to Chicago every week from New York until the agency finds a new president, said he wants someone who can work closely with ecd Rick Kemp, who was brought in from JWT Toronto in April to replace Dennis Ryan.

Heffernan was already “in trouble” at that point, one source said.

Heffernan said he plans to launch a marketing consultancy called Side Drawer.