KBS Charts New Course With an Eye Toward Growing Its International Footprint

Global CEO on subtle changes, Keds campaign

As 2015 began, Guy Hayward joined MDC Partners' KBS in New York as its first global chief executive officer. His mission: revitalize an agency that had gained a reputation for stylish work, but had some challenges in recent years. Jump-starting the shop's new business engine and expanding its international footprint were also imperatives. Since his arrival, KBS has made strides on several fronts. Recent client additions include Keds in 2015—for which the agency has fashioned well-regarded campaigns, including a recent push featuring Girls star Allison Williams, as well as singers Ciara and Tori Kelly. Monster.com joined the roster in January. Hayward has also installed new management teams in KBS' U.K. and Canada operations—and charted new territory with an office in Shanghai.

Adweek: When you arrived at KBS, what were your initial goals?

Guy Hayward: My primary goal was to understand KBS' unique culture and capabilities. I wanted to get a better sense of what exactly sets us apart and how those traits could be used to our advantage. One of the things I really hate is the idea of a 100-day plan—when someone comes into a new role and makes a lot of big, important decisions in the first 100 days. From my perspective, you can't possibly know or fully comprehend the business you've joined that quickly. So I gave myself some time.

You've changed the agency's name and logo, which now sports a blue circle. Why are these subtle alterations important?

These changes might seem small, but as any marketer knows, they can be important. We've been Kirshenbaum & Bond, KB, Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal + Partners, and most recently KBS+. We wanted to refresh and modernize, and that's exactly what we did.

Speaking of brand refreshes, your new Keds campaign has earned some praise.

We love that the work is resonating with millennial women. Some people used to reject the idea you could be both fashionable and feminist, but women are destroying those limiting notions today and Keds is part of that conversation. As a sneaker that was created to enable women to go wherever they wanted while looking good, we'd argue it's a very authentic role for the brand.

KBS opened in Shanghai last year—how's that working out?

Our Shanghai office has about 10 people at present, and they are about to move into a new, permanent space. Globally, they're working on Bank of Montreal. On a more regional level, they won Stride Mint projects from Mondelez in 2015 and recently won some GoPro business.

Why is it important for KBS to become a global agency brand?

Global expansion is important for two main reasons: clients and talent. For our existing clients, having an international footprint conveys that we're the perfect agency to take them global because [it shows that we're] nimble, modern and love a good challenge. Globalization also opens us up to a large pool of potential new clients. From a talent perspective, it's important because in order to attract and retain great talent, you need to offer global opportunities. We encourage all of our employees to think with a global mindset, and we're trying to facilitate mobility through an exchange program [among agency offices].

In January, KBS parted with its two co-chief creative officers. How is the search for their replacements going?

We are hoping to fill that position as soon as possible. The agency is primed for major global growth this year, and this role will be an integral part in delivering on that.