Robertson’s Rise A Story Of Savvy Courtships

“This is not your grandfather’s BBDO,” FedEx advertising director Steve Pacheco said last week, referring to North America CEO Andrew Robertson’s ascension to worldwide CEO.

That’s precisely one of the reasons why Robertson, 43, is getting the keys to the 113-year-old Omnicom Group shop on June 1. He succeeds Allen Rosenshine, 65, who will remain chairman.

Since he arrived in New York from AMV BBDO London in April 2001 as Rosenshine’s heir apparent, Robertson has been developing strong client relationships alongside entrenched account executives. Even more critical at this famously insular agency, he has been able to gain the support of its influential creative stars and foster cooperation within the ranks.

“With guys like Andrew and [BBDO New York CEO] John Osborn in leadership positions, there’s a new day dawning at BBDO,” said Pacheco. “It has a youthful enthusiasm. They’ve opened up channels of communication inside the agency. Account-management teams that didn’t talk before are now talking. They’ve knocked down some walls. I feel good about what they can do.”

“Andrew was identified four years ago as a potential successor,” said Omnicom CEO John Wren. “To be accepted in BBDO in the U.S. and have people want to follow you is no small feat.”

Sources said Robertson arrived with air cover from Wren, which gave him time to gain acceptance and be effective at an agency that has traditionally not been kind to strangers.

Robertson, a native of Zimbabwe who grew up in South Africa, was an outsider from the beginning, despite having joined the network six years prior. “First, we had to get him to stop referring to a baseball game as a ‘match,’ ” Rosenshine joked.

Sources said Robertson succeeded by carefully and deliberately earning the respect of the agency’s power center. “At BBDO, it’s all about the creative,” a source said. “Andrew understands that and brings even more to the table in terms of a worldview—his ability to inspire confidence in clients and his respect for the agency’s most important asset: its ideas.”

And he is not above poking fun at himself to motivate his staff.

Early in his tenure in New York, Robertson led a disastrous pitch in which the agency and a prospective client felt no chemistry whatsoever. The prospect also hated the strategy that BBDO presented. On the flight home, the team was sullen and silent.

“Suddenly, Andrew stands up,” recalled senior executive creative director Charlie Miesmer. “He’s wearing a polka-dotted tie and multi-striped shirt. And he says cheerfully, ‘So, how’d I do?’ ” The team cracked up. “I knew then that we had a partner,” said Miesmer. “He’s the loosest account guy I’ve ever met.

“What I look for is for him to balance [the agency’s] creative excellence on a global level but to broaden the scope of how we deliver it to clients,” said Rosenshine, adding that Robertson has been “reprioritizing the agency’s mandate that we go beyond traditional media.”