VSA Partners Promotes William Rosen to Chief Executive Officer

Agency vet will lead indie design firm

Chicago-based VSA Partners named partner and former marketing practice lead William Rosen as its new chief executive officer.

The independent agency, which opened more than three decades ago, has begun to pivot toward creating traditional campaigns for clients like Kleenex, McDonald's and Beam Suntory after initially focusing on designing logos and other branded visual identifiers.

Rosen's promotion is part of that shift, which includes several other leadership changes: Former CEO Dana Arnett now holds the vice chairman, founding partner title, while 26-year agency veteran Curt Schreiber is VSA's president and first chief design officer.

"I came from the big agency world, got a first-hand glimpse of what worked and didn't in that model and came to VSA explicitly to design an organization that delivers bespoke solutions combining branding, design and technology with the highest degree of craftsmanship," said Rosen. Before joining VSA in 2011, he served as North American president and CCO at Arc Worldwide, a digital and direct marketing-focused division of Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett.

Over the past year-plus, that mission has led to such disparate work as a tear-jerking Facebook video for Kleenex that starred Chance the wheelchair-bound dog, a unique print campaign for 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey, and a project that called on VSA to help "brand" a Caribbean port city that won't exist for another 20 years.

Regarding this month's changes, Rosen said, "The organization felt like it was time to reset for our next 35 years of growth. It's an evolution, not a transition: The reason VSA stayed so successful is that it has been constantly evolving to service the most sophisticated clients in the world as our industry changes."

VSA has done this, in part, by doubling down on numbers and hiring former Obama for America analytics executive Charles Hammerslough to serve as associate partner and director of data science in 2012.

"When properly applied, [data] can give creative talent insight to do more effective work, enabling them to tailor that work to the parties they're addressing and the place in the journey where they interact," the new chief told Adweek.

Rosen, who recently co-authored a book about activation, also thinks the ad industry needs to focus more on its own effectiveness, arguing that observers tend to apply that principle only when discussing performance-based marketing. "It's about designing the most effective brand possible and allowing the organization to live that brand," he said.

Regarding his plans for the future of VSA Partners, Rosen said, "We are rejecting the dichotomy that you can be either data-based or creative. I think that's crucial, and we got a bit of a head start on it."