Why has Charlotte Beers chosen to come out of semi-retirement
merely to swap one famous advertising dynasty for another? Rewrite: why
has Charlotte Beers been drafted back to WPP’s front line as the chair
of J. Walter Thompson Worldwide when, back in 1996, she was reportedly
’encouraged’ to vacate the chief executive’s chair at Ogilvy & Mather
It’s a curious move, certainly, and the answer doubtless lies somewhere
in the small print of her WPP contract. While Beers is still on Martin
Sorrell’s books, the chairman of WPP will use her talents where they are
needed. If that means drafting in Beers in order to support Chris Jones,
the JWT Worldwide chief executive who succeeded Burt Manning in 1997, so
Famous for her power Rolodex, dollars 2 million salary and social life
packed with the rich and famous, Beers was frequently dubbed ’the most
powerful woman in advertising’ during her tenure as chief executive of
O&M Worldwide. Where ordinary advertising folk have lives, Beers - part
chic New Yorker, part manipulative Belle of Texan roots - has a
lifestyle with a capital ’L’.
For his part, Jones is a hugely able account man who took over Manning’s
mantle at the tender (well, tender for such a big job anyway) age of 41
in 1996. But despite his reputation for zeroing in on what individual
clients want and need - honed over a 15-year career at the agency -
Jones faces huge problems in the US.
First, in September last year, JWT San Francisco lost the dollars 150
million Sprint account to McCann-Erickson Worldwide. It was a painful
loss, costing 80 people their jobs.
In the same month came the news that the PC giant, Dell, was firing JWT
from its dollars 100 million account just three months after the
agency’s first campaign launched (slogan: ’Be direct’ - ouch) and
appointing BBDO instead. Now, both sides are suing each other over their
aborted relationship. The two blows, combined with a chill wind of
disapproval from Wall Street and a less than impressive US new-business
record, sent Sorrell looking for someone to support Jones.
So does Beers - who is described as ’sexy’, ’a visionary’, ’a terrific
mind’, ’a massive ego’, ’petite with great legs’ and ’a bit like Eartha
Kitt’ - possess the ’get out of jail free’ card that will place JWT, and
by implication WPP, above all criticism?
While at O&M, she was the visionary chief executive - more comfortable
with the big picture and senior client handling than bottom-line detail.
Whether JWT in the US needs such a risk-taker, or some firmer,
grass-roots straightening out, is a moot point. But for now, she will
certainly buy WPP some credibility with the Wall Street heavies.