DDB's Wendy Clark quits to become Dentsu Aegis Network global CEO

Her experience as client and on creative side made her 'standout choice'.

Clark: will lead 42,000 people across Dentsu’s operations outside Japan
Clark: will lead 42,000 people across Dentsu’s operations outside Japan

Dentsu has poached Wendy Clark, global chief executive of DDB, to be global chief executive of Dentsu Aegis Network in what the company described as a "pivotal hire".

Recruiting Clark, a former senior marketer at Coca-Cola and AT&T, from the Omnicom advertising network is a significant coup for DAN, which wants to expand its creative capabilities to add to its expertise in media, CRM and data.

"Creative is the piece that I can add to these capabilities that exist already," Clark said in an interview, after Campaign learned of her appointment and Dentsu Aegis confirmed it.

Clark will take charge of 42,000 people across all of Dentsu’s operations outside Japan and report to Tim Andree, executive chairman of DAN.

She is already one of the most visible agency leaders in global advertising and used to be a Dentsu client during her Coca-Cola days.

Andree began talking with Clark about the job last year. Both said there was a "complementary" fit because of her creative and client-side experience.

DAN, whose clients include American Express, Disney, General Motors, Microsoft and Procter & Gamble, has been under pressure to change even before the coronavirus pandemic struck. Revenue fell 1.9% last year and it announced a restructuring in December in seven markets.

Clark said: "It’s both an incredible honour and deep responsibility to join DAN at this crucial time. Given such unprecedented global change, it’s more important than ever that we’re completely focused on creating insightful, informed, important ideas for brands, businesses and their customers."

She praised the "incredibly intelligent, kind and hard-working people" at Dentsu that she encountered during the recruitment process and the breath of the group’s capabilities.

Dentsu Aegis has made 177 acquisitions in recent years, most notably CRM network Merkle. Clark said: "The focused investments made by DAN over the last few years to acquire and grow the right assets, talent and capabilities, enabling modern marketing solutions, is undeniable and ready-made for today’s marketplace and beyond."

She will join in September and become an executive officer of Dentsu Inc, which wants to bring its Japanese and international operations closer.

Client-side and creative experience

Andree, who has held the dual roles of chairman and chief executive since December 2018, when Jerry Buhlmann exited as global chief executive, said he looked forward to "working together" with Clark "to drive our ambitious agenda forward".

He said Dentsu ran "a thorough and considered global search", explaining: "With her combined experience of walking in the shoes of the client, coupled with her leadership in running a large global creative agency network, Wendy is the standout choice for the role.

"Her experience is hugely complementary to DAN’s growth plans over the coming decade, where Dentsu’s long-standing history of client-centricity combined with an ability to deliver fully integrated solutions will be critical."

He told Campaign in July 2019 that expanding DAN’s creative capabilities was important because creative agencies tend to get better access "at the chief marketing officer level in the C-suite and there is a much higher likelihood of being able to cross-sell other services than coming from data or coming from media alone".

Andree took time off because of his health earlier this year but has started a "phased" return to work.

DAN has seen a considerable turnover of senior leaders since Buhlmann’s exit and the group is said to be hopeful that Clark, who took a leave of absence during her time at Coca-Cola to support Hillary Clinton on her US presidential bid, can be a magnet for talent.

Andree said: "Wendy will join us as the world is emerging from a period of unprecedented challenges.

"I am confident that her strong leadership style and comprehensive experience will inspire our people, connect with our clients to help drive their brands forward and continue our focus on providing integrated global solutions while building excellence into every part of the rapidly changing marketing ecosystem we serve."  

Sense of history

Clark praised Dentsu’s history as a media conglomerate, which dates back to 1901 in Japan.

"It is hugely compelling to me to help continue Dentsu’s rich legacy of constant innovation and industry leadership over the last 100 years," she said. 

"I’ve had the privilege of working for brands and companies with powerful heritages and that’s informed my enduring belief that great brands and companies benefit from having a foot in their past and a foot in their future," she added – a nod to Coca-Cola and AT&T, which both date back to the 19th century.

"It’s a massive competitive advantage that Dentsu has decades of know-how and experience that serve both as a foundation and a built-in benchmark to continue to drive the company forward."

She was upbeat about the continued importance of agencies, particularly given her own experience of being a client, including seven years at Coca-Cola, while warning against "clinging to old ways of working".

Clark added that she pushed Toshi Yamamoto, president and chief executive of Dentsu, on whether he was "comfortable" with "an American woman leading the business" and was impressed by his response that she was being hired for her skillset.

Yamamoto said: "This is a key time for our business as we bring Dentsu Aegis Network and Dentsu Japan Network closer together for the benefit of clients and our people. 

"Our philosophy is that innovation can come from anyone, anywhere, and it is clear Wendy shares our passion for discovering new and better ways to solve client challenges and will be motivating and inspiring for our global workforce.

"Her blend of global marketing experiences makes her the ideal leader for the role and, importantly, will allow her to marshal our world-class capabilities to align with changing client needs."

During her time at DDB, Clark helped to launch We Are Unlimited, a bespoke integrated agency for McDonald’s in Chicago, and work for brands such as Mars and John Lewis helped DDB become the second-most-awarded global ad agency network at the Cannes Lions last year.

Clark lives in Atlanta, Georgia, and plans to continue commuting to New York and around the world, including London, where DAN is based.

Born to a British father and American mother, she grew up in England until the age of 12 and still has a lot of family in Britain.

James Murphy, who ran DDB’s UK operations from 2012 until May 2019, as group chief executive of Adam & Eve/DDB, said: "As global agency leaders go, Wendy is one of the freshest, most dynamic and invigorating. She is a great business person and she’s been a super-senior client, so she knows about media." 

Chuck Brymer, the chairman and former global chief executive of DDB, will run the agency on an "interim" basis while Omnicom searches for Clark’s replacement.

John Wren, chairman and chief executive of Omnicom, said:  "While Wendy’s timing is unfortunate as our people and clients are struggling with the fall-out of COVID-19, the network is in more than capable hands with Chuck leading the business."

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