VMLY&R hires Justin Pahl as CEO

AMV group chairman is leaving after a decade at Omnicom agency.

Pahl: promoted to group chairman at AMV in January
Pahl: promoted to group chairman at AMV in January

VMLY&R London has hired Justin Pahl, group chairman of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, as chief executive.

Campaign has learned that Pahl handed in his notice this week and is joining the WPP shop, which was created last year by the merger of VML and Y&R – subject to a maximum six-month notice period, which is being negotiated.

Pahl will be responsible for expanding VMLY&R’s brand experience agency footprint and operations across the UK market, focusing on growing capabilities to deliver a fully integrated creative and digital offering to create connected brands.

He will report to VMLY&R Europe president Andrew Dimitriou. 

Dimitriou said: "Justin’s dynamic leadership style and razor focus on driving performance will be critical to our expansion in the UK and EMEA. He has a proven track record of building collaborative teams that deliver effective, world-class creative solutions and truly believes in cultivating capabilities, talent and culture in order to deliver our best work for client partners."

Pahl took on the group chairman role at AMV in January after the departure of Cilla Snowball. He was in charge of spearheading the integration of new agency capabilities and practices including partnerships, consulting and platform integration.

He joined AMV in 2008 to oversee Aviva and Walkers, including the Walkers "Sandwich" campaign that won the Cannes Lions Effectiveness Grand Prix in 2011, and has also led the BT account for the past eight years. Having been appointed to the AMV management team in 2012 as head of account management, he went on to become managing partner in 2015 and managing director in 2016.

Originally from Brisbane, Pahl worked at FCB in Sydney before moving to Banks Hoggins O'Shea FCB in London, where he spent six years. He then joined Fallon, where he helped to develop award-winning campaigns for Skoda and More Th>n, before moving to Lowe in a European role on Unilever's Rexona (Sure in the UK).

VMLY&R has been without a permanent chief executive since the merger in September 2018. Paul Lawson, who had joined Y&R London as chief executive from Leo Burnett in 2017, was let go immediately following the merger alongside his key lieutenants, chief creative officer Jon Burley and managing director Katie Lee.

Chris Wood, VMLY&R’s chief integration officer, has been running the agency in the interim as acting chief executive, having led VML London before the merger.

Pahl's in-tray

First among Pahl's key actions at VMLY&R will be to hire an executive creative director. Harsh Kapadia is leaving the agency next week to relocate to VMLY&R New York for family reasons.

There is also an office move to oversee. VMLY&R is currently housed with WPP stablemate Wunderman in Greater London House, North London, but it needs to relocate to make room for J Walter Thompson staff. Wunderman and JWT were merged by WPP last year to create Wunderman Thompson.

As managing director at AMV, Pahl took pride in promoting the agency's values and boosting morale among staff. It is understood that VMLY&R global chief executive Jon Cook was keen on a London boss who brings these traits to an agency whose previous incarnations have faced a number of challenges in recent years.

VML is a 26-year-old US agency that failed to make its mark in the UK since being bought by WPP in 2001. WPP badged it as "Y&R's global digital arm" in 2009, but then relaunched it as VML London in 2010. 

Y&R, meanwhile, has experienced several management changes in the decade since the Adam & Eve founders James Murphy, David Golding and Ben Priest left Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R in 2007. Chief executives since then have included Richard Exon (2007-2011), Ben Kay (2011-2015), Jon Sharpe (2015-2017) and Paul Lawson (2017-2018).  

Pahl said: "The opportunity is to bring something fresh and dynamic to the market to give clients an exciting alternative to traditional roster shops.

"We will be ambitious in pursuing and developing the talent and building culture and capabilities that can provide really creative answers to the newest, toughest questions clients are facing."

Sarah Douglas, chief executive of AMV, added: "We wish him all the very best and thank him for his wonderful contribution to AMV BBDO over the past 10 years."