As office leadership grows more demanding, recruitment becomes a challenge for firms

All eyes are on Burson-Marsteller as the search continues for a new CEO to replace Tom Nides.

All eyes are on Burson-Marsteller as the search continues for a new CEO to replace Tom Nides.

Meanwhile, in the GM, MD, or office president ranks of the larger firms, changes have been afoot across the country, even as the job itself has become more demanding and tougher to fill. Blanc & Otus, Waggener Edstrom, Hill & Knowlton, Weber Shandwick, Citigate Sard Verbinnen, and Edelman are some of the firms that have put new leaders in place in the past six months.

Most recently, GolinHarris finally managed to fill its New York MD opening after a two-year search, plucking Jennifer Cohan away from GCI Group. CEO Fred Cook says that, in the hyper-competitive New York market, Golin's relatively low profile made recruiting particularly difficult. "It took a long time to find the right person because our expectations were much higher than our perception in the marketplace," he says.

Cohan will be critical to helping the firm establish a beachhead in New York, something every large firm in particular needs in order to compete.

H&K, which has faced other problems in recent years, struggled with a revolving door of office leadership in New York before hiring Tom Reno, coincidentally Cohan's predecessor at GCI Group, as its new GM.

"Strength in New York is clearly important for the rest of the network," says H&K chairman Marylee Sachs. She adds that having consistent leadership for more than a year has made a huge difference to the New York office, as well as the broader network.

Office leaders are not just critical in New York. But in the past couple of years, the job has become even more high-pressured. "I think the job of the MD has gotten much tougher because there are so many demands placed on the person responsible for an office," Cook says. "In addition to the client work, there are increasingly more HR and financial-related issues to handle.

"In the past, being MD used to be everyone's career goal," he adds. "Nowadays, I think it takes a very strong, well-rounded leader to succeed in that position."

In recent years, some firms have adopted the "client relationship manager" function as a parallel promotion track, putting those who manage the biggest client engagements on par with those running P&Ls. That makes sense, but it's easy to wonder why young people moving up through the agency ranks would be attracted to a GM position, given the demands of the job.

Howard Solomon recently took up leadership of Ruder Finn's San Francisco office, after doing the same job in Chicago and Los Angeles. The job is not for everyone, he says. "You have to transform your skill sets and make the shift from being a core PR person to a business person," Solomon says. Learning not only the business of your clients, but how a PR firm makes money, should be part of training from day one.

An agency CEO represents the spirit of the brand internally and externally. The GM has the same function. For an industry that is still, at heart, an entrepreneurial enterprise, cultivating great office leadership is vital.

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