The July 2 merger of WPP siblings Cohn & Wolfe (C&W) and GCI Group was what CEO Donna Imperato calls a "natural evolution" for both firms. It also marks a career evolution for Imperato, as she leads development of a new company that will integrate the strengths and cultures of both entities.
"My role didn't change, but it feels different because I'm creating something new," she explains. "I have to think differently, which is fun. I want it to become an entrepreneurial enterprise versus the boutique agency that we were.
"GCI has complementary skills, Imperato adds. "I oversaw both agencies, and I find GCI to be more disciplined. C&W is maverick, and that's partially my fault because I'm maverick. Having [president] Jeff Hunt as a partner in leading the firm is awesome. We're very different, and get along great. Creating [the new agency] and helping it grow is exciting."
The new agency retains the C&W name, but a new logo, Web site, and intranet will launch in August. Imperato stresses that it "won't be the same C&W." The merger requires structural shifts, but keeping an entrepreneurial spirit is of paramount importance to her.
"Being larger, we will go into a practice structure," Imperato says. "There has to be more process. I'm not a process person at heart and I try to avoid layers. I want an entrepreneurial feel all the way down. We go very far out of the box creatively, and that's easier when you're smaller. I like to roll my sleeves up and do things. I have to make sure what I'm no longer doing gets done. It means we're going to have a lot of senior people. My biggest challenge will be putting a structure in place so I can take a higher-level view."
Imperato says talent development will be an emphasis, adding that the firm will name a chief talent officer and create new staff programs. Creative directors will also be hired to help oversee the creative process for which C&W is renowned.
The merger broadens practice-area expertise, as well, and integrated client service and organic growth are priorities. Imperato notes that "stringent client loyalty programs," which include client satisfaction surveys, are already in place.
"My vision is to be the most bold, original, and progressive top 10 agency in the world, with 100% client and employee loyalty," she says. "It's a grand vision, but that's what visions are supposed to be, and we have a strategic plan in place."
Imperato enjoys the business aspect of running an agency as much as the client work. Howard Paster, EVP of PR and public affairs for WPP, praises her leadership.
"This is not just a job for her," he says. "She cares intensely. In the past several years, she turned the business
around... She's been successful in attracting the right people and client relationships, and it's led to financial success. Passion for the work is a big part of what drives her."
Paster and Imperato agree that the merger has gone over well. Internal communication is an ongoing priority. Fifty senior leaders met in New York in early July, and a webcast went out to all employees. In the coming months, Imperato will travel to Europe, the West Coast, and Asia to hold Q&As and help build the same excitement in the merged entity that she possesses.
C&W, various roles. Serves currently as CEO, a role she took in 2003. Previously, president of the NY office
SVP/director of client services, Burson-Marsteller