At 2pm on Tuesday afternoon I wrote this as part of the Editors' Choice feature that is running in PRWeek's December print issue: “Industry watchers wonder what Weber Shandwick CEO Harris Diamond's next move will be in the Interpublic empire, especially with so many changes afoot on the advertising side of that network.”
Less than three hours later I was busily rewriting this sentence as news broke that Diamond had been parachuted in to IPG's advertising giant McCann Worldgroup to replace Nick Brien as chairman and CEO.
As a result, Diamond's faithful lieutenant Andy Polansky finally got his deserved elevation to the top job at Weber, after serving as president of the agency since 2004.
Polansky will relish the chance to finally have complete control and really put his stamp on Weber, but it's very much a planned transition in the vein of Rob Flaherty taking over from Ray Kotcher at Ketchum, rather than other senior changes in recent times at MSLGroup, Hill+Knowlton, and Porter Novelli.
Diamond's new role is seen variously as a stepping stone to him eventually taking over the top job at IPG currently held by 66-year-old Michael Roth; a sign PR has truly come of age when one of its own assumes a top role like this; a poisoned chalice that did for the immediate career prospects of the formerly well-regarded Brien; or with snarkiness from an ad community that can't bear the thought of a “mere PR guy” taking over one of the crown jewels of “their” industry.
It will certainly be a tough challenge for Diamond, and I'm sure he won't be looking any further than the immediate task in hand to mend a network that has lost huge high-profile accounts such as Exxon and Nestlé and is in need of a severe jump start.
Brien was a not too dissimilar candidate when he was moved over from his role as worldwide CEO of IPG's Mediabrands group in 2010, coming from a different discipline where he had turned around a struggling operation and restored it to health. But his tenure at McCann lasted less than three years.
The ad trade websites and Twitter feeds are full of snarky comments such as “people who have never created an ad shouldn't run ad agencies,” “who is he?” and “please, appoint a woman.” Others say it just won't matter, as McCann is already too far gone.
But Diamond will bring with him – and leave as a legacy at Weber that Polansky will enthusiastically continue – a culture of collaboration; cross-discipline working; hard focus on the bottom line and business results; and a real understanding of earned, shared, and owned media to add to the paid element of the mix with which McCann is already familiar.
Diamond had already worked closely with McCann on high-profile accounts such as the US Army. Indeed, when the task came up for review last year it was the McCann part of the offer that worried the client, rather than the excellent work Weber had been doing. IPG was so worried about losing the account it went as far as putting together a rival consortium made up of Draftfcb and GolinHarris, the latter of which Diamond also had under his aegis as chairman and CEO of Constituency Management Group.
Last year, Diamond suffered some embarrassment when Weber won the Kellogg's account only to have to relinquish it soon after because one of IPG's ad clients in a completely different part of the network cried foul on conflict grounds. He is now getting his payback for that rare low point in his PR career.
As I've written here before, Diamond doesn't suffer fools gladly, and McCann execs will have to be on their mettle. It would be a definitive indicator of the rising importance of the PR and communications part of the marketing mix if Diamond can succeed where others have failed and restore the fortunes of a once-great agency brand.