Ogilvy - improved performance leads to a vintage year

CEO John Seifert looks to 'refound' company as improved performance leads to a 'vintage year' for WPP agency

Principals: Stuart Smith, global CEO, PR (pictured); and John Seifert, worldwide chairman and CEO
Ownership: WPP
Subsidiaries: Feinstein Kean Healthcare
Offices: Global: 86; U.S.: 9
Revenue: Global: $350 million to $400 million; U.S.: $100 million to $150 million
Headcount: Global: 2,703; U.S.: 472
U.K. revenue: £32.3 million; Headcount: 264
Asia revenue: $142 million; Headcount: 1,365

Ogilvy worldwide chairman and CEO John Seifert threw the balls up in the air in January this year when he consolidated all the network’s constituent agencies in the U.S. under one P&L and got rid of discipline-specific nomenclature such as Ogilvy PR, Ogilvy & Mather, and Ogilvy One.

All disciplines will now operate in a single integrated company. Other countries, including those in Europe and Asia-Pacific, will adopt the same structure over the next 12 months. The firm will go to market as Ogilvy and rationalize internal structures such as management and marketing. New branding will be decided by the end of the year.

"I’m on a mission to refound the company," explains Seifert, who took over as CEO from Miles Young in January 2016 and assumed the latter’s chairman duties in September. "I’m the ninth chairman and CEO; I’ll be the last one mentored by the previous eight, including David Ogilvy, so I feel enormous responsibility to ensure the future of the company is a step change from the roots David founded."

Former Ogilvy PR global CEO Stuart Smith retains worldwide responsibility for the domain that was Ogilvy PR and is part of a transition team reporting to Seifert on organizational transformation over the next year. "We’re not in the advertising business, or PR, or media — we’re in the brands business," says Seifert. "Client relationships will differentiate us in terms of enduring business value."

Smith also takes on responsibility for Ogilvy’s overall West and DC operations. Former Ogilvy PR North America CEO and, most recently, DC office lead Robert Mathias left at the end of 2016 after 21 years at the agency.

Michele Anderson, previously MD of Ogilvy PR in Chicago, became influencer and PR domain lead in the U.S., reporting to Ogilvy CEO Lou Aversano, who was formerly CEO of Ogilvy & Mather New York. 

We're not in the advertising business, or PR, or media - we're in the brands business

John Seifert

Improved performance
In 2016, WPP’s overall PR and public affairs division, which includes Ogilvy, Hill+Knowlton Strategies, Burson-Marsteller, and Cohn & Wolfe, posted organic growth of 2.5% across the calendar year, with CEO Martin Sorrell describing Ogilvy PR’s performance as "improved." Globally, Ogilvy PR grew about 6% organically, 4.5% in the U.S.

"It was a vintage year," says Smith. "We grew our top 20 clients by 25%. We had our second successive year of global growth. Every single region and all nine U.S. city offices grew for the first time in five years. The U.S. grew significantly." Healthcare accounts for about 45% of U.S. business.

New York and China were Ogilvy’s strongest performing offices in 2016 revenue-wise; Africa was best in percentage terms. Ogilvy Chicago had another strong year, with highlights including an integrated Personality Pumps campaign for BP Fuels. In DC, Ogilvy won all its contract rebids with the CDC and USAID, new work with the CDC and Department of Transportation, and expanded work at Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and Peace Corps.

Global restructure
In the restructure, Ogilvy PR’s chief business development officer Suresh Raj became global chief business development officer across all of Ogilvy, and global CCO and head of media relations Jennifer Risi became global communications officer. Ogilvy PR global CCO Robyn Massey departed in September.

Jennifer Scott, formerly Ogilvy PR’s MD of New York, transitioned to a lead role on research and strategy. Kate Cronin, formerly global MD of Ogilvy PR’s healthcare practice, now leads Ogilvy’s USA health and wellness practice. She will work closely with WPP Health & Wellness, the holding company’s first WPP-branded division, which includes group health specialists such as Ogilvy CommonHealth.

Former Ogilvy PR global CEO and chairman Christopher Graves became president and founder
of the Ogilvy Center for Behavioral Science. Kathy Baird was upped to the newly created position of content, social MD for North America, adding to her existing role as EVP and head of social and content for Ogilvy Washington. Dan La Russo became MD of the firm’s San Francisco and Denver offices.

Ogilvy will handle part of the PR component of large holding company-level deals such as WPP’s $600 million Team WBA Walgreens Boots Alliance win, clinched on February 1 this year.

Also this year, Ogilvy beat Edelman and Instinctif Partners to a one-year global integrated consumer and corporate PR brief for U.K.-based satellite communications and connectivity company Inmarsat Aviation.

"If I’m pitching against an Edelman or a Weber, I’d rather be in a boat that’s three to four times the size than half the size," explains Smith. "We might be a $300-$400 million business in PR, but if you take like-for-like business across the company, we’re already a lot larger than Edelman or Weber. We’re reinventing modern PR in an integrated environment."

In 2016, Ogilvy won a new Europe-wide seven-figure consumer brief for Bacardi Group, which ended up being integrated and exported to Asia-Pacific and Latin America. In April, the firm expanded its U.K. work with automaker Ford after a competitive consumer PR review also including sister WPP agencies Burson-Marsteller and Clarion.

Ogilvy won an EMEA corporate, brand, marketing, and staff engagement PR brief for Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, which owns brands including Radisson Blu and Park Inn by Radisson, also against Burson.

Last year, big U.S. wins included a five-year, seven-figure global AOR brief for investment professionals’ association CFA Institute, won from incumbent FleishmanHillard, which covers 12 markets across the Americas, EMEA, and APAC. It also won a North America brief for tech company Brocade from sister firm H+K. The firm snagged $192 million in new business in 2016, up from $152 million in 2015, a 26% increase. The conversion rate for opportunities in the $500,000 and above bracket rose to 74%.

"We churned at the low end, but that ‘one-and-done’ stuff is what we want to get rid of," says Smith.

Planned acquisitions in 2016 took second place to the overall reorganization across the business.

Ogilvy PR's work for Covered California's Third Open Enrollment nabbed the award for Best in Public Sector at the 2017 PRWeek Awards. By the end of the open enrollment, more than 425,000 consumers had signed up to a health insurance plan through the exchange.

In Asia, growth was in the high single digits, driven by deals such as Ogilvy retaining its 20-market, seven-figure global work with LG Electronics under the WPP LG-One unit alongside H+K, following a fourth review in seven years.

In about 40% of cases, Ogilvy interacts with CMOs, and 60% of the time it’s the CCO. Sometimes both are in the room and, increasingly, the conversation involves the CEO. "This isn’t simple, but the belief we are stronger together than individually is simple," says Seifert. "I’ve done the movie, I’ve published the book — I’m on the speaking tour. It’s all about building belief among others that they want to do it."

* This article was amended to reflect the fact that Ogilvy incorrectly stated its Bacardi business had expanded into the U.S. - the firm only handles this account in Europe, APAC, and LatAm.

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