NEW YORK: When Marcia Silverman began her career at what is now Ogilvy PR, Ronald Reagan had just been sworn in as the 40th President of the United States, Prince Charles married Lady Diana, and the first Space Shuttle launched.
Twenty-one years later, with an impressive Washington public affairs career behind her, Silverman has become CEO of the worldwide agency. She replaces Bob Seltzer, who quit last week with no job to go to.
"I'm awestruck, she said. "After 21 years, I'm really looking forward to this. I know the people so well, and we've worked together so long."
Ogilvy has had a difficult two years, like most of its peers. It was the first agency to publicly announce a swathe of layoffs in February 2001 - a move some people praised as Seltzer tackling the issue head-on, and not attempting to conceal the agency's problems. Ogilvy finished 2001 26% down year-on-year, with revenues of $94.9 million. And last week's PRWeek tech rankings saw revenue from that discipline cut in half year-on-year.
"The difficulties of last year have made us all take a step back, and reconsider our strengths and weaknesses, admitted Silverman. "But I really think we're on the road back, now. Our core areas are healthcare and medical, social marketing, and our corporate practice; we're now hoping to strengthen our marketing practice, particularly by working more with (sister ad agency) Ogilvy & Mather."
Seltzer's resignation has been a speedy affair, and he is expected to leave the office by the end of the month. Silverman confirmed that the conversations about her promotion only took place two weeks ago.
"It appeared to be the obvious choice, she said, "though people may have thought that I didn't want it, wondering why I hadn't stepped up before. But in reality, I have been stepping up."
Two years ago, from heading the agency's public affairs practice, she became president of the Americas - a role that will be filled by Paul Hicks, currently MD of the New York office. His position will subsequently be filled by Kym White, MD of the health and medical practice.
Silverman's promotion makes her only the second woman to helm a top-10 agency. In May, Helen Ostrowski was promoted to replace David Copithorne at Porter Novelli. The same week, Donna Imperato succeeded Steve Aiello at Cohn & Wolfe, though that agency is outside the top 10, at number 16.
Seltzer does not have any concrete plans for the future, and said he was keeping an open mind about his next position. He added that the handover would be as smooth as possible. "Marcia's been here 21 years; I've been here five, he said. "There's not much I'll need to explain to her."