Ogilvy PR's Graves and Smith on the challenges and opportunities ahead

Ogilvy PR's former global CEO Christopher Graves said his decision to step into the role of chairman was part of a plan to strengthen the agency's talent at the top and focus on future initiatives.

Christopher Graves and Stuart Smith
Christopher Graves and Stuart Smith

NEW YORK: Ogilvy PR’s former global CEO Christopher Graves said his decision to step into the role of chairman was part of a plan to strengthen the agency’s talent at the top and focus on future initiatives.

Stuart Smith, regional CEO of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, succeeded Graves as global chief executive on Monday.

"If you look at a comparison of agency benchmarks, we were just so thin at the top that we really had to divide and conquer," explained Graves. "While we were very brave and courageous to be that lean, it’s not always the smartest thing if you need to focus on fast, emerging, deep, important trends."

As chairman, Graves will work on content marketing, mergers and acquisition, the area of social meeting mobile, and intellectual property creation, as well as senior client counsel.

"This is not a retirement gig," added Graves. "I was able to choose who I would work with, as opposed to when you’re being shoved aside and you don’t get that choice."

Graves added that he chose Smith because he believes Smith will push the firm to new heights.

Smith said that freeing up Graves, who is "one of the industry’s foremost thought leaders," from day-to-day management will allow him to contribute more of his thinking on the future of the industry, which will benefit Ogilvy going forward.

As Smith takes the helm, Graves said one of his challenges will be prioritizing focus on fast-growing geographies, such as Africa, and fast-emerging, new expertise, as he looks to reshape the agency.  

While Ogilvy PR had a flat year globally in 2013 in terms of financial performance, according to PRWeek’s Agency Business Report, Graves said the global figure didn’t tell the whole story at the time. He said the growth in Europe, Africa, and Asia-Pacific was really strong last year, but the overall numbers were affected by the firm’s Washington, DC, office, which saw a large dip because of the sequester.

At the moment, Ogilvy is seeing growth and strong leadership across its US offices, added Graves.

In terms of a global narrative, Smith said the firm is seeing and is concentrating on two types of growth, which include "feeding the desire of marketing to get more earned media" and trying to reinvent standalone PR into more of a modern interpretation of corporate reputation.

His first 100 days as global CEO will focus on 2015 regional strategic and business plans for EMEA, the US, and Asia. Smith added that he will work with Robert Mathias, regional CEO of North America; Scott Kronick, CEO and president of Asia-Pacific; and Graves on the regional and global plans.

Beyond annual planning, Smith said he wants to make sure he is helping reinvent the agency so it can effectively serve integrated clients, while also making Ogilvy more relevant and accessible to marketing by hiring planners and creatives.

He added that the agency has seen a "big thirst for specialisms," such as the firm’s Social@Ogilvy offering or Graves’ work on storytelling and neuroscience, which he is spearheading.

In recent months, sister WPP PR agencies Burson-Marsteller and Hill+Knowlton Strategies have also seen shifts in executive leadership. Dave DenHerder, US CEO of Burson, stepped down from his role on September 1, and US president Michael Law succeeded him. Andy Weitz, US president and CEO of Hill+Knowlton, also exited the firm this summer, following the completion of a global organizational realignment.

Graves said he thinks the leadership changes at each firm were "probably very different things," and not related to his new appointment.

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