Saunders plans 'steady' leadership transition at FleishmanHillard

"Hopefully, I can give it a lick of paint and freshen it up, but it doesn't need any huge changes," said the agency's new CEO.

John Saunders (l) and Dave Senay.
John Saunders (l) and Dave Senay.

NEW YORK: Newly minted FleishmanHillard CEO John Saunders said Wednesday that he is planning a "steady as she goes" approach to taking over the agency’s top job from predecessor Dave Senay.

"The firm is in very good shape. I think hopefully what I can do is bring renewed energy to the business," he said on Wednesday. "Doing a job like this requires a big commitment and a big personal commitment. I’m coming into it now and hopefully I can give it a lick of paint and freshen it up, but it doesn’t need any huge changes."

Saunders added that it is in the firm’s interest to boost its relationships with other Omnicom agencies. In the statement announcing the leadership change, Dale Adams, CEO of Omnicom unit DAS, said Saunders "will help FleishmanHillard link its employees and clients with the many best-in-class companies that are part of the Omnicom/DAS network of companies."

"We’re going to continue to compete enthusiastically and vigorously against [fellow DAS firms] Ketchum and Porter Novelli, but just as [Senay] had, I have terrific relationships with the senior people at Ketchum and Porter Novelli, and it really does make sense for us to work together," Saunders added. "It’s increasingly what our clients expect, and they are largely agnostic about where the ideas are coming from today."

Saunders cited Fleishman’s partnership with sister Omnicom firms including Ketchum and Kreab Worldwide in the One Voice alliance that began in 2009 as an example of how the holding company’s shops can work together.

The Omnicom Group agency announced the leadership transition on Wednesday. Saunders, most recently the firm’s president of EMEA, will move to St. Louis, where Fleishman is headquartered, to take on the role. Senay, a FleishmanHillard veteran of more than three decades and CEO since July 2006, will serve as a consultant and help with the leadership transition.

Saunders said he does not expect other significant changes to Fleishman’s core leadership team. He will not replace himself as regional president of EMEA, and he said he plans to keep a group that includes Jack Modzelewski as president of the Americas and Lynne Anne Davis as APAC president, in place.

In terms of his own future, Senay indicated he plans to take his foot off the gas.

"After 32 years in the agency business, it comes down to something very basic – rediscovering life, a life that is not just built around the 24-7 demands of not just being in an agency but running one, and I look forward to that with great anticipation," he said.

Senay, the former chair of the PR Council, does not intend to throw his hat in the ring to replace the organization’s outgoing president, Kathy Cripps, who will step down by the end of this year.

 "That job is not for me," he said.

Senay: Firm bounced back in October
Regarding a third quarter in which Omnicom’s PR agencies reported a 1.5% organic drop in revenue, Senay explained that the economic slowdown in China hurt the firm’s numbers in the period.

"We’re a company built to service large, multinational, multiregional clients, and when there’s any uncertainty and projects are put on hold, it’s a somewhat predictable reaction given the nature of the business," he said. "But we are rebounding and have been through these cycles before. We had a very good October; I see a recovery happening soon."

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