Ogilvy's John Seifert dishes on the future of PR at Ogilvy

As global PR leader Stuart Smith heads for new pastures, the WPP firm's worldwide CEO tells PRWeek what's next.

John Seifert has been in charge at Ogilvy for three years.
John Seifert has been in charge at Ogilvy for three years.

John Seifert reflects on three years leading Ogilvy around the globe and where PR will fit in to the One Ogilvy project under new leadership.

Seifert acknowledged the contribution of outgoing PR leader Stuart Smith in a statement:

"Stuart Smith will be leaving Ogilvy at the end of January and joining his wife, Gail Becker, in an exciting new venture called Vegolutionary Foods. The company’s purpose is to revolutionize vegetable-based foods, turning them into America’s favorite meal hacks where time is the enemy and taste is never sacrificed.

"Stuart has been an invaluable partner helping us transform the former Ogilvy Public Relations into one of six core capabilities (i.e. Public Relations and Influence) in support of our ‘One Ogilvy’ brand and business transformation of the past three years.

"Public Relations and Influence ("PR&I") is core to our global growth agenda and brand promise to clients. I will step in to lead the "PR&I" capability, supported by 10 talented leaders from across the worldwide network. Together we will design and structure a new global team (including Stuart’s successor) to accelerate our ‘next chapter’ progress of the past three years.

"We wish Stuart our very best."

How is the One Ogilvy project progressing?

I’ve just finished my third year as worldwide chief executive of the company, and that’s a significant milestone. It’s been an amazing journey of setting the strategy, defining all the change we needed to make in response to the new realities of the environment, and making some bold moves in terms of structure, offering, talent, and so on.

The business environment still remains challenging, but we’re in a great place. We ended the year strong and we’re starting this year strong. Inevitably, after you handpick a team to take you through the first three years, of which Stuart [Smith] was one, some people will face new life opportunities.

How much will Smith be missed?

He’s going on to a venture with his wife Gail that is incredibly exciting. From a personal perspective it’s an amazing opportunity for him and it’ll open up incredible new life experiences, so I’m super happy for him.

What happens next?

The good news is Stuart’s leaving at a moment when a lot of heavy lifting is done. I will take over his role for a very short time and pull together about a dozen of his leadership team from across the network, bringing them to San Francisco in a couple of weeks, and we’re going to map out the next three years agenda.

Our priorities are to accelerate all the things that have been in progress for the past couple of years and make sure we’re all satisfied that we’re driving those appropriately. That’s everything from talent to skillsets to ways of working as part of our integrated model.

Second, we will define what we think we need in global leadership. The definition of global jobs is definitely shifting. In the world we live in now, clients are more demanding for the right mix of global and local, less and less regional. We don’t need a hierarchy of markets and regions all reporting into a global leader in a traditional sense.

We need global leadership to be setting direction, driving client engagement and new business development, making sure there’s a process for talent recruitment, development, and training, knitting together integrated network behavior.

After three years of strategy, rewiring, and new initiatives, we have a chance to step back and ask, "How is everyone feeling, what do we need more of, what do we need less of, and what is the role of global capability leadership taking on?" There’s no question we need it, it’s a question of how it shows up and what the network expects from it.

Where does PR fit into One Ogilvy?

We have six core capabilities, of which PR and influence is one. Each has a global leader and we will have a [new] global leader for public relations and influence. It’s question of how we describe the roles and responsibilities.

The CEO of Ogilvy PR was responsible for a P&L, the management of an independent discipline that rolled up into Ogilvy Group but ran as a separate operation. We don’t need a CEO in that sense. We need global leadership around talent, capability, and network management in the changing needs of clients.

Stuart was modeling those behaviors from the moment I took over three years ago. He was very close to clients; he was focused on what new skills, ways of thinking, and capabilities we need to bring to the overall integrated brand-building agenda.

Now people have experienced what Stuart did, and have seen what works and what could be better, we’ll be in a better position to define the requirements of his successor. I expect that person to be in place well before the end of the first quarter.

We’re not rethinking strategy and we don’t have big intractable problems in terms of who’s going to do what. We know what we’re trying to do. It’s just refinement now.

Because things are changing so quickly, we need to do this in a very collaborative, integrated way. If there’s a new perspective we need to think about, I’m going to bring that into the conversation, and that’s why we’re going to take this group of people off and talk it through.

Will Ogilvy still submit quarterly numbers into the WPP PR and Public Affairs revenue bucket?

We do but I don’t know if [WPP CEO] Mark Read is going to continue that going forward. That’s one of the important things that’s still an unknown here: What’s the new WPP framing? But when I sit down with WPP right now, I report total Ogilvy, and talk about the One Ogilvy business model, brand strategy, and how we serve clients – that’s what they care about.

[Former WPP CEO] Martin [Sorrell] used to care about all the compartments. Right now, WPP cares about the Ogilvy group as a whole growing, meeting our financial targets and growth ambition, and building our offering as we’ve been designing it over the last three years.

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