PROFILE: Marcia Silverman, Ogilvy PR Worldwide

Marcia Silverman has a confession: she doesn't like flying - which you might think would make her new role as global chief executive of Ogilvy PR Worldwide rather difficult.

There is, however, a silver lining. Regular long-distance travel means she gets to indulge her interest in books. 'This job is really good for that because I'm on planes so much. I don't like flying but I find reading really does relax me,' she says.

She's currently working her way through Robert Caro's heavyweight biography of Lyndon Johnson. Ambitious UK Ogilvy executives might want to start reading now - it's a three-volume work and she's planning to visit London in October.

Silverman has a soothing voice: it's easy to imagine her calming an irate client or cajoling a journalist into taking a slightly different tack. She confesses that things are 'spinning around' a little after hearing of her appointment earlier this month, but making the transition to the top job will be helped by the fact that both her work environment and her colleagues are extremely familiar to her.

When Silverman first entered the agency world at J Walter Thomson in New York, her career had already seen her rise to the post of director of women's activities at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

'Thirty-five years ago I'd never heard of PR,' she says. 'I'd never worked in an agency, it was the opportunity to do a number of things that I was skilled at. I had come from a political arena and writing and press were my strengths.'

Silverman is an Ogilvy veteran, one of the four original employees who worked at Ogilvy's first Washington DC office. She also ran that office for ten years before being promoted to her previous role as president of the Americas.

It's clear that the spirit of company founder David Ogilvy, who is among the name checks during the interview, has found a disciple in Silverman: 'The Ogilvy culture is really something wonderful. The culture that emanates from Ogilvy is really very strong and really very appealing.'

Silverman replaces Bob Seltzer, who has presided over a tough past two years for the agency. The latest PRWeek global rankings (2 August) show a 14 per cent drop in global income. In the US the difficulties have been most pronounced with the agency's operations 26 per cent down year-on-year.

Silverman is optimistic about the future but concedes that a repeat of the kind of technology-driven growth that Ogilvy recorded in 1999 and 2000 is unlikely in the near future. 'I'm hoping for growth but it'll be small, at least for this year. We are already on the right track - we are checking profits,' she says.

She also hints that under her leadership there could be some major changes for senior staff at the agency in the near future.

'Bob had his fingers in everything - I'll be more of a delegator. We have some very strong, very senior people. I'd like to see these people run parts of the business as well,' she says.

The importance of her colleagues is a running theme for Silverman; she constantly name-checks executives, particularly those from the US and Asian markets. 'We are only as good as the people who report into us. I believe in having strong people,' she says.

Also under Silverman, there'll be emphasis on the company's New York-based marketing practice, as well as more co-operation with sister WPP company Ogilvy & Mather around the world. 'I hope to participate regularly to their 360 (degree) offering to clients,' she says.

Public affairs growth is also on the agenda. 'We are going to put a great emphasis on a public affairs operation and the relationship between Washington, Beijing and Brussels,' she says.

She confesses that while she knows the Americas and Asian markets well, Europe will be the area that she needs to spend time getting to know better.

Robert Mathias, who now runs Ogilvy's Washington DC office, says that in addition to her extensive knowledge of the PR business, Silverman's strength is that she possesses an ability to manage people in a detached way: 'She has a sixth sense of knowing an individual's needs. You do not really feel managed but you go home saying, "well, I really was managed today".'

While unswerving in her optimism about the future of Ogilvy, Silverman is undoubtedly a realist, saying: 'You can put together your "to do" list every day but if you get through it that's quite remarkable.'

1981: One of four original employees of Ogilvy's Washington office
1989: MD - Washington, Ogilvy PR Worldwide
1999: President of the Americas, Ogilvy PR Worldwide
2002: Chief executive, Ogilvy PR Worldwide

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