Classic IPG 'upwards shuffle' as Polansky and Heimann take top jobs

The news last night that Weber Shandwick, the world's second-largest PR firm, has promoted Gail Heimann to global CEO, comes as no surprise to those of us who've followed the agency closely over the past decade or two.

Weber Shandwick's new global CEO, Gail Heimann
Weber Shandwick's new global CEO, Gail Heimann

Heimann’s elevation from global president, a job she has held for the past six years, naturally coincides with global CEO Andy Polansky’s promotion to chairman and CEO of its wider Constituency Management Group (CMG) division, which comprises Interpublic Group’s (IPG’s) non-advertising agencies.

What we are seeing is a classic IPG ‘upwards shuffle’. Polansky’s former boss and Weber Shandwick CEO, Harris Diamond, was similarly promoted to run CMG before moving on to run IPG’s biggest ad agency McCann, as CEO and chairman of McCann Worldgroup, a role he still holds with aplomb.

IPG’s management stability and succession planning, especially on the PR side, has long been seen as a strength when compared to the turbulence in some global marketing groups. 

Both Polansky’s and Heimann’s stock has risen in recent years. This is partly down to Weber’s strong financial performance; according to PRWeek’s Global Agency Business report, the firm’s global revenues rose five per cent in 2018 to $846m. It is also thanks to its creative output, overseen by Heimann, where Weber continues to produce award-winning campaigns. The agency won 25 Lions at Cannes last month, including three Gold Lions.

Quite apart from these hard metrics, both these Weber ‘lifers’ are well respected and liked within the industry. I’ve always found the uber-hard-working Polansky personable, helpful and as open as he is able to be about the challenges that a global communication group – indeed the PR industry – faces in these pressured times. Similarly, Heimann is much admired for her energy and focus on the firm’s consistently strong brand campaigns.

These are pressures that will only increase in an uncertain economy, a fast-converging media-and-marketing world, and with fierce competition from rival comms networks such as Edelman, BCW and Fleishman. 

Richard Edelman is determined not to let Weber gain any more ground on his number-one network and, after a flat year in 2018, looks set to return to revenue growth in 2019. Meanwhile, BCW threatens to gain on Weber’s second place thanks to the drive of the indomitable leadership of Donna Imperato in the US and the impressive Scott Wilson, who runs EMEA. Both, of course, hail from Cohn & Wolfe, which effectively took over Burson Marsteller two years’ ago.

Indeed, it is notable and encouraging that two of the world’s three biggest PR networks are now run by women.

The same stability and succession planning applies across the rest of the Weber Shandwick network, with Tim Sutton, now an IPG veteran, heading up EMEA for the past few years, ably supported by UK CEO Rachel Friend, who ran the London operation until her promotion in January last year. Weber also promoted Helen Bennett to UK managing director, after eight years as global client lead.

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