Ad Lands Finest: Profiling 8 of the Leading Strategists in Advertising Today

 In All Things Productivity, Blog

The evolution of advertising continues at pace. Strategies that incorporate native, video, programmatic, and viewability are the new reality while issues like ad-blocking present a considerable challenge to the ad-tech and publishing eco-system.


Tactics that might have been successful in the past may no longer resonate in this new world. Instead, innovation is the new currency. The agencies that are thriving today are those that have embraced technology wholeheartedly.

Strong management has separated the leading agencies from the also rans. Forward-thinking leaders – at this time of change – are more valuable than ever. To get a clearer idea on how to succeed in advertising today, we have profiled 10 leading strategists who are definitely at the top of their game.

1. Brandon Cooke, Global CMO, mcgarrybowen

e8828dbdf2d62a86e862e8c65edcc9ca_400x400Brandon Cooke is the Global CMO at mcgarrybowen and has been since July 2013. Previously he worked as a Global Director for business development at the company. Before mcgarrybowen , Brandon worked at Interpublic’s Gotham Inc. and held various roles in account management and business development at Grey.

Since Brandon joined mcgarrybowen, he has helped them acquire a number of high profile clients including Burger King, United Airlines, Honda CR-V, and Reebok. Brandon espouses an agile philosophy based on the digital needs of today. His new business formula is simple: “We’re free of ‘the legacy burden’ of large networks. We’re built for the digital age, around a client’s needs.”

2. Mark O’Brien, President and CEO, North America DDB Worldwide Communications Group

wMAA DDB veteran, Mark joined the agency in 1994. Since then, Mark has shown himself to be a true digital visionary. He was instrumental in establishing the DDB interactive business unit as a new profit center during the industry’s infancy in 1995, effectively founding one of the industry’s first digital agencies. He also struck up one of the first and most ambitious pay-for-performance arrangements of its kind with a major telecommunications company. Mark also developed the blue print for the establishment of Tribal DDB which went on to become one of the most influential and well recognized digital agencies.

With a reputation for honesty and straight shooting with his colleagues, Mark has pinpointed Jack Welch and Steve Jobs as leaders that inspire him. One of his top priorities at mcgarrybowen is creating an environment where employees can do their best work for their clients and “where good people can succeed.”

3. Michael Sugden, CEO at VCCP

256df08 (1)Michael Sugden is another leader who has proved himself more than adept when it comes to technological change. He joined VCCP in 2006 and became CEO in 2012. Since then he has worked to build a reputation for business transformation at the agency with a client base that includes O2, and easyJet.

In an interview with the Guardian, Michael provided some insight into his strategy at VCCP: “At VCCP we try and create advertising that the great British public engage with beyond just watching an ad. We call this ‘populating culture’ and we believe it’s the most effective way of transforming our clients’ businesses.”

The role of CEO, according to Michael, is not to dictate but to support. He works to ensure everybody at VCCP has the tools to do their job effectively. He explains: “I see my role as support to my colleagues, not the other way round.”

4. Steve (Ilsoo) Jun, CEO/President at INNOCEAN Worldwide Americas

3388367Steve is a founding member of Innocean Worldwide. He helped to establish the agency’s global headquarters in 2005 and was previously CEO of European operations. Earlier in 2015, he was appointed as CEO of INNOCEAN Worldwide America.

According to Steve, success at the agency is based on a three-pronged approach: “IWA’s success comes about as a result of a solid foundation, work ethic and the ambition to carefully extend our capabilities and creative output into new vistas as opportunities allow.”

5. Andrew Robinson, President & CEO at BBDO

08d476dAndrew Robertson has been President and Chief Executive Officer of BBDO Worldwide since June 2004. During his tenure, BBDO has grown to become the World’s most awarded advertising agency. A genuine industry legend, Andrew previously worked in leadership roles at WCRS and Ogilvy & Mather.

With a client roster that includes AT&T, Wells Fargo, CVS, SAP, Bud Light Platinum, BBDO seem to have mastered the art of staying relevant. Andrew has pinpointed video as a key component of their strategy. The debate about whether or not TV has a future is, according to Andrew, something of a side issue. The key thing here is that “consumers like video, they watch an awful lot of it and they don’t care how it is delivered.”

6. Sarah Thomson, Global CEO, Droga5

sarah-thompson-01-2014Sarah is a highly experienced and proven leader. Before joining Droga5 in 2008, Sarah worked at Goodby Silverstein and Partners, Mullen Advertising, and BBH working with brands like Umbro, Nike as well as running accounted for Levi’s and Vaseline. She became Global CEO of Droga5 in 2013 where she works alongside the leadership teams in all three offices, helping Droga5 continue to capitalize on business opportunities and diversify its portfolios globally while maintaining a culture that constantly innovates and delivers breakthrough ideas.

Sarah believes in encouraging and nurturing her team to get even more out of themselves. She outlined her approach in an interview with Digiday: “There is power in being exactly who you are. You can be nurturing and pull people up. It’s not about patting people on the back when they cry but about being kind.”

7. Aaron Shapiro, CEO, Huge

21cacacAaron Shapiro is CEO of Huge, where he helps companies reimagine how they interact with their customers and manage their businesses in the digital economy. Certainly not lacking in strategic nous, Aaron has driven the firm’s growth from a small startup into a full-service interactive agency operating out of the United States, Europe and Latin America. His book Users, Not Customers is critically acclaimed confirming Aaron’s standing as a thought leader in the Brooklyn tech scene. With a number of strings to his bow, Aaron also worked as a technology entrepreneur, venture capitalist and management consultant. He also served as co-founder and CEO of Silverpop, a leading email marketing company acquired by IBM.

Leadership, according to Aaron, “is about creating an environment where people want to work, where they feel like their interests are protected.” Although he admits that he has had to adapt his management style as Huge has grown, “In the early days it was very hands on. I was a project manager and I handled client services. When you’re a small group you do everything. And then as the company gets larger, you get a little more removed from the work. I think as a boss you have to spend more time thinking about the organization and if it is structured correctly.”

Kurt Ritter, Chairman/CEO Saatchi & Saatchi LA and Team One, Chairman, Canada

kurt-ritterKurt Ritter is Chairman and CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi LA and Team One, and Chairman Saatchi Canada. Prior to joining Saatchi & Saatchi LA in 2003, Kurt spent more than three decades on the client side at General Motors, rising to General Manager of Chevrolet Motor Division. As a member of the Toyota Worldwide Executive Board, Kurt has played a central role in all key marketing initiatives for Toyota, including the Gold Effie award-winning launch of the Tundra full-size pickup.

To get ahead of the competition, Kurt and Team One try to understand “the motivational levels behind why and how people consume media”. By focusing on research and strategic planning, Team One have been able to grow their understanding of consumer needs, wants and worries.

Kurt maintains that the best advertising remains true to the product. At Team One the focus is on trying to “uncover the essence of a brand rather than trying to invent something new and risk coming across to the consumer as inauthentic.”


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