Emily Tan
May 18, 2016

Ogilvy's new co-CEOs: No plan to split APAC region

HONG KONG - Despite the geographic split announced by outgoing Ogilvy Asia-Pacific CEO Paul Heath, the two new co-CEOs, Kent Wertime and Chris Reitermann, have no intention of dividing the region between them.

Wertime (left) and Reitermann
Wertime (left) and Reitermann

In an interview in early May, Heath indicated that Reitermann will remain based in China, will continue as China CEO and will also lead North Asia, while Wertime will continue to be based in Bangkok and will be responsible for Southeast Asia and India.

However, that’s not the way Wertime and Reitermann intend to approach their joint leadership.

“We’re not using the word dividing,” said Wertime. “It’s not about splitting a region. We’re running it jointly. We will clarify our roles and we have areas where one will lead and one will support. But there is no schism. It’s a joint plan.”

It’s a plan that has been over a year in the making, Reitermann said, adding that it dates back to a three-year development plan they co-authored for the region last year.

“We insisted on this [joint leadership] from the beginning,” said Reitermann. “We run it together. While we may have different responsibilities and focus, it is important we look at Asia as a whole.”

While a fluid approach to joint-leadership may not work for everyone, Wertime was keen to emphasise that he and Reitermann have a long-standing and unique partnership. “Chris and I aren’t just meeting each other for the first time. We have worked together for 15 years. In any big company, with very senior people, you learn to play together.”

The transition felt natural, said Reitermann. “We were already co-running parts of the region. It doesn’t feel weird or bad or anything. We know each other and we know each other’s strengths.”

Although based in different markets, Wertime’s role as COO and Reitermann’s additional post as president of Ogilvy & Mather advertising have seen the two collaborate and co-lead in several situations.

“We’ve worked together in OgilvyOne, we’re exco members…we’ve been through battles and clients together,” said Wertime. “It’s not like there’s a lot of mystery, we know each other quite well. There’s already a natural style of play.”

Flexible for clients

The move to appoint co-CEOs for Asia-Pacific could be read by some as a move away from treating the region as a single business-designated market. But that isn’t the case, insisted Reitermann.

“Asia-Pacific has a reason to exist for us," he said. "It’s a community and culture that has existed for many years and why would you break that apart? It’s true that the way it was managed in the past is obsolete. It’s no longer run entirely out of Hong Kong. Clients don’t want a big regional team in one market. It’s market by market. That’s why the split in location makes a lot of sense. It allows us to go deeper into certain markets.”

The aversion to splitting up duties and markets, explained Wertime, is partly rooted in a need to be flexible for clients. “In every agency, it’s always about clients. And clients are segmenting the world in different ways,” he said.

So for an agency to cluster up markets by geography is irrelevant in a sense as it all depends on what works best for clients.

“While I’m based in Asean and I have had a focus on Asean markets, Chris runs advertising and he might choose to see someone in Indonesia. Which is not a problem of course. It’s not a separating, it’s a focus on who’s going to spend time driving which areas.”

At present, the two leads are not prepared to share which clients each plans to place more focus on. “A modern network has to flex to different client-needs,” said Wertime. “Today it’s multipolar. Configure teams, people. Some clients lead out of India or Shanghai. You have to configure your resource for the client.”

Areas of focus

Wertime is confident that he and Reitermann see eye to eye on priorities for the network. A top one is to help clients deploy marketing and communications to cope with an increasingly specialised and diverse industry. “At the core of it, clients are looking for people who know how to drive effectiveness,” he said.

Part of achieving this starts with “refocusing”, said Reitermann. “The [advertising] industry as a whole has lost a bit of focus. We speak about a a lot of things but not what we’re really about, building brands. It’s important to get back to this core, as an industry, and for Ogilvy specifically. The three-year plan we laid out is aimed at getting extremely good, and better in fact, than anyone else at building brands.”

This is key to taking Ogilvy to “the next leg of the game”, said Wertime. “More clients are fatigued with having to work with too many agency partners. We want to spur growth in the next wave of where the business is going and that is having deeper expertise in building brands."

Talent will be, as it always has been, a concern and a priority, said Wertime. “Young staff are asking if [the agency] is the best way for them to spend their careers.”

Beyond Ogilvy, the industry as a whole has to learn how to make itself more attractive to talent, said Reitermann. “In China, people who leave us now don’t leave for another agency. They leave the industry. They join internet companies. We have to have a hard look at ourselves and figure out how we can make what we do much more attractive again to the people we hire and to our clients.”

Ogilvy’s approach so far has been to invest in new growth areas, such as consulting arm Red and production brand H&O, bringing in people with diverse backgrounds.

"People will opt to stay with the agency over the likes of Google because of the chance to work across a wide group of interesting clients,” said Wertime. “We help some of the best companies in the world do or invent. There is incredible excitement in helping a brand do something defining in the industry. I’m not knocking Google. But the question comes down to, do you want to work on one thing everyday or work across a variety of industries? Our staff, based on internal research, report that they are happiest when they can work across a variety of people. People love variety in our industry.”

Ultimately, as the new leaders of Ogilvy, the aim is to figure out how to keep building on the success of the network. “Our goal, as we take the baton, is to focus on the next leg of it," Wertime said. "Not to rest on our laurels.”

 

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