WPP’s Group M has chosen Tim Castree to fill the vacant position of North America chief executive – a key role in its biggest market, which has been underperforming.
Castree, an Australian, has been global chief executive of Wavemaker and its predecessor MEC since January 2017.
Group M, the world’s biggest media buyer, will conduct a search of both external and internal candidates to find Castree’s replacement at Wavemaker, which was formed by the merger of MEC and Maxus in January 2018.
Kelly Clark, global chief executive of Group M, has been in temporary charge of Group M North America for more than a year, after Brian Lesser quit to head AT&T’s advertising arm.
"The US is our number one geographical priority," Clark said, noting Group M’s share of the North America market is 23% compared with around 30% globally.
"Tim has the right set of skills to face some of the challenges and capture some of the opportunities" in the US market, Clark added, after a year when Group M has lost some large accounts including American Express, HSBC and Marriott, while winning Adidas and Mars.
He said Castree’s priorities include: making Group M less "complex and siloed"; building "shared centres of excellence" in areas such as data; "eliminating competition between our agencies"; increasing automation to free up staff for more "client-facing" roles; and investing in more senior talent and client leadership.
Group M has recently moved its US media agencies, which include MediaCom, Mindshare and Wavemaker, into a single new home at 3 World Trade Center, New York.
The media division has seen a wave of senior staff departures, including Lesser, chairman Irwin Gotlieb and chief digital officer Rob Norman, in the past year or so.
Clark admitted that the US industry debate about media transparency, which the Association of National Advertisers triggered with its 2016 investigation into "non-transparent" practices at media agencies, has been a headache.
He said transparency has "not been a problem for our group", but "it has been a major time commitment" because clients have carried out more audits.
"It has cast a shadow over the entire industry," Clark said. "Part of my job going forward is to come out with a positive message about our industry and our positive value for clients."
Castree said he was proud of his time running Wavemaker, which has focused on media, content, technology and customer journey planning.
He pointed to the appointment of new leaders such as US chief executive Amanda Richman, Germany, Australia and Switzerland chief executive Lucas Brinkmann and UK chief executive Paul Hutchison, along with the expansion of its content arm (now 13% of revenues) and precision marketing, as evidence that the agency was in good shape.
He admitted that the MEC/Maxus merger had been challenging because both agencies had already suffered significant account losses, such as AT&T and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, and lacked global clients.
"This is an industry that tends to be singularly focused on headline global wins," Castree said, admitting that he would have liked Wavemaker to pick up more global business.
But he said Wavemaker has still won $70m in new revenues from 300 clients this year. Local wins included Adobe, Altice and Danone in North America, and a multi-market brief for Mondelez International.
Overall, Wavemaker’s revenues have declined "very modestly" and profits are up "modestly" in 2018, according to Castree.
He said Wavemaker’s client portfolio, which is about 70% single-country clients and 30% international ones, was a "good profile".
Clark said merging MEC and Maxus had been a "difficult job" but "we remain absolutely committed to the ambition we stated at the beginning" for Wavemaker and he expected growth in 2019.
Castree added he felt well-suited to run Group M North America despite his Australian background.
"I’ve been here 17 of the last 20 years," he said, speaking in New York. "I know this market better than the Australian market."