Omnicom CEO John Wren Criticizes Wendy Clark for Leaving DDB ‘in the Middle of a Crisis’

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While much of Omnicom CEO John Wren’s first-quarter earnings call today was spent on the impact Covid-19 has had on the agency holding company, he raised some eyebrows when he took a break from financial updates to share his feelings about the departure of former DDB Worldwide CEO Wendy Clark.

Clark left Omnicom-owned DDB earlier this month to take on the top role at rival holding company Dentsu Aegis Network.

“We were a bit shocked and put off when Wendy Clark decided that she was going to move on in the middle of a crisis,” he said, adding that DDB entered 2020 in a “difficult situation” due to several client losses. “But we were able to recover with no interruption at all because Chuck Brymer, who’d previously been the CEO, was with us and ready to step back in and has done a magnificent job irrespective of [the] behavior of his predecessor.”

“We were a bit shocked and put off when Wendy Clark decided that she was going to move on in the middle of a crisis.”
—John Wren, CEO, Omnicom

Adweek has reached out to Clark for comment but has not yet received a response.

When Clark’s exit from DDB was announced earlier this month, she told Adweek the new role was the result of many months of outreach by Dentsu Aegis, which includes all of Dentsu’s operations outside of its home country of Japan. The move represents a jump in total staff size for Clark from about 10,000 at DDB to more than 42,000 at Dentsu Aegis.

After 8 years on the client side at Coca-Cola, Clark joined DDB in 2016 as its North American CEO. In 2018, she was promoted to global CEO of the agency network. But two years into that expanded role, she announced she would be leaving to take the reins of Dentsu Aegis.

“This wasn’t a decision or judgment on DDB,” she told Adweek at the time. “It was something broader and interesting, that stretched me and pushed me on the next step of my journey.”

DDB’s “difficult situation” referred to by Wren was likely a reference to the loss of much of the McDonald’s account, for which Wieden + Kennedy New York was named lead creative agency in September 2019. State Farm had also shifted its creative away from DDB Chicago, though Omnicom retained the client via sister agency The Marketing Arm. Prior to that, DDB had seen some high-profile wins in Kroger, PlayStation and the U.S. Army.

The looming, lasting impact of Covid-19

While Wren’s comments about Clark definitely marked the most dramatic moment in today’s earnings call, the more substantive parts of the update hinted at severe economic implications to come as the repercussions of Covid-19 and widescale quarantine becomes clear.

Omnicom’s organic revenue grew slightly during the first quarter of 2020, but the holding company is preparing to take a hit next quarter due to the pandemic’s impact on clients.

The holding company’s organic revenue was up 0.3% compared to the first quarter of 2019. Its net income per share for the first quarter rose 1.7% to $1.19, beating analysts’ estimates. Net income declined 1.9% to $258 million year over year, while global revenue for the first quarter of 2020 fell 1.8% to $3.41 billion. Stock prices had risen more than 3% at the time of this story’s publication.

On the call, Wren said Omnicom’s events and field marketing disciplines were “highly impacted” during the first quarter of this year because of the global shutdown. He said the postponement of the Olympics and other major sporting events has compounded these challenges.

“As stay-at-home orders and restrictions on travel and large gatherings took effect in March, our events businesses, as well as several of our field marketing businesses in the affected geographies, were in large part shut down,” he said.

‘Not all doom and gloom’

There were some bright spots in Wren’s updates: Omnicom’s healthcare practice experienced organic revenue growth of 9.6% in the first quarter of 2019, while its public relations discipline grew 0.2%.

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