4A’s shakes up leadership team in diversity push

The new roles aim to better represent needs across independent agencies and holding companies.

The American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s) is shaking up its executive leadership team in a bid to better cater to its members — and reflect the industry it serves. 

On Monday, the agency trade organization said it has hired Ashwini Karandikar as its new EVP, media, tech and data. It has also promoted former member engagement and development lead Mollie Rosen to EVP, strategy, insight and innovation. 

The 4A’s is also splitting out its member engagement and development roles for independent agencies and holding companies, with former Southern region engagement lead Greg Walker promoted to lead the former, and former Central region engagement lead Brian Nienhouse promoted to lead the latter. 

“For many years, we had been talking about the different needs of holding companies vs. independents,” said Marla Kaplowitz, CEO of the 4A’s. “It's a really clean way of breaking it apart to drive greater focus for each side, and also ensure we're continuing to add new capabilities.”

While the 4As had a strong growth year, achieving its lowest attrition rate in a decade while bringing on new members, there’s still an opportunity to create a more targeted engagement approach for different types of organizations. 

Walker’s role will be “very much focused on retention” with independent agencies, Kaplowitz said, and he will also lead the 4As forum for independent agency leaders. Nienhouse will do the same for holding companies, while leading the 4A’s strategy committee, its annual StratFest conference, the Jay Chait awards and the 4A’s new Future of Work series. 

Rosen’s role, which is new for the company, will focus on the member experience, helping members make the best use of data, information and resources available through the 4A’s. 

“It's like a gym membership: you only get out what you put in,” Kaplowitz said. “We can show [members], here are opportunities where you can save money, learn more about the work we're doing with DE&I or different training offerings.”

The 4A’s made a concerted effort to fill these leadership roles with diverse hires, as the organization aims to better represent the industry it supports and encourage its members to do the same. The 4A’s has always been fairly diverse, but “as a leadership team, we slipped,” Kaplowitz said. 

“You need diverse people in the room, and we didn't have that at the leadership level in the way we needed to,” she said. “We have even more of a responsibility as an association that represents an industry that has work to do. If we're going to advise agencies, we need to walk the walk.”

The 4A’s foundation has a talent, equity and inclusion lead, Simon Fenwick, who led the group’s first Equity and Inclusion Congress in the fall, where the organization laid out a DE&I manifesto for the industry. The 4A’s plans to hold the congress again this fall. 

The 4A’s has also committed to publishing and updating its diversity statistics, changed the way it hires, and created opportunities for diverse hires to succeed. The organization is also working on a five-point media commitment to rectify systemic issues in the way media is measured, researched and audited, and is helping media agencies invest more with BIPOC-owned companies.

DE&I should be “everyone’s biggest focus,” Kaplowitz said, because ensuring talent is fairly treated drive other parts of the business forward. 

“This is not an overnight transformation,” she added. “The real gap is in leadership. You need to invest now to drive change at the senior level, so that in 10 years, the composition across the sector looks representative of the U.S.”

Another area where the 4A’s is leaning into change is with the future of work. The leadership team will be spread across the U.S. as the 4A’s transitions to a hybrid working model to better “reflect the breadth of our geographic organization,” Kaplowitz said.

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