Dentsu Aegis Network has turned to an outsider, Nick Brien, to be chief executive of its Americas and U.S. business, replacing Nigel Morris who becomes chief strategy and innovation officer.
Jerry Buhlmann, the global chief executive of DAN, and Brien are former colleagues who co-founded the independent agency BBJ Media in London almost 30 years ago, but they have not worked together since 1992.
Brien, who joins in August and will be in charge of 19 countries, said agencies face "seismic change" because of digital disruption, changing clients’ needs and new entrants.
"You can look at it with fear and anxiety or you can look at it and think it’s so exciting," Brien told Campaign. "I am as likely to be in a pitch against an Accenture and IBM or maybe a Fox or Disney or an AT&T. It’s a very different and more competitive environment. It’s an evolution and I relish that."
Brien brings experience from outside media agencies as he has most recently been global chief executive of Hearst’s iCrossing and was previously chief executive of Interpublic’s McCann World Group.
He played down the suggestion he is coming "full circle" by returning to media, pointing out DAN owns agencies with a broad range of capabilities across data, content, creative and CRM.
"If you characterize it as [coming] full circle, it’s a much bigger circle," he said, explaining how the marketing landscape is a "much richer, broader canvas" and communications will be increasingly personalized.
Buhlmann praised Morris who has been chief executive of the U.S. operation since 2009 and the Americas since 2011 during a period when the business has grown from about $150 million to $2 billion a year.
The Americas now represent about one-third of DAN’s global operation with approximately 13,000 staff, and Buhlmann said he was "very happy with the progress we’ve made" after winning accounts such as General Motors, Microsoft and Home Depot.
More than 70 percent of DAN’s revenues come from digital in the U.S.
Morris, one of Buhlmann’s longest-serving lieutenants, will "pioneer new strategic and innovative solutions and practices" in his new role as DAN aims to be "a 100 percent digital economy business" by 2020.
Morris said he looked forward to his new role because "the innovation agenda is central to our vision" at DAN.
Well-placed sources have been saying for the last two weeks that Brien was heading to Dentsu Aegis Network, following the news that Rob Horler was leaving as chief executive of its U.S. operation without a successor being named.
Buhlmann said Horler has left "on very good terms," and his departure had been "well planned."
Brien will combine the jobs held by Morris and Horler. One of Brien’s main tasks will be embed Merkle, the CRM business that was acquired last year, across DAN.
Brien said he has "not remained close" to Buhlmann since their BBJ Media days but they have "professional respect" for each other and a shared "entrepreneurial spirit."
They founded BBJ Media in 1989. Brien said he left because the agency was U.K.-focused and he wanted a more international role at Leo Burnett.
Buhlmann stayed with BBJ Media, which subsequently became part of Vizeum, one of DAN’s agencies.
"Nick is a proven, high energy leader who will further accelerate the growth of our business in the Americas," he said.