DDB hires Brent Choi as CEO and CCO

Choi will lead creative and business growth across Canada in the dual role, as Lance Saunders leaves to pursue new ventures.
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DDB has named new leadership for the agency in Canada, hiring Brent Choi in the new dual role of CEO and chief creative officer.

Effective Feb. 4, Choi will be responsible for DDB’s creative output across its offices in Canada (located in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Edmonton), as well as its strategic direction and business growth. The role also covers the full portfolio of DDB agency brands in Canada, including CRM division TrackDDB, digital agency Tribal Worldwide Canada, shopper marketing agency TracyLocke and strategic design arm Twice. He will report to both Wendy Clark, president and CEO of DDB Worldwide, and Ari Weiss, CCO of DDB North America.

Speaking with strategy, Clark cited past DDB leaders like Keith Reinhart and Bill Bernbach as reasoning for creating the dual role, as well as why Choi was well-suited to be the one to take it on.

“I’m not sure there are a lot of people out there who are equally left- and right-brained at the same time,” she says. “It became clear that [Choi] had not only the capability, but the passion and interest to both lead the agency from a business perspective and a creative perspective.”

Choi was most recently president of J. Walter Thompson’s Canadian operations and chief creative officer for global brands. He left the agency in September after six years, a tenure during which he was also chief creative and integration officer and CCO for both Canada and New York. At the time, the agency cited the fact that “management team changes often occur with the appointment of new regional leadership” as a reason for Choi’s departure. Choi had become president in February 2018, at the same time CEO Susan Kim-Kirkland was also named chief marketing officer for JWT and Simon Pearce was named CEO for all of the agency’s operations in North America. Choi’s departure also came as the broader agency network announced a new “creative council” model that aimed to flatten its creative leadership. WPP has since merged the global J. Walter Thompson network with Wunderman.

While DDB Canada picked up some new assignments with clients including Emerald Health Therapeutics and Rogers  in 2018, the agency has been relatively quiet on the new business front, having lost Volkswagen as part of a global review. However, Clark says the first priority she has set for Choi in his new role is to understand DDB’s people and culture in Canada, believing that further business success will follow.

“When we get the right people for the right jobs and the right capabilities lined up, it tends to lead to having a great product in the marketplace,” Clark says. “After people and product, profit comes next. When we put our priorities in that order, that tends to create success for DDB around the world. Brent’s first priority is getting to know our people and making sure we have the right people, and then the product we are putting into the market for our clients. Ultimately, that will lead to business success for us.”

Choi’s hiring comes as Lance Saunders, the agency’s president and COO, is set to leave the agency “to pursue new entrepreneurial ventures,” according to a release. It also comes as Frank Palmer, DDB Canada’s CEO and chairman, is transitioning out of the agency, and a few months after Melanie Johnston, president of DDB’s Toronto office, left to take the role of CEO for Forsman & Bodenfors in Canada.

Saunders joined DDB Canada in 2010 from U.S. agency Campbell Mithun, and was appointed to his most recent position in 2015.

DDB Canada has been without a national CCO since the beginning of 2018, when it dissolved the position and let go of Cosmo Campbell, who had held the role for four years. Campbell’s departure came at the same time as a number of other executives were let go from the agency, which at the time said that “changes were necessary due to our ever-evolving business landscape and to better serve shifting client requirements.”

“If you’re a network with Bill Bernbach in your name, creativity is going to be at the heart of what you do,” Clark said of bringing back the national CCO position. “While we made a decision at that time, it wasn’t going to be an enduring outcome that we would not have a creative lead and vision in the business. That has to be true in every market where DDB operates. We subscribe to the belief that, when we meet with clients, there is a creative solution that will drive the growth and impact and outcomes they want. That, ultimately, is our focus. Brent, as we were talking to him, from a creative perspective presented himself as a total candidate that could lead the business and the creative agenda.”