Ogilvy Canada names new CEO

John Killam joins from Omnicom Media Group to take over for the departing Laurie Young.
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Ogilvy Canada has hired John Killam, picking its new leader to take over from its recently retired CEO.

Starting today and based out of Toronto, Killam will work with chief creative officer Brian Murray to lead operations of the agency, which also plans to name a new chief strategy officer in the near future.

Killam joins from Omnicom Media Group, where he simultaneously held the chief client officer position at two of its agencies: OMD – where he took on the position in early 2018 after four years as managing director – and Red Magnet – the company’s dedicated media unit for Rogers Communications, which he started working for in the fall. The new position also marks Killam’s return to the creative side of the industry, having previously held senior positions at McCann, Juniper Park and Clean Sheet Communications.

Killam takes over the chief executive position at Ogilvy Canada from Laurie Young. Young announced her retirement earlier this year after more than 30 years with the agency, having been named CEO at the beginning of 2017.

While he cites many of the typical CEO duties as being among his goals – such as maintaining the agency’s vision and continuing to develop its talent – Killam says that another key goal coming into the role is to grow Ogilvy’s roster of Canadian clients and to complement the work for global brands that will continue to be important to the agency.

In recent years, Ogilvy has been reorganizing the structure of the agency both in Canada and globally, forgoing its sub-brands for a single, combined offering. Killam says that more integrated model of working – both in Canada and with Ogilvy offices globally – is in line with what clients have been looking for, especially when it comes to “democratizing” things that might otherwise be a cost- and time-intensive investment.

“What clients want today is the ability to have sophisticated processes and tools in the background doing amazing work around great creative, and the ability for a network company to bring that is much more elevated these days,” he says. “Those tools and processes are fairly cost-intensive, so if you want to connect first party data to your work, there’s a pretty serious investment that needs to be made. The level at which [global chief talent officer] Brian Fetherstonhaugh is working to ensure people at my level are connected around the world and able to share tools and ideas and strategies for how we approach clients business is part of what attracted me to the job.”

Killam also points to Ogilvy’s “solid base of performance marketing capabilities” as being a big opportunity the agency is well set up to take advantage of. While performance has typically been thought of as the domain of media agencies, Killam says a strong brand and narrative grounding is necessary to create a holistic approach that puts data to work for both performance and creative.

“The ability to build a narrative with that data and tell stories is what clients really want to hear, because it deciphers the data and turns it into more of a brand story and shows what the customer experience is on their journey to purchase,” he says. “That’s a thing that I think media agencies can sometimes miss, a little bit. Ogilvy has one of the best legacies as a creative company, and as I go in, I’ll be looking for and continuing to build on the creative product and make sure it’s at the centre of everything we do. We have performance tools, and that’s great, but it’s the message that’s going to get the customer to engage, and that’s Ogilvy’s advantage.”