4As chief Kaplowitz on shifting agency landscape: 'Not so much consolidation as leveraging the strength a holding company may have'

Marla Kaplowitz says that the 4As relationship with other trade orgs is 'going really well' but that building trust 'takes time'

The changing structures of the major ad agency networks is just part of the nature of the industry believes the recently inducted 4As president and chief executive officer, Marla Kaplowitz who discussed the current climate in which her member agencies operate, while also discussing her work so far (and what lies ahead) in the role.

“Holding companies are always going to be looking at what the opportunities are to maximize effectiveness of their portfolio," Kaplowitz says when asked what she sees around the holding companies trend to consolidate. With brands creating consultancies, independent shops increasing their functionality, and holding companies seemingly in flux, it’s easy to think that these major networks are aiming to adjust to pressures through consolidation. Yet Kaplowitz disagrees with the theory that this is a negative response, stating; "As the marketplace continues to evolve, they [holding companies] are always looking at different opportunities on how to leverage different elements of different agencies."

Holding companies are only adapting to their needs, according to Kaplowitz, as is the case of McDonalds agency of record We Are Unlimited, where Omnicom "came up with a bespoke solution to the brief given to them.”

She continues; “That’s the power of what a holding company can do. They can reach across their various agencies depending upon what area they're in and they can pull together a very bespoke team. That's a real benefit for a number of marketers, if that's the solution they are looking for.”

But, as for overall consolidation of agencies, she isn’t sure that’s the case: “I don't know that it's so much consolidation as it is leveraging the strength that a particular holding company may have, and trying to identify: how do I pull together something that's crafted based on this particular need or this particular brief. Sir Martin Sorrell calls it 'horizontality'. Publicis looks at it as a one team, there's various different ways that it's described, but ultimately, that's what they're trying to do.”

Kaplowitz, formerly chief executive of MEC, started with the 4As in May, after an extended search for a successor to longtime president and chief executive Nancy Hill. Seven months in, she looks forward to the work ahead for the trade organization and has been making decisions to further enhance the organization.

One of these moves was bringing on Wieden+Kennedy vet (and 4As MAIP alum) Keesha Jean-Baptiste to replace former executive vice president of diversity and inclusion strategy and talent development (and current chief diversity and engagement officer for McCann Worldgroup), Singleton Beato.

Jean-Baptiste’s role, according to Kaplowitz, isn’t just to continue looking for and developing talent, but is “really dedicated to overseeing our talent initiative, that includes the efforts behind the high schools, MAIP, and the 4As Foundation. She looks to augment the foundation, “bringing together not just the scholarship work that it’s known for, but also the high school initiative and MAIP underneath it as well.”

Also on Jean-Baptiste’s watch is the Talent@2030 conference in March. Typically in September, Kaplowitz says Jean-Baptiste is re-imagining it: “She's pulling together some great content and some really practical applications for it.”Talent@2030 mainly focuses on preparing the workplace for shifting cultural trends and how agencies can better prepare their talent for the what's coming next.

Jean-Baptiste has additionally put together a framework for what Kaplowitz calls a ‘sustainable framework of difference,’ which she calls “a guide for agencies along with a toolkit on how to deliver different thinking and approaches on behalf of talent.”

Another conference that Kaplowitz is looking forward to enthusiastically is the 4A's Accelerate conference (formerly known as Transformation) that takes place in April. “I used to go to Transformation every year as a member of the 4A's media leadership council,” she said. “And there was a lot that I enjoyed and there were always things that I wanted to change." Among the notable changes is a shortened format from four to three days, afternoon workshops, and a partnership with Upright Citizens brigade for presentation training with attendees.

As she presses onward through her first year, Kaplowitz has made it a priority to ensure people know who she is, actively making a presence at various industry events. “I've been traveling a fair amount because it's been really important to me not just from the members’ survey," she says, referring to the survey 4As sent to its agencies, its first major survey in several years, "but to really spend time with them.

Kaplowitz adds; "Whether that's at a regional meeting, a council meeting, or doing agency visits. That's been the best opportunity for me to really see what's going on across the country for our members.” Regardless of agency size or ownership, Kaplowitz says that at every member agency and asks what their areas for growth are, challenges, and how the 4A's can better help them evolve and grow.

The second part of the interview with 4As chief Marla Kaplowitz will run later this week.

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Bennett Bennett

Bennett D. Bennett is a staff writer at The Drum covering agencies, the media landscape, creativity and innovation. An NYC native, MAIP alum and City College of New York grad, Bennett previously was an award-winning copywriter at BBDO New York and lends his unique perspective and voice to The Drum's editorial staff. Previously a member of the Adcolor Advisory Board, he currently sits on the AAF's Mosaic Next-Generation Leadership Council and the 4As Steering Committee.

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