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Under Donna Imperato, Cohn & Wolfe developed a distinctive positioning and a creative approach to brand marketing that built on its heritage.
Paul Holmes 13 Apr 2013 // 11:00PM GMT
When Donna Imperato took the helm of WPP’s Cohn & Wolfe brand a little over a decade ago, the firm was struggling. She had succeeded in turning the firm’s healthcare practice around after her arrival in 1997 but the consumer business—where Cohn & Wolfe built its reputation—was faltering, to the extent that some observers believed that the firm would either be integrated into one of its larger sister agencies or transformed into a healthcare specialist.
But Imperato won the confidence of WPP chief executive Martin Sorrell and over the next few years Cohn & Wolfe developed a distinctive positioning and a creative approach to brand marketing that built on its heritage, but added a new emphasis on research-driven insights and expertise in digital and social media.
In 2006, less than four years after becoming CEO, Imperato added management responsibility for sister agency GCI Group, which was merged into Cohn & Wolfe, expanding the firm’s international footprint, particularly in Europe. In recent years, she has created a presence for the agency in Asia through acquisitions and organic growth, turning C&W into a genuinely global business.
Today, Imperato has oversight of three brands: Cohn & Wolfe, GCI Health, and Axicom, a technology specialist with offices in Europe and the US.
Having worked as a journalist, rising to editor-in-chief of a local newspaper at an early age, she made the move into communications, joining Creamer Dickson Basford in 1991 to lead one of the firm’s largest pharmaceutical accounts. According to her CEO at the time, Jean Farinell, “Talent comes in all shapes and sizes and there is much of it in the world. But exceptional talent is a rarity. Donna Imperato is that rare breed of public relations executive that truly falls into the exceptional category. Her individual pursuit of excellence in everything that she does has proven time and again that she is a gifted leader and certainly well deserving of an Individual Achievement Award.”
Steve Aiello, who preceded Imperato as CEO at Cohn & Wolfe, praises her “whatever-it-takes philosophy combined with a great business sense bolstered by creativity, intelligence, a-never-say-die attitude, and above all a laser sharp focus on partnering with clients to achieve their business results.”
Longtime client John Vavricka, president and chief executive officer of Iroko Pharmaceuticals, adds: “Strategically, Donna is the best in the business. Donna prides herself on understanding her client’s needs, seamlessly integrating traditional and social media to maximize company objectives by leading her highly skilled team to a flawless execution.”
Imperato continues to play an active role, counseling clients such as JM Smucker, Panasonic, GlaxoSmithKline and Merck. She has also overseen the agency’s rapid expansion in Asia, with the acquisition and integration of XPR and impactasia, and the opening of new operations in India. Most important, she continues to drive the firm forward with her “Dig Deeper. Imagine More” mantra.
“Donna is simply unstoppable,” says the firm’s chief branding officer, Pat Godefroy. “There isn't a force of nature or man that can keep her from her goals. As a leader, she is bold, direct and fiercely determined. But she is also collaborative and compassionate.”
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