SAN FRANCISCO — Andy Cunningham's exit from Bite has left the agency searching for new US leadership for the fourth time in as many years, amid an ongoing effort to recast itself as more of a marketing services player.
Cunningham steps down after being named global CEO late last year when Clive Armitage departed the firm’s top post to start agent3, Next15’s new analytics shop. The former Apple PR veteran was initially hired to head Bite's North American operations in January 2012, but will now focus on her innovation endeavor Series C (in which Next15 retains its minority stake).
Her departure marks the latest leadership change at Bite North America after GM David Hargreaves shifted to a new role leading Next15 digital venture Beyond in 2009.
Michelle Herman was then brought on from Waggener Edstrom as North American CEO in September 2010, for a stint that lasted slightly more than a year.
Tim Dyson, CEO of Bite’s parent company Next15 -- and now -- interim CEO at Bite, maintains that nearly all PR agencies are charting a path towards integrated services. Bite’s growing pains, he asserts, highlight the difficulty of adapting a traditional PR workforce to a discipline-agnostic era.
“We decided more than three years ago that we no longer wanted to be in the commoditized media relations business,” Dyson says. “We’ve made progress but there’s been some inevitable pain along the way.”
While Cunningham’s departure will not impact Bite’s broader of vision of becoming a marketing agency, a few of her initiatives have been abandoned. Earlier this year Cunningham appointed a new leadership team that was quickly scaled back.
In addition, Bite CFO Leon Hunt, who Cunningham hired earlier this year, has left the firm with her. With Hunt’s departure, the agency drops plans to move to a single profit-and-loss structure, according to Dyson. Bite's finances will be handled by Next15 for the time being.
The integration of Bourne, the Next15 digital shop that Bite acquired last year, has been predictably disruptive, resulting in 10 percent staff layoffs earlier this year. Looking ahead, Dyson says that Bourne’s integration will be less focused on using the digital shop to secure new business and more on making it a full partner to Bite.
“Bourne is capable of industrial level digital marketing and I want it to be used to its full capacity,” Dyson says. “Bite is the content engine and Bourne is the digital asset engine -- the two should elevate each other.”
Amid all of this, Bite found itself in a messy financial situation when a senior member of its finance team committed “complex fraud” last year embezzling about $3million.
Dyson faces plenty of questions as he chooses how to address Bite's current leadership vacancy. He told the Holmes Report he will not hurry to make any hires or decisions until a full assessment of the agency's needs are made.
“It’s been one of those things, you can’t change without changing,” Dyson says. “No one would wish going through successive leadership changes -- but if it ends up achieving the right goal, it was worth it.”