Arun Sudhaman 07 Dec 2012 // 4:52PM GMT
In Europe, all eyes now turn to Edelman's search for a new EMEA chief, following the surprise news of Robert Phillips' exit. It has barely been two years since Richard Edelman embarked on a fairly public quest for David Brain's successor, before eventually choosing Phillips, the one candidate that was right under his nose. Will Edelman's internal ranks again prove as fertile? Perhaps not. All signs suggest that the firm is focused on bringing in its next CEO from outside the company. Which leads me to this question: How many of the big agency networks in Europe have a natural successor in place? Did it take you a while to that answer that question? Me too. Indeed, it is hard to think of any of the big European firms - Edelman, Burson-Marsteller, Weber Shandwick, Ketchum, Fleishman-Hillard - that have an obvious succession plan in place if their CEO were to suddenly depart. We have looked at the importance of this before. Any search for leadership of a business can be highly disruptive. It is, perhaps, noticeable that firms benefit from grooming and promoting new leaders with a minimum of fuss. At a global level, for example, both Andy Polansky and Rob Flaherty come to mind. Which is not to say that agencies should not consider the case for more cultural diversity among their leadership ranks, as we pointed out earlier this year. The easy choice is not always the best one, particularly where the long-term future of the agency and industry are concerned. Europe, though, might just be a different kettle of fish. One agency head I speak to points to the region’s complexity and tangled history. It is much easier, he argues, to shift a US regional MD to a national leadership role, than it is to promote a country MD in Europe. Not everyone agrees with this point of view. MSLGroup global CEO Olivier Fleurot told me that “Europe has fewer cultural gaps than other regions” and that the history is not relevant. Instead, Fleurot points to the heritage of firms that have grown out of North America and the UK. “That history seems to say their leaders will always come from the same pool.” At MSLGroup, he notes that he has at least three potential successors for EMEA CEO Anders Kempe. Is this, then, an indictment of those global firms? It is not as if they do not have big international superstructures in place, peopled by senior executives with global responsibilities. Many of those leaders, though, are typically based in the US, and may not be natural contenders for running a region like EMEA. If anything, says one agency head, the scenario exposes the American orientation of most of the big PR agencies. It also, I would add, shines a spotlight on the importance of human resource planning. Fleurot, for one, believes that “human resource practices in the communications world are less developed than other industries.” I’d find it hard to disagree.