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Tumult at Publicis Modem East as Senior Execs Depart

  |  April 28, 2011   |  Comments

Some staffers are let go and some walk as agency realigns to boost creative, social, and analytics chops.

What began as a trickle of senior departures from Publicis Modem East last year became a flood in the first quarter, as more than 10 VP and director-level staffers left the agency.

Modem has lost or let go senior-level team members across most departments, including media, creative, search, analytics, and human resources. The departures are a combination of layoffs, firings and voluntary departures. Sources at the agency say Modem is under pressure to improve in several areas; foremost among them are creative, social, and analytics.

Among the ranking executives no longer with the agency are Katheen Lamperez (VP, media), Roald Van Wyk (VP, creative director), Dan Rubin (SVP, digital strategies and insights), Andrew Altersohn (EVP, group director of strategy and marketing), and Brian Plumb (VP, head of U.S. human resources). Numerous lower level staffers have left as well.

Many departures are related to realignment that, among other things, combines content strategy talent with sight, sound, and motion talent within the creative group. The agency still employs more than 200, and has recently hired some staff as well. Among them is Hyo Yeon, named managing director in February. Yeon was a general manager with Schematic who took over operations at Modem so Dani Nadel, president of Modem USA, can focus on client development.

Another important talent acquisition for the company was Damian Classens, who joined in October from AKQA as SVP, group creative director focused on the LG account.

But sources paint a conflicted portrait of the scene at the agency's New York offices, describing a culture that still hasn't carved out a distinct identity within corporate parent Publicis - which bought it along with its then-parent Digitas in 2006.

And Modem appears not to have benefited as much as it might have hoped from its alignment under Publicis in the U.S. While sources are divided on the benefit of Modem's alliance with Publicis, some believe Publicis could not or would not use Modem for digital duties on major clients such as L'Oreal and Procter & Gamble, choosing instead to handle digital work itself, subbing it out elsewhere, or using digital partners preferred by clients.

Additionally, profits may have been limited by a reliance on freelancers and offshore creative talent, especially in the case of its LG account, according to one source. Part of Yeon's chore is to rectify that problem, consolidating offshoring with in-house agency Portfolio Modem Korea and cutting back on contract workers.

"We have consolidated some of our more dispersed outsourcing to what is in our network and our partner," said Nadel.

Meanwhile Publicis Modem East still has clients that have not shown signs of abandoning the agency. The biggest are General Mills, LG, Subway, and Marriott. Modem won the General Mills business from MRM Worldwide. Its review was motivated by a desire in part for fresh creative ideas and improved measurement, neither of which it apparently felt it was getting from MRM.

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Until March 2012, Zach Rodgers was managing editor of ClickZ's award-winning coverage of news and trends in digital marketing. He reported on the rise of web companies, data markets, ad technologies, and government Internet policy, among other subjects. 

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