Tribal DDB Looks to Life After Freeman

In the wake of founder and longtime CEO Matt Freeman’s departure, digital ad shop Tribal DDB is looking to strengthen its network by fostering greater collaboration among its 44 offices across 25 countries.

“We’re not going to change what works, but there are things I think we can do better,” said Paul Gunning, former president of Tribal DDB U.S. East who now takes over as CEO. “Those things have to do with leveraging the strength of our network.”

“Our clients are pretty large and are looking for multi-national solutions,” he said. “We inherently have [what they need]. We just need to make sure that’s evident to people in the marketplace.”

Freeman was picked by Omnicom to lead the digital spin off of DDB at its launch 10 years ago. He has built the shop into one of the fastest-growing and most lauded digital networks in the world, wining awards for its work with McDonald’s, Phillips and Volkswagen. Other clients include Pepsi, Nike and Starbucks.

Freeman has left to head up GoFish, a kids’ digital media and ad network company. The San Francisco-based company specializes in reaching mothers and children, with nearly 21 million unique users a month in the U.S. and 66 million a month worldwide. Freeman said he was attracted to the network because of its brand-centric approach to advertising.

“Companies like McDonald’s and Nike cannot build their brand through buying search keywords alone,” said Freeman in a written statement. “GoFish offers advertisers meaningful brand engagement, not merely direct response,” across a wide array of media properties.

Freeman’s departure has spawned other management shifts at Tribal. Elizabeth Ross, former president of Tribal DDB West, is now president of Tribal DDB US and global chief marketing officer. Stephan Beringer, president of Tribal DDB EMEA, will keep that position while also taking on a role as chief strategic officer.

Gunning, who had worked alongside Freeman since coming to Tribal in 2000, praised the former CEO for his role in the agency’s success. “Matt was a wonderful leader. He was ideal for this company, and a huge amount of our success is due to him and his personality,” he said.

Nonetheless, he characterized the shift in management as an opportunity to focus on new priorities, first among them being a better cohesiveness within the network.

“My strengths lie in connecting people, and building the tribal offices together and with our clients,” he said. “I’m pretty deeply rooted in our clients’ businesses, having worked on a lot of them personally. I understand why they’re looking to interactive and what they need from it.”

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