Arun Sudhaman 07 Mar 2016 // 9:00AM GMT
LONDON — Alan VanderMolen, the former Edelman Asia-Pacific CEO who left the firm last year, has joined WE Communications in a newly-created role that sees him lead the PR agency's operations outside the US.
VanderMolen has been named president of international at WE Communications, and will divide his time between London and Singapore, overseeing the agency's EMEA and Asia-Pacific regions. In addition, VanderMolen will lead the firm's WE+ network of global affiliates, and is also tasked with driving cross-agency collaboration.
He reports to WE Communications co-founder and CEO Melissa Waggener Zorkin, who described the hire as "the most powerful step I’ve taken" to demonstrate her commitment to remaining independent. "That means we need to be mighty around the globe."
The senior hire comes as WE reports global revenues dropped below $100m in 2015, down 6.5% to $99m, after declining 9% one year earlier. In recent months, WE has made several changes in a bid to deliver consistent growth as its key Microsoft business has declined, including hiring Kass Sells as North American president, and restructuring and rebranding the agency last year.
Waggener Zorkin noted that 80% of the firm's business currently comes from the US, and 20% from EMEA and Asia-Pacific. "I need to see that split get to 25% in the next couple of years."
VanderMolen joins WE after spending 13 years at Edelman, where he led significant Asia-Pacific growth before returning to the US in 2011 to take on a number of senior global roles. VanderMolen left Edelman in September, at odds with the firm after it was caught up in the detention of CCTV anchor Rui Chenggang, a former shareholder in its China subsidiary Pegasus.
He told the Holmes Report that WE attracted him for several reasons as he considered his options after leaving Edelman, starting with its independence. "Right now the publicly-held holding companies, with one exception, are either floundering with their PR assets or holding with the status quo," he said.
"I think that opens the door for independents to focus on their clients, invest in their people, and not be constrained by definitions about where PR is allowed to play or not allowed to play."
In addition, he said, WE possesses a "deep and compelling understanding of tech-enabled innovation and social innovation, and the impact that’s having on clients' businesses but also expectations of clients' businesses in terms of how they operate and behave."
His arrival at WE follows EMEA GM Chris Talago's decision to leave the firm. However, Waggener Zorkin denied that the two events were linked. There are no immediate plans to replace Talago's position. The firm's EMEA office heads in the UK, Germany and South Africa report to VanderMolen, as does Asia-Pacific lead Matthew Lackie.
"I was so taken by the pedigree," said Waggener Zorkin of the VanderMolen hire. "He is strong with clients. He believes, like I do, that tech is everywhere. He’s a 360 degree person and he fits culturally with us."
VanderMolen added that "aggressive growth" would be a priority but cautioned against significant geographic expansion. "In terms of operating a meaningful global enterprise, WE has the right dots on the map now," he said. "You can expect a very aggressive growth agenda and a very aggressive focus on our competitive position."