Arun Sudhaman 17 Jul 2019 // 6:00PM GMT
NEW YORK — Gail Heimann has been promoted to global CEO of Weber Shandwick, the Holmes Report can reveal, succeeding Andy Polansky who becomes chairman and CEO of Interpublic Group's CMG division, which includes Weber Shandwick, Golin, DeVries Global, Jack Morton and Octagon.
The transition, which has been in the works for several months, comes after the Holmes Report revealed last month that a new CMG leader would soon be named, ahead of the retirement of CMG chairman and IPG CFO Frank Mergenthaler.
Polansky's seven-year tenure as Weber Shandwick CEO made him the most likely contender for the CMG leadership role. His predecessor Harris Diamond made a similar upward shift from Weber Shandwick before becoming McCann Worldgroup CEO.
Polansky's expected elevation also served to stoke speculation about Weber Shandwick's third global CEO since the agency was formed almost 20 years ago. But Heimann's promotion is similarly unsurprising, coming after she was named global president of Weber Shandwick in 2013, and given her long track record of success in partnership with Polansky and other senior leaders at the agency.
"This has certainly been a long-planned transition," Polansky told the Holmes Report. "Gail has been at the centre of so much of our success over the last number of years. We have big aspirations to continue to evolve. Clearly we’ve been on that path for some time and we feel really strongly about our competitive position in the market."
Describing Heimann as the "creative soul" of the agency, Polansky noted that her "restless ambition, along with a fierce commitment to a diverse and inclusive culture, is a source of inspiration for our people and our clients."
Heimann's elevation means that she runs the largest PR agency of any woman in the industry's history, and also puts four of the world's top 10 PR firms under female leadership, alongside BCW, Ketchum and H+K Strategies. Only Karen van Bergen, who oversees Omnicom PR Group's 10 PR firms, runs a larger P&L among female leaders in the PR industry.
"I hope I will be judged in the pantheon of leaders and not the pantheon of female leaders," said Heimann, noting that "leadership is gender-neutral." In particular, she pointed to the firm's new "We Solve" positioning as a priority for her as she takes over.
"My priorities will be to continue to live that and build that throughout our global network," said Heimann, who will retain the global president role. "At the end of the day, what this industry needs to deliver is the kind of ideas that make a difference for our clients. Ideas are at the centre of an increasingly complicated ecosystem — there is an opportunity in this industry to celebrate the role of those kinds of very powerful earned ideas."
Heimann takes charge at a pivotal moment for Weber Shandwick, which has narrowed the gap on top ranked firm Edelman in recent years. Under Polansky's leadership, Weber Shandwick delivered a period of exceptional growth, securing Global Agency of the Year honours from the Holmes Report in 2014, 2015 and 2017.
And Heimann believes that award-winning work will continue to underpin Weber Shandwick's growth. "We’ll be highly focused on both," she said.
“Andy and Gail have led the transformation of the industry’s top PR firm in a new era of marketing communications," said IPG chairman and CEO Michael Roth. "Together, they have built a global team that has driven the exceptional success we’ve seen at Weber Shandwick. We are excited that both leaders will continue to steer the ongoing progress at CMG and Weber Shandwick."
Meanwhile, Polansky said that he will aim to bring more integrated solutions to clients in his new CMG role, but declined to pinpoint which of the division's firms he will focus on first. "I think clients are looking for more dimension to our thinking, more strategic and creative firepower," he said. "Clearly, there’s an expectation that the work is delivered in a more integrated way."
And despite the backdrop of agency consolidation, Polansky reiterated IPG's focus on agency brands. "We think we have market leading brands across disciplines," he said. "People are attracted to working for brands and are attracted to the cultures that brands develop over time."
Polansky will add the title of executive chairman of Weber Shandwick, but noted that this will not affect the status of another long-term agency leader, chairman Jack Leslie, who "will continue in his role as Weber Shandwick chairman, as a key client advisor and a highly regarded thought leader for our firm at major industry, business and policy events around the world."