Five Minutes With... DDB's Wendy Clark: Advertising and other drugs

Rosie Baker
By Rosie Baker | 8 February 2018

This is an excerpt from the February issue of AdNews. You can subscribe to the print edition or download a digital version here. This content won't appear online, it's exclusive to the magazine.

Twelve months ago DDB North America won the US$820 million McDonald’s account that had formerly sat with Leo Burnett for 35 years and revealed it had created a new agency model to run the business. 

Wendy Clark was the mastermind behind it. The former Coca-Cola CMO joined the Omnicom−owned agency as  president and CEO of North America in 2015 to revive the advertising giant and set it up for future success. She was today (8 February) promoted to global president and CEO.

She admitted that two years ago DDB North America wasn't on any shortlists for major pitches in the US market. When we spoke in December the network was on at least 18 lists, with a healthy win rate.

One of Clark's mantras is to be focused on tomorrow, not yesterday, so she doesn’t like to talk about the past. She also doesn't like to talk about McDonald’s shop We Are Unlimited as being "the agency model of the future" because it implies it’s not already in action.

“I don’t like that language,” she told AdNews on her recent trip to Australia. “We’re already doing it. It’s the agency of today.”
The agency is built on a ‘pay for performance model’ which Clark said is the way it should be. She’s adamant that agencies and individuals should be paid the right value for what they do, but added that agencies should be recompensed for work that grows the clients business.

“If we’re not performing, we’re going to get fired anyway, or at least there’s going to be a very serious conversation about why,” she said.

Clark used 'Share a Coke' as an example. The idea originated in Australia and was masterminded by Ogilvy, but even though the idea spread around the world and became one of Coke’s best performing marketing campaigns, Ogilvy only got paid for the idea once.

“It should have been paid for the upside benefit of that. The more value we create the more we should get paid, right?” sheargued.

The decision to take the leap from arguably one of the most high−profile client−side gigs in the world to a similarly high−profile agency role was borne out of a reverence for advertising, according to Clark, and the legacy of DDB founder Bill Bernbach.

“The notion that his agency in his home market was not at its best was unthinkable to me as a lover of advertising. I just feltduty−bound to do it,” she revealed.

The greatest lesson Clark has had to learn on the other side has been resilience and getting used to losing. Which, for someone so competitive, has not been an easy lesson.

“By definition, in the agency business you lose more than you win. No−one wins 100%, but you never learn as much as you learn when you lose. In the very beginning when we’d miss out on pitches I’d want to poke the clients’ eyes out!” she joked.

“I mean, I hated them, I wouldn't friend them on Facebook. But, you have to become comfortable with that and bounce back. I think the highs are higher and the lows are lower on the agency side.

"Losing the [2017] Airbnb pitch was crushing. I was inconsolable for two weeks. I’m so competitive, I hate losing, so this is not an easy job for me to get used to. When I was a teenager, when anyone wanted to break up with me, I would break up with them first!”

Clark's passion for advertising is obvious in the way she speaks about the business, the work, the model she's building and the people within the agency. She said every day she wakes up before her alarm clock because she's so keen to get to work.

“It’s the best drug ever ... it’s probably dangerous to say this but if someone said ‘we’re not going to pay you for today’ I’d probably do it anyway!" Clark revealed.

“[It's] the adrenalin you feel and the natural high when you see an idea crystallise, and [as] people's eyes light up when you pitch it. You sweat night and day to get the work perfect and see it go into the marketplace and the impact it has — I just love it.
"Maybe that exists in other categories, but I'm not willing to leave this one to find out!”

This is an excerpt from the February issue of AdNews. You can subscribe to the print edition or download a digital version here. This content won't appear online, it's exclusive to the magazine.


Have something to say on this? Share your views in the comments section below. Or if you have a news story or tip-off, drop me a line at

Sign up to the AdNews newsletter, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for breaking stories and campaigns throughout the day. Need a job? Visit

comments powered by Disqus