Senior staff to depart advertising agency Colenso BBDO

Colenso BBDO chief creative officer Levi Slavin and executive business director Ahmad Salim are set to leave the agency, the Herald understands.

Slavin is one of the most decorated creatives in the New Zealand advertising scene, having won more than 100 international advertising awards for his work.

Fans of classic Kiwi advertising will be familiar with Slavin’s work over the years, especially the outstanding “Togs or Undies” ad for Trumpet from 2006.

His departure from Colenso BBDO marks the end of a four-year stint, his third at the agency.

He previously left the agency in 2014 to pursue career opportunities in New York, which included stints at powerhouse creative agencies Anomaly and BBDO.

In 2017, he was lured back to New Zealand from New York to lead the creative department at Colenso BBDO.

During his latest tenure, the agency has continued to excel, being acknowledged in 2020 at the prestigious Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity as the Agency of the Decade in the Pacific region.

At this stage, it is unclear what Slavin’s next role in the industry will be.

Salim’s departure comes from the accounts side of the business.

He joined Colenso BBDO from the UK as the executive director on the Mars business account in 2014.

This partnership led to a fruitful creative relationship and a host of innovative ideas coming to life.

During Salim’s tenure, Colenso BBDO and Mars developed an interactive app designed to teach kids about dog safety; a digital tool designed to help Kiwis find their lost pets; a quirky app that allows Kiwis to be matched with their canine doppelganger; a so-called child replacement programme that was designed to encourage empty nesters to replace their uni-bound kids with a pet; and a Tinder-like app that matched Kiwis looking for a pet with rescue dogs in their vicinity.

The interesting creative work being developed in New Zealand has also caught the eye of Mars at a global level, with Colenso BBDO collaborating on a US campaign last year that dedicated more than 100,000 bespoke ads to specific dogs publicly registered in New York.

It’s also unclear what Salim is planning for his next move. It is, however, understood that Salim and Slavin are not leaving the agency to start something new together.

A number of senior changes at Colenso BBDO and its holding company the Clemenger Group over the past year include the appointment of Angela Watson as the managing director of Colenso BBDO and Strahan Wallis as the CEO of the Clemenger Group in New Zealand.

Neither Watson nor Wallis have responded to requests for comment on the departures.

A public relations professional from Clemenger-owned Porter Novelli told the Herald that the agency doesn’t discuss “individual employment arrangements”.

The Clemenger Group is 74 per cent owned by the BBDO Worldwide network, which is in turn owned by New York-based advertising juggernaut the Omnicom Group.

The other 26 per cent of the Clemenger Group is owned by directors and staff at the business, through an internal programme that offers employees of the company an opportunity to become shareholders.

Other changes to have occurred within the broader group this week included the announcement that Australia-based Clemenger chairman and chief executive Robert Morgan will hand his CEO responsibilities to Les Timar from next year. This marked an end to his 23-year tenure as the CEO of the overarching group. The announcement said he would remain the chairman of the company.

A Clemenger promotion

Another staff announcement out of the Clemenger Group this week was the promotion of Brigid Alkema to the position of chief creative officer of the Wellington office of Clemenger BBDO.

She also became the first female New Zealander to be appointed to the global BBDO creative board.

The promotion comes off the back of years of award-winning work, particularly for Government clients.

Clemenger BBDO’s client portfolio includes Waka Kotahi, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Human Rights Commission, the Energy Efficiency & Conservation Authority and the Ministry of Social Development.

The agency has been behind much of the Covid-19 communications released by the Government since the start of the pandemic.

“We’re proud to produce work that makes a difference in Aotearoa,” said Alkema.

“There’s a weight to these problems, we take them seriously and we try our best to get it right. When our work connects with people and moves them – we feel good. We’re having fun and we’re forever learning. I couldn’t work at a better place, alongside a better bunch of people.”

Alkema isn’t ready to rest on her laurels yet.

“Tomorrow sees us striving to ace an environment that looks after a diverse team the best we possibly can,” she said.

“As the world turns, how do we keep building an environment that supports high performers to operate on the edge? What does work/life harmony look like when it’s humming for each individual as well as for the team? And how do we help our people enjoy ‘hard’ when we all agree, the kind of wins we want are on the other side of it? These are some of the challenges I look forward to solving with the brilliant minds of the BBDO board.”

Garrett's new role

In other news this week, former Colenso BBDO boss Nick Garrett was confirmed as a partner at Deloitte Creative.

Garrett was the chief executive at Colenso BBDO between 2010 and 2015, before crossing the Tasman to take over the reins at Clemenger BBDO in Melbourne.

He eventually left the Clemenger Group in 2019 and has been consulting independently for the past 18 months.

His move to Deloitte marks a continuation of a trend that has seen top advertising talent join the consulting giants, which have made no secret of their ambitions to occupy this space.

Locally, we recently saw Justin Mowday and Damon Stapleton leave DDB to set up The Monkeys for Accenture in the local market.

In the past few weeks, the consulting firm also named advertising legend David Droga as the chief executive and creative chairman of Accenture Interactive.

The appointment of this calibre of talent indicates that the major consulting firms are willing to invest an enormous amount into this space.

Should this trend continue, traditional advertising agencies could face a challenge in terms of holding onto their top-tier staff.

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