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Are three agency heads better than one?

If, like me, you took a nice long summer vacation you might have missed the news from Golin that it has appointed three CEOs – Jonathan Hughes, Matt Neale and Gary Rudnick – who will share the chief executive responsibilities.

In a moment of beautiful PR-speak, Golin presented this move as CEO+. The cynic inside me chuckled when reading the press release, but it got me thinking. Quite a few successful PR firms have a joint leadership structure.

Off the top of my head (in the UK) the following firms have more than one leader (although the job titles do vary) Hope&Glory, Lansons, Octopus, Frank PR, M&C Saatchi PR, and Brands2Life. That’s a list of good agencies. Multiple leaders is no means a universal trend, and there is not much evidence to suggest that it is an accelerating one, but it does have some advantages.

As Lansons MD Stuart Graham points out: “having four MDs works exceptionally well, when you consider all the aspects of running a busy large agency, such as ensuring you are delivering exceptional client service; driving new business development; marketing;  general operations etc."

“Three MDs is better than one” says Golin’s Matt Neale, “it has to lead to greater collaboration. It also means we can get things done more quickly; we each have separate areas of responsibility. Gary is in charge of everything operational, Jon heads up international and I’m in charge of the Golin vision, including overseeing new products and thought leadership.”

I suggest it’s odd that Golin has had three CEOs in 60 years before now, and suddenly it finds itself with three at the same time. But Neale replies: “If one of us had got the job it would have alienated the other two… the three of us have known each other a long time. I’ve worked with Jon for 10 years and with Gary for seven.”

So joint leadership is more likely to be successful if the key players know each other before taking up the shared position.

Hughes, Neale and Rudnick will report to Golin chairman Fred Cook and IPG’s CFO Frank Mergenthaler. The new structure will go into effect on 1 January 2017.

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