Ogilvy Toronto appoints new creative leader

Ogilvy Toronto has new creative leadership, hiring Meg Farquhar away from Leo Burnett Chicago to take over as executive creative director.

She also joins CEO John Killam, chief strategy officer Tom Kenny, and chief client officer Marie-Lise Campeau on Ogilvy’s executive team.

Farquhar takes over the top creative role after the agency parted ways with former chief creative officer Brian Murray in December. Murray led its creative department for more than three-and-a-half years.

Killam said that he considered candidates from around the world, and had “serious conversations” with approximately seven to 10 before deciding on Farquhar.

“Meg has a broad range of experience, and there are lots of [countries] she’s worked in, including the U.S., that are of interest to our clients,” he said. “Her experience at driving cultural connections, which is so important in the work we do, is going to be really helpful for us.”

Ogilvy Toronto’s leadership team (from left): CEO John Killam, chief strategy officer Tom Kenny, chief client officer Marie-Lise Campeau and executive creative director Meg Farquhar.

It’s a network homecoming of sorts for Farquhar, who started her career with Ogilvy—working at offices in Brazil, Singapore and David São Paulo and contributing to award-winning campaigns for Unilever, Coca-Cola, Motorola and Kraft. She has also held senior creative roles at EnergyBBDO and Mekanism, working on brands including Peloton, Jim Beam and the National Safety Council.

She spent nearly two years as senior vice-president, creative director at Leo Burnett Chicago, overseeing creative for brands including Marshall’s, Aldi and Kellogg’s.

In addition to serving on juries for the Effies, Health Clios and The Global Awards, she has also won multiple Cannes Lions (including three Gold) and D&AD Pencils for work including the National Safety Council’s 2019 campaign “Prescribed to death” and Coca-Cola’s “Santa’s forgotten letters,” campaign.

Her skillset and experience working with prominent U.S. brands were among the key factors in her hire, said Killam. “That gave us confidence that she’s going to be able to help us move into the era that’s ahead of us in terms of the requirements that clients have,” he said. “She has a broad range of capabilities.”

While Farquhar had spent several years within the Ogilvy network, she said she heard good things about the Toronto office when former Leo Burnett Chicago CCO—and now No Fixed Address partner/president Jordan Doucette—brought in the agency’s legendary former creative tandem of Janet Kestin and Nancy Vonk to provide some team training.

“Hearing from them about their experience leading the Ogilvy Toronto office, the sort of industry and culture shifting creative they were able to develop, and the creative-first approach to solving real business problems, it all really spoke to me,” she said. “I love when creative is valuable, helpful, and innovative, and after meeting [Ogily’s] newish executive leadership team, I quickly recognized this was not an ethos of the past, but something alive and well today.

“Many of the clients that have a history, even recent history, of doing amazing work with Ogilvy Toronto are with [the agency] today,” she said. “That sort of fidelity and partnership is very appealing.”

Farquhar likens her leadership style to that of a “bulldozer parent,” pushing aside obstacles to let her teams focus on accomplishing the task at hand. “If I’m doing my job well, the creatives should be doing the best work of their careers and connecting with and guiding the brands as true and valued partners,” she said.

“When I started, people asked me which projects I wanted to be involved with and I said ‘Whatever is giving you trouble.’ Anyone can be great on a great opportunity. I want everyone in the department to feel that the great opportunities are theirs for the taking.”

The change in creative leadership comes with Ogilvy in the midst of a creative hot streak under Murray that included Dove’s “Courage is beautiful” and the “Hellmann’s Island” tie-in with Animal Crossing. The expectation internally is that some of that work could be in line for awards show recognition this year.

“[Murray’s] going to have an amazing year in terms of creative accolades based on all the great work we’ve done,” said Killam, although he stressed that the success is the result of a broader team effort. “[I] think it’s important to note that there’s a whole team of people that brought that performance here and helped us kill it.” The change in creative leadership, he said, is a result of an internal decision to “change tack a little.”

“We hit some stuff out of the park last year, for sure,” said Killam, who took over as CEO in 2019. “I want to have that expand across everything that we do and I feel there’s an opportunity to broaden the number of campaigns that we hit it out of the park on.”

Ogilvy’s creative success has also translated into new business wins. In addition to becoming global lead for the Dove Men+Care business, Ogilvy picked up six Canadian clients in 2020, including social media and PR for the Air Miles brand, and CRM work for Rogers Communications in partnership with Theo, the bespoke agency created by WPP to handle the telco giant’s assignment.

Killam acknowledged that making a change to Ogilvy’s senior creative leadership at a time when its output has been so strong might raise eyebrows, but said that Farquhar has brought great energy to the role, even working remotely. “It’s just fantastic,” he said. “I’m pretty excited about where it’s going to go.”

(This story has been updated).

Chris Powell