Go With The Fro: The Man Transforming Weber Shandwick
Michael Frohlich, Weber Shandwick's EMEA CEO, shares how the earned-first mindset is redefining business
03 May 2023
Pace is a word that Michael Frohlich uses a lot. It's also a word that goes well with Frohlich himself. He's a man known for his infectious energy.
Frohlich became the Europe, Middle East and Africa CEO of Weber Shandwick in September 2021, tasked with maintaining a leading position for the company in an ever-changing marketing landscape.
He joined from Ogilvy, where he was the UK CEO and oversaw the restructuring of several disparate business units into a consolidated marketing network.
That experience of driving fundamental change at Ogilvy while getting to grips with the top job - and the very public glare and scrutiny that came with it - undoubtedly made him the right man to turn around the fortunes of what was once traditionally seen as a PR agency network.
So although Frohlich's 25 year career in marketing and communications also includes roles as EMEA CEO of Ogilvy PR, managing director of Shine Communications and founding the Resonate consumer consultancy which became part of Bell Pottinger in 2007, he is far from being a PR man running a PR agency. The breadth of the rejuvenated Weber Shandwick speaks to Frohlich's expansive experience. Today Weber Shandwick, Frohlich says, is the leading earned-first network.
With new hires, a new offering and capabilities, and unexpected award-winning creative work now under his belt at Weber, Frohlich has already added the title of global chief transformation officer to his CEO role.
Last year year he hired the well-respected marketing and new business specialist Jane Douglas as executive vice president of marketing and communications in EMEA. Another heavy hitter, Gen Kobayashi - the former chief strategy officer at Engine Creative, was appointed as EMEA chief strategy officer last summer.
And Frohlich has continued to push the pace this year too. Most recently, Weber Shandwick acquired Diverse Interactive, an agency specialising in AR and VR technology. The move enables the business to expand its technical capabilities into Extended Reality (XR). In the UK, it appointed former Meta exec Ella Fallows as UK head of public affairs. The network has also launched The Weber Shandwick Collective: Women’s Health, the first bespoke, cross-agency offering committed to shaping healthier futures for all women.
Along the way, the network has also been winning accolades for its work. Like 'The Last Mile' campaign for the International Committee of the Red Cross which looked at why out of the billions of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered globally, only a very small percentage reached countries affected by conflict.
So two years in to his Weber Shandwick journey, we asked Frohlich to survey his progress and his ambitions for years ahead.
Creative Salon: What’s the best thing about working at IPG-owned Weber Shandwick?
Michael Frohlich: The difference. From working for a decade at another holding company, which I deeply enjoyed and was proud of, to moving to IPG, there’s a completely different landscape. The culture, language, outlook, priorities and ways of working are all different which has been a fantastic challenge and given me a new and tremendously valuable perspective.
Although the holding companies are different, there is no right or wrong way to operate - just a different way. And for someone who needs to feel forward movement and progression, the change has re-ignited my energy and enthusiasm.
What values do you bring to Weber Shandwick?
Transparency, honesty, action, empathy and humour.
Not taking myself too seriously but understanding and demonstrating that what we do can make a very real and valuable difference in people’s lives.
In what way will you stamp your own mark on the network?
Pace. I can be impatient and I need to feel a constant forward momentum and energy - that’s what gets me up in the morning. This sense of momentum and pace is what I bring to the network - to some colleagues’ excitement and others’ exhaustion!
What’s been the biggest learning in stepping up an international role? Anyone confused by the slightly vague global transformation role, what would you say to them?
This isn’t the first international role I’ve had so I knew what I was getting myself into. A very different style of leadership is required. In single market leadership you can have a personal involvement in the day-day-day, which simply isn’t possible across multiple markets and continents. You must lead by influence and have enough impact when you touch a market that your vision and presence remains. I believe in giving markets the freedom to operate but within a clear framework that ladders up to a collective ambition. That way, everyone is clear what is expected of them and their businesses and can be measured on it.
As Global Chief Client & Transformation Officer, my core focus is to evolve the business to continue to deliver for our clients, today, tomorrow and in the future. This comprises setting a ‘client first’ agenda and ensuring the voice of the client is at the heart of our business: leading our global client community: operationalising how we better deliver the collective strength of TWSC [The Weber Shandwick Collective, 12 group agencies working at the intersections of media, policy, technology and society].
Weber globally is a phenomenal powerhouse; how does that shape the agency’s USP in London?
Weber U.K. is a microcosm of the global powerhouse. It houses the majority of TWSC offerings and has the scale to bring that collective strength to clients, on their doorstep.
We’re also based in a beautifully modern building at the heart of Liverpool street, which gives us the best possible setting to think creatively alongside each other. Our offices also house That Lot’s state of the art video, podcast, editing and broadcast studio, which is a game changer for delivering for clients at pace.
Tell us about the work you have been most proud of at Weber Shandwick, and share your aspirations about the kind of work you would want Weber to be famous for?
2022/2023 is a strong work year for us. Particularly from our Paris office, where our work for Frida, The Uncover and Iberdrola, Turnstiles is ground-breaking, effective and award-winning. Both examples were born from years of hard work, partnerships, collaboration, innovation and are ultimately having a huge impact on society.
The work we are uniquely placed to deliver is born through our ability to thrive at the intersections of technology, media, society and policy. Many agencies can demonstrate work at different intersections, but we have strength in all four - policy being our special sauce. We can take work through the full earned, paid and owned journey and push on policy to make a real change.
Work that ultimately changes policy (be it corporate, social, governmental, technological) is work with real impact and value that we can be proud of. All societies are based on an infrastructure of policies, but we have the capability to change those policies to help shape our clients’ futures.
We have also recently launched TWSC: Women’s Health – a cross-agency group of passionate individuals, working with senior advisors, stakeholders and clients to change perceptions and create an open dialogue to shape women’s health. As part of the launch, we have developed an insights product, The Women’s Health Indicator, developed by data analysts and behaviour experts. This proprietary product informs and identifies specific gaps in women’s health by analysing and assessing thousands of data points measured across society, media, and policy. Our team is driving important thought leadership and brave conversations in this area and I couldn’t be prouder of how we’ve brought this offer to market.
What are your key ambitions for the agency?
To continue to be the world’s leading earned-first network. We want to fully bring the collective power of The Weber Shandwick Collective agencies together to help positively shape the futures of our clients, driving both immediate impact and sustainable value through earning cultural, commercial, shareholder and societal value.
One big un-harnessed opportunity for Weber Shandwick - what do you think that might be?
The collective strength of The Weber Shandwick Collective (TWSC). When working together at the intersections of media, policy, technology and society, watching the 12 agencies within the Collective help shape our clients’ futures has been truly magical to experience and continues to inspire me. Together, there are very few problems we can’t solve, and seeing our clients get excited by what we produce is one of the best feelings there is.
What do you think are the key ingredients that make a modern CEO?
A modern CEO has to be a Chief Empathy Officer as well as a Chief Exec. Listening, hard, to our people and clients is the key to success. In an agile working world, our people are demanding change and flexibility more than ever, and they’re right to do so. Listening to those ideas is the all too easily forgotten aspect of leadership, and for me, it’s the most important.
A CEO must have:
The intuition to be relevant to all stakeholders
Build trust through their communication
The guts to act…
…and then lead with empathy, warmth and humanity.
What advice would you give to those who aspire to run an agency?
Continually question what your true ambition is. Running an agency is just one career goal but is most definitely not the only path. Know who you are and what you’re passionate about and understand what kind of leader you would be running an agency. There is no ‘one size fits all’ and agencies need different leaders at different times.
And be prepared for the curve balls! Getting to the top table and then staying there is rarely a linear process - there are always twists and turns and you have to be intentional in your decision making.
Doses of positivity, scepticism, resilience, tenacity, energy and vision are all required.