Martin Agency Turns to Alexander to Lead Creative (Updated)

Shift follows John Norman's exit

With creative chief John Norman exiting The Martin Agency, agency president Mike Hughes has named Norman’s No. 2, Joe Alexander, to lead the creative department—at least for now.

“Our executive committee will be meeting to discuss what's next in structure,” said Hughes, in an email, when asked if he'd seek a new chief creative officer. “Joe's emphasis is on the work and the people who do the work. Who would have thought Walmart would be winning One Show medals? Joe's got the creative reins. He's doing great and we're doing fine.”

“Does our company need a CCO? Maybe,” Hughes added, before concluding, “We'll hire the 'doers' and worry about the titles later.”

Alexander is a logical choice to lead the 100-person creative department because he's already the sole executive creative director. He's also a key player on Walmart—the agency’s largest account by revenue.

Finally, Alexander is a Martin veteran, having worked there since 1992, when he joined as a copywriter. He subsequently rose through the ranks via a series of promotions, the last of which made him executive creative director in February.

In contrast, Norman was a relative newcomer, having arrived as co-CCO—alongside Hughes—in January 2010. Less than a year later, Hughes shed his creative title, placing the reins squarely in the hands of Norman, a former creative leader at Wieden + Kennedy.

On Norman’s watch, Martin was exceptionally busy on the new business front, if not always fruitful. The shop landed brand assignments from Nestlé and Kraft Foods and reached the finals of several high-profile reviews, including BMW of North America last year and Hewlett-Packard earlier this year.

BMW and HP ultimately selected other agencies, however. Martin also pursued ExxonMobil’s global business, but got cut before the final round.

Creatively, the agency has shown signs of improvement in those two years, with its Geico and Walmart work in particular standing out. That said, the improvement—and the new business results—might have fallen short of expectations.

Norman’s exit was not entirely surprising. In May, he emailed his staff, indicating that he was taking a “sabbatical” for a few weeks after a challenging few months. At the time, some wondered if he’d return. This week an agency representative acknowledged that he won’t, noting that his nearly 2 ½-year run at Martin would end next week.