Norman out, Alexander in as Martin Agency creative head

It was front-page news in the Richmond Times Dispatch this morning (albeit in the lower left-hand corner).

After less than three years as The Martin Agency’s chief creative officer, John Norman was leaving the ad agency, and Joe Alexander, executive creative director and Norman’s second in command was replacing him, at least temporarily.

Out as Martin CCO

According to the agency’s statement, the decision was mutual and the two parties were just “parting ways.” Citing personnel issues, the statement went on to say that “Norman has been with the agency for two and a half years and he has had a considerable, positive impact on this company. We absolutely wish him the best.”

Did he jump, or was he pushed?

As you might expect, tongues are already wagging about possible stories behind the story.

The disappearance of the digital version of the story from got them wagging even faster.

Lawyers aren’t amicable

According to, Norman’s departure was “amicable.”

But when things are amicable, do you call in a lawyer?

According to the Times Dispatch‘s Louis Llovio, Norman did. “‘I can’t comment on whether it was mutual or not,’ [Norman] said Thursday, adding that he was speaking with an attorney but had not decided to pursue legal action,” Llovio reported.

Out of the office

In May, Norman went on what Llovio describes as “a self-imposed break” and calls “a sabbatical.”

He e-mailed employees that “I have decided to take a sabbatical and regroup for a few weeks and spend some time with my family and myself, getting recharged for the remainder of 2012.”

Was that “sabbatical” a mutually agreed-on decision? Nobody’s saying.

Out of character

Unlike most advertising agencies, Martin is anything but a revolving door for creatives and creative directors.

Norman was only the third top creative director they’ve had in 35 years. The first, Harry Jacobs, started as president and creative director in 1977. He chose Mike Hughes (his first hire, incidentally, in 1978), to succeed him — as creative director, later as president.

If nothing else, Norman’s leaving after two and a half years is, to say the least, inconsistent.

Culture clash?

The local Richmond culture is infamous for not taking all that kindly to newcomers, and unlike his predecessors and his interim successor, Norman didn’t work his way up through Martin’s ranks.

Hughes has been with the agency for 34 years. Alexander’s been there since 1992. and, after being a key player on Walmart, the agency’s highest-billing account, was promoted to executive creative director this February.

Norman, by contrast, started at the top, joining from Weiden + Kennedy Amsterdam in January, 2010 — as co-chief creative officer.

Short of expectations?

An ad agency’s chief creative officer is a key leader in new business pitches, and “[o]n Norman’s watch, Martin was exceptionally busy on the new business front, if not always fruitful. ”

While the agency won Nestle and Kraft Foods brand assignments, they lost in the BMW of North America and Hewlett-Packard finals and didn’t even make the final cut on ExxonMobil’s global business.

One layer too many?

To its credit, The Martin Agency has resisted the creeping title inflation that’s infected other national advertising agencies.

So it’s possible they may have concluded that chief creative officer was one box on the organization chart they just didn’t need.

“Our executive committee will be meeting to discuss what’s next in structure,” Hughes e-mailed Adweek. “Does our company need a CCO? Maybe. We’ll hire the ‘doers’ and worry about the titles later,” he added.

And in Hughes’s book, Alexander is certainly a “doer.”

“Joe’s emphasis is on the work and the people who do the work,” he wrote. “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.”