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DDB NZ and industry veteran Chris Willingham joins R.M. Williams as CMO

R.M. Williams has tapped Chris Willingham to take on the vacant role of chief marketing officer at the iconic Australian brand.

Willingham moves into the retail industry, following almost 30 years in lengthy and varied career on the other side of the fence, most recently as managing director of DDB Aotearoa.

Chris Willingham

Confirming his move, DDB Worldwide CEO and NZ Chairman Marty O’Halloran thanked Willingham for his work over the past couple of years.

“The problem with being the best in your field is that people want what you have. We were lucky to attract someone with Chris’ international experience. During his time with DDB Chris has been instrumental in winning and running a number of top clients. We’ll miss him and his passion for the business, and wish him best of luck in Australia.”

The South Australian-founded retailer was brought back into local control following the purchase by Nicola and Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest for $190 million last October.

Willingham takes over from Mathew Hayward, who called time on his role at R.M. Williams in February this year. Willingham was in the role when the company transitioned into Tattarang’s ownership, from Louis Vuitton backed L Catterton.

No stranger to moving country for a role, Willingham’s past experience has seen him as global business director on the Nike account at Wieden + Kennedy in Oregon, CEO of BBDO Singapore, as well as roles at Saatchi & Saatchi, TBWA Worldwide and Fallon in London.

The challenge ahead for Willingham will be to return R.M. Williams to its status as a truly Australian brand, as The Australian Financial Review reported in January that Forrest wants to do “whatever it takes” to return 100% of the retailer’s operations to Australia.

In addition, R.M. Williams brought its global insights and media strategy back into local hands in January, engaging Audience Precision, to take over from OMD. Audience Precision’s CEO Haydon Bray said at the time that the agency and brand share the same passion to further expand R.M. Williams globally.

Willingham’s departure comes soon after a reshuffle at DDB Aotearoa, which saw DDB Sydney managing director, Priya Patel appointed CEO in New Zealand. Patel is replacing Justin Mowday, who along with former chief creative officer Damon Stapleton left the agency to found The Monkeys’ New Zealand venture. 

O’Halloran added that he and Patel will be working together on the next steps for the agency.

DDB Group Australia CEO David Little also had his remit expanded to become regional president and CEO of Australia and New Zealand.

R.M. Williams were approached for comment however had no response at the time of publishing.  A replacement for Willingham is yet to be announced.

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