Talk to anyone who worked at a WPP-owned company over the last three decades, and it’s likely they’ll have a kind word to say or a warm story to share about Stacey Singer.

“I went to Ogilvy because Stacey was there, basically,” says Mary Anderson, group president, medical education at Haymarket Media (the parent company of MM+M). “I guarantee you I wasn’t the only one.”

Neuro-Insight global CEO John Zweig, who hired Singer at WPP, goes even further. “We’ve so contaminated praise with superficial exaggerations,” he says. “That said, it is hard to characterize somebody, like Stacey, who stands so far above.”

Yet among the agency trailblazers of her era, Singer’s industry profile was strangely muted. She wasn’t a regular on the awards circuit; she didn’t stuff her calendar with speaking engagements. As it turns out, that was entirely by choice.

“Fame was one of the things I said ‘no’ to,” Singer says plainly. “I didn’t spend a lot of time networking. I opted not to work on global business. I only did the things that allowed me more balance.”

Asked about this comment, Zweig responds that Singer is considerably underselling the “bravery and integrity” it took to push back against those secondary demands of the job.

“We’re living at a time and in an industry where fame itself has been the goal of so many people … and let’s face it, the agency business has always had people who spoke everywhere and who sucked up and entertained clients, and developed a high profile that way,” he continues. “Stacey’s not that. At all.”

While Singer received an undergraduate degree in finance from George Washington University and an MBA in marketing and health administration from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, her first job was in the realm of hospital consulting. As fate would have it, one of the hospitals with which her company worked made the decision to hire a medical marketing agency.

“That was a world I didn’t know existed,” Singer recalls.

Once she entered that world — at the well-remembered Thomas Ferguson Associates, which was acquired by and merged into WPP in 1990 — Singer never left. What distinguishes her career from those of so many agency lifers is its breadth.

Singer didn’t latch onto a single expertise or internal group. Rather, she moved deftly from one specialty and WPP unit to the next.

She grew Adient, originally a small CommonHealth offshoot, into a successful organization in its own right. She cofounded and led MBS/Vox, a company focused on doctor/patient communication. Even without significant med-ed experience, she ran HLS, CommonHealth’s medical education unit. She even filled in as CommonHealth CFO for a stretch.

“Stacey was a fixer. Anytime something wasn’t working, you brought Stacey in,” Anderson says.

After WPP triumphed in the multi-network derby for Johnson & Johnson’s $150 million consolidated pharma account, the agency/client relationship got off to a slow start, Zweig recalls. “Six months in, they called and said we totally screwed everything up, we didn’t deliver. So I went down there and put my head in the lion’s mouth, and offered up Stacey. Of course she turned it around.”

And so it was that Singer spent more than half a decade spearheading what came to be known as Team Chemistry.

“The goal was to try to make our 40 agencies operate as one for the client,” she says. “If you know anything about how agencies operate, well … It was one of the most interesting and challenging things I did.”

Fittingly, Singer spent the final years of her WPP tenure working to refine the art of the client relationship. A program that she developed, designed to more effectively measure client satisfaction, quickly became a company mainstay.

“This was a very weird career,” Singer says with a laugh. “But sometimes you have to go sideways to move forward. Sometimes it’s more about doing interesting things and learning rather than following the usual path.”

Singer stands apart just as much for the way she challenged the norms of woman leadership in the agency world. “When I started, there were more women at the top of or near the top of these companies, but none of them had children. Mine was the first class that had children and then came back,” she recalls.

In breaking with the conventions of the era — and departing work twice to have children — Singer became a role model for current and future colleagues.

“Because Stacey had her priorities straight, we could have our priorities straight,” Anderson says. “We didn’t have to negotiate work and family.”

While Singer says the agency world in general was “pretty good” about concerns around life/work balance and that WPP in particular was extremely accommodating of her choices, she still felt conflicted about the way those choices were perceived.

“You know how it is. If a man says, ‘I have to leave at three o’clock because my son has a ball game,’ it’s like, ‘What a great dad!’ But if a woman says the same thing, it’s, ‘Oh, she’s not truly committed.’”

Singer’s commitment to her work and the industry extends to this day. Three years ago, she opened her own business, Stacey Singer Consulting. “I loved my experience at WPP, but I got to a point where I felt I only wanted to be responsible for myself,” she says.

The consultancy specializes in helping agencies keep, nurture and grow their client relationships. Think of it as a user experience shop, but with clients as users.

The idea for the consultancy was sparked by Singer’s WPP experience. “When I ran client satisfaction surveys, it jumped out at me that often the difference between success and failure was how you got something done,” she explains.

A client complaint she saw time and again was that the end result was good — but that getting to it was an ordeal. “Agencies always focus on the work; clients focus on the process,” Singer continues. “So I talk with agencies about the getting-there part of it, about how they need to show up for clients in moments big and small.”

Singer declines to identify the agencies with which she is working, but allows that some of them are under the WPP umbrella. “At first, most of my business was from people who worked for me or who I used to work for, which is a great compliment. They knew I could help them in a very specific way,” she says.

Singer’s steadying hand proved invaluable for agency clients as they navigated the disorienting first few months of the pandemic. After they got past “the delusion we all had that this would only be two or three weeks,” as Singer puts it, they called on her to help them maintain both internal and external relationships — to effectively engage their people and their clients, to train them in from-afar relationship management and more.

“I’m continuing to learn, which I love,” Singer says.

She has no plans to step back anytime soon. “I’ve always had this mindset that, whatever I’m focused on, I’m focused on — until I’m not,” she adds. “I love that I get up early on Saturday mornings and do a few small things for work. I’ll keep doing this until I wake up on a Saturday and think, ‘Nah, don’t want to.’”


Stacey Singer career timeline:

Stacey Singer Consulting
President
April 2019-present

Vantage Global Client Satisfaction, WPP
Practice lead
2015-April 2019

Team Chemistry, a WPP company
CEO
2009-2015

CommonHealth, a WPP company
Managing partner
2006-2009

Health Learning Systems, a CommonHealth company
President
2003-2006

MBS/Vox, a CommonHealth company
President
1999-2003

CommonHealth
Chief administrative officer
1995-1999