Great work for big clients. That’s the rockiest road an agency can travel. Why does Ogilvy think it’s worth it? What could it do better? And what keeps chief executive officer, David Fox, awake at night?
This story is exactly what the headline says it is. I got to ask any question I wanted. Ogilvy answered them all. No bullshit was the only rule.
Welcome inside Ogilvy – with CEO, David Fox; ECD Melbourne, David Ponce de León; ECD Sydney, Gavin McLeod; MD Sydney, Sally Kissane; CSO Sydney, Toby Harrison and head of experience technology Australia, Jason Davey.
Apologies for the occasional video glitch. Video editing was just top-and-tail trimming and the only written answers given more than scalpel editing were those for the diversity (and in particular, age diversity) question. This wasn’t to sweeten them but because the question lit everyone’s fires. There were nearly twenty minutes of content.
The Stable: What are Ogilvy’s most important attributes to you?
The Stable: What could you do better?
David Fox: Everything. We can always improve and the day you think that everything is sweet is the day you go backwards because you’re complacent and complacency is the enemy. We do focus on our competitors but at the end of the day we’re constantly trying to improve and if you don’t you get pretty bored. I know it sounds like an all-encompassing answer but I don’t think there’s anything about which we’d say, “we’re done we’re perfect”.
TS: Given that big brands mean big bureaucracies, how do you do great work for them?
Gavin McLeod: With big clients comes with complexity. It begins with relationships. You can’t do anything nowadays from a creative point of view without relationships. You need to have built trust and that only comes from delivering results, and I think DPL [David Ponce de León] has done a brilliant job of delivering that in Melbourne with a number of clients. I’m early in my tenure but we’ve been pretty successful in doing that almost right off the bat. I also feel that big clients are just as ambitious as small start-ups. They just have a harder process to get through and what they’re not interested in is pursuing stuff that benefits the agency but has little impact on their business. That’s the thing that compromises the trust.
Sally Kissane: The average tenure of our top clients is about eighteen years, so we have some really long and established partnerships that have been built over time and I think we view them as genuine partnerships. Some of our most creative work, like KFC’s, for example, comes from long-standing relationships. I think we’ve been together with KFC for more than twenty-five years. We’re also invested in the business outcome – when we do well, they do well, so creativity and effectiveness are the key for us, so not just doing things that create short-term impact but things that build brands over time.
TS: What does Ogilvy see as great work?
David Ponce de León:
Toby Harrison: There are some benchmarks in the industry that “tell you” you are doing great work, like Cannes Lions for instance, but I think we have a far more practical, honest appraisal of whether our stuff is actually good or not, which is getting ourselves out of this bubble that is the industry. Because no matter how much we think advertising is so bloody important, the truth is regular people don’t think about us at all. So, I’m tremendously proud of a couple of months ago I was walking to pick up my kids from school and I heard kids shouting in the playground, “Did somebody say KFC?” When you genuinely see your work making a shift in culture, that’s what’s really satisfying. It’s great winning awards but you know you are making a difference when your client is showing you the sales figures and you’re starting to correlate that with what’s happening in culture.”
TS: Everything you thought would happen in 2020 hasn’t. What have you faced so far this year and what are your goals for the rest of the year?
David Fox: I think everyone in the marketplace would say frustration. For us, in particular, massive disappointment because we had so much momentum going into 2020 from 2019. We kind of felt like 2020 was our year. We had some new business wins we were excited about doing the work on. We’d just won Agency of the Year and runner-up Digital Agency of the year. We won Asia Pacific’s Best Place to Work. We won Australian Business Employer of the Year for the second year in a row. We were fired up and then the world turned to shit. Job number one became survival for our people here. We were expanding, looking at consulting, looking at bringing in new creative talent, looking at bringing in new social talent and new roles down in Melbourne. It was all very exciting. Then everything stopped. Everyone made sacrifices. Everyone took pay cuts…we burnt the furniture, there’s nothing left in the office anymore, sold the carpet on eBay…We haven’t lost one person so far because everyone worked for each other and because clients were in the same boat and we’ve done some amazing things together.
Jason Davey: Some good things have come out of it as well. We were in a transition to cloud-based working within the organisation and that was accelerated overnight, for example, but it hasn’t been without challenges for sure.
Toby Harrison: I’m disappointed like Fox but also tremendously proud of what we have done. We’ve shown a completely different value to our clients in a way that they hadn’t experienced before because we’ve had the latitude to show a different way in which creativity can be applied to their business, interesting ways that our organisation can help them remedy some of their issues in a way that’s fast, appropriate and practical. It has changed the relationship that they have with us as well. We’re thought of differently as partners than the way we were before.
TS: What worries you most about Ogilvy right now? What’s its greatest challenge?
TS: What wouldn’t you do?
Sally Kissane, David Fox, Toby Harrison, Gavin McLeod:
TS: Ogilvy has been in Australia for fifty years: What’s Ogilvy’s place in the future?
Toby Harrison: There’s a remarkably interesting thing that has gone on over the last two decades which is that the real power that was held by great agencies that understood brands and the ability to build great brands got atomised by specialist services that promised to be the best at what they did. What’s very difficult and what has transpired over time is getting all those best agencies to work together and manage a brand? Where is the consummate understanding of a brand? I know that’s a narrative that’s talked about by some of the consultancy groups but it’s very hard to plug creativity into consultancy. It’s far easier to plug capability into creativity to deliver that better and that’s where we’re getting to now.
Sally Kissane: The very unsexy part of that is that many agencies can do all the different elements of the mix but not many have removed all the internal barriers. We have all of the capability but also the ability to work seamlessly across them because it’s all under one P&L. There are no silos.
TS: How diverse is Ogilvy? What matters to you about diversity?
Sally Kissane: Our philosophy is that we need a balance of serious experience and chops, people who’ve been in the business for a long time but also a lot of young people coming in with the Goliath program and a bunch of things, so great creativity but with great experience guiding the departments and teams. On KFC, for example, we have Shaun Branagan as ECD and Leigh Bignell as group head. They’re able to create an environment where we can do wild and crazy work but the confidence and leadership is there. We really do look to have a balance between age and youthful exuberance, as well as general diversity. Foxy spoke about our turnover. We don’t have a huge amount of turnover. We have a lot of people who’ve been at Ogilvy for a long time. In the last round of our employee survey we included a question, “Do you feel that diversity is valued at Ogilvy”. The score we got nationally was 98%.
Toby Harrison: Our commitment to Changing The Face is living proof, I think. In my department it’s really lovely to know that we don’t worship at the altar of youth, There’s a tremendous amount of respect for those that have been through the muck and bullets over time and have built up a body of experience. There’s this great fusion of people who know none of the rules and people who know all of the rules being collided together, which is where you get these amazing bodies of work. You get these young upstarts’ ideas, and you say, “You can’t fucking do that.” And then you’ve got these brilliant old heads who say, “Well actually you can if you do it this way.” We also took away all the silos in planning and creative, which means you have loads of really interesting thinking working in the same melting pot. You can’t do that unless you embrace the positivity of it. Diversity is the currency of our industry. If you don’t embrace it, you’re screwed.
David Ponce de León: Our 98% diversity approval matters to us. It forces you to look at the way you choose candidates. It forces you to look at the composition of your agency. It forces you, if you’re genuinely committed to it, to put yourself in the position of leading that change. All the excuses we’ve heard up until now are ridiculous. You have to look beyond them and take responsibility. It’s one thing to be passionate about it. It’s another to be proactive. To me it’s about the question, “Do I have the right mix?” and if I don’t actually taking action. Diversity is part of an agency culture that we’re trying to curate through the years.
Gavin McLeod: I’ve worked at a couple of agencies that really do worship at the altar of youth and it’s very uncomfortable when you get to my age because you think, I’ve got a shelf life in this business purely because of my age. But the thing that is really interesting to me as a creative leader is that there is no doubt that the industry is utterly changing and the kind of work that creatives need to produce is vastly wider, so we have a responsibility to make sure that young – and old – creatives are broadening their ability to do that. That’s the first thing. But also, with the change in diversity, the truth is that we are only the beginning of that change. The reality is that it’s the young who will be driving that change. The responsibility we feel we have is to set them up so that they have the skills to deliver in the new world and set them up so that they have the leadership ability to influence how the industry is going to evolve.