Raahil Chopra
Jan 30, 2024

How a creative chief of staff helped DDB bag ‘network of the year’ at Cannes Lions in 2023

DDB’s creative chief of staff, Susie Walker, was in India last week, as part of a global creative council meet organised by the agency. We caught up with her to learn more about her job role, how her 10-year working experience at Cannes Lions helped the network, and more…

How a creative chief of staff helped DDB bag ‘network of the year’ at Cannes Lions in 2023

Susie Walker, creative chief of staff, DDB Worldwide, was in India last week as the agency had a creative meet organised by Rahul Mathew, group chief creative officer, DDB Mudra, for the Asia Creative Council.  


During her visit to the country, which was her first one in an official capacity, we caught up with her to learn more about her job role, whether India is performing as per expectations, and what DDB is doing to retain its ‘network of the year’ title at the Cannes Lions this year.


Edited excerpts:


Could you explain your role as creative chief of staff? 


I’ve been in my role for the last 18 months. It’s a very strange title, and I joined to partner Ari (Weiss), who was chief creative officer (who has moved on since then).


DDB is thought of as a confederation of different agency brands and has strong agency brands in different countries, like the Mudra, 22feet and Tribal brands. What Ari was looking for, and a CCO works very differently, was for someone to partner with him and bring the senior leaders across the different agency brands together.


I’ve spent the last 18 months, working with different agencies and groups of agencies and in particular their creative leaders. I’ve known Rahul and Aditya (Kanthy, CEO, DDB Mudra Group and Omnicom Advertising Services) for a while, while I was working with the Cannes Lions.


My role is about community, culture and excellence. At DDB, our product is creative and that is our number one priority. If we are making a brilliant product, everything else will fall into place. Creative is about people, and without people there’s nothing. The big thing I’ve rolled out in the last 18 months is our creative council which is called the ‘Bullseye’. It came out of DDB Latin America. They’ve been running that model for five years. I lifted that and brought it globally and that’s what we’re working on in India right now.


Rahul, who is the CCO of DDB Mudra, heads the chief creative council across Asia.


You mentioned your last role with the Cannes Lions. How different is this world compared to your previous avatars?


I was expecting this massive culture change, but weirdly, it hasn’t been the case. Everyone’s been incredibly welcoming. One of the reasons I came to DDB was that while I was working with the Cannes Lions team, there was not one person I met, who I didn’t like.


DDB has a hiring policy, which is about ‘talented, but nice’. The team is interesting and interested.


DDB won network of the year at the Cannes Lions last year. Having worked with the Lions before that, were you able to share some inside tips to help win that accolade? 


I think that’s the conspiracy (outside of DDB). Part of the reason why I took the role was that I could see the various offices from DDB were creating brilliant work, but were somehow operating separately. When you see great networks, performing very well with businesses and clients it means they’re using the network to their advantage and clients see the advantage too. 


For example, a client in India gets Aditya and Rahul but also gets people from other offices in the network. That was lacking in DDB slightly before, and I had a belief that if we could crack that, then it would unlock a lot of the power of the network.


I was surprised that we would be able to unlock that potential in a year. The power of the creative councils is that you are bringing senior creative and business leaders together out of their day-to-day life, to see the work happening in other offices.


There are other agencies too that have these councils running for years though...


Yes, it’s not unique to DDB, but for the group, it wasn’t happening earlier. The level of work that we were getting in India, for example, is now being pushed across to Europe and agencies like Adam&Eve.


You’re talking about consolidation of sorts. In India, recently the group announced Omnicom Advertising Services with Aditya Kanthy helming it. Are other regions also looking at it?


It’s not part of the big plan. Each market is different and has different economies, clients, agencies etc. It’s not on the table right now, but for all you know, we could have different plans in place.


DDB globally has had a pretty good 2023, including winning network of the year at Cannes. The work in India has been pretty good too. What are the 2024 goals?


India is getting stronger and stronger. The journey Aditya and Rahul have taken the agency on has been tremendous and it’s only getting better and better. The work was great too – there was a successful campaign for Battle Grounds Mobile India, and there's one more soon coming up. 


It’s not only about the creative, but the level of craft too. I can see the work developing here. The EatQual platform for McDonald’s has also been developing and that’s been pushed every year.


It’s all going in the right direction – great insights from the strategy team which have been executed very well by the creative team. When an agency is working at its best, all departments have to be working in sync with the brand.

In terms of targets, I can’t reveal exact plans for the year. But we want to see DDB Mudra winning at global award shows more for sure. India can win seven Lions every year and it’s got the team to do so. We don’t have a cynical plan to win, but want to show up in the best way we possibly can.


Winning it (network of the year), two years in a row is difficult but not impossible.


You’ve previously said you love work, data and people. That’s what the industry entails. In what order would you rank the three loves?


The work is the most important thing always because that’s what the business is about. We need to have the best creative product and that can’t come without the people and data. It’s quite like an equilateral triangle.


Some believe people are replaceable though…


No, they’re not. Talent is a struggle, so people could be the most important component.


How difficult is it to find the right talent? Is advertising getting its attractiveness back?


I was talking to a senior leader from the Bengaluru team, who started in advertising, then moved to broadcast media and worked as a consultant before coming back to this industry by joining DDB. She came back because she met the team and thought it was an interesting place for her to be. I think we’ll see more people like me (who have never been in advertising) join the industry too.


I’ve been surprised by the fact that how receptive and valued my input is in the business. It makes sense that diversity of thought leads to better work.


We’ve spoken about Aditya and Rahul. What are your views on the India leadership team? Are any new hires in place?


Aditya and Rahul are solid and work as a great team. It’s brilliant when you have a business leader who is passionate about the work and a creative leader who’s passionate about the business. That isn’t usual. These two are the real deal. It’s refreshing.

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