Ogilvy turns 70 this week. Those years have brought about significant change in the industry—far from the landscape David Ogilvy once dominated. Now, in the midst of advertising unrest, the shop is dramatically shifting course and finding a new voice to stay relevant.
A re-founding has been led by current chief executive John Seifert, who is managing the tension between staying true to who Ogilvy is and adapting to the times. Seifert implemented the Next Chapter strategy in a bid to bring back the core values upon which David Ogilvy built his company and reinterpret them for a modern world.
Campaign US caught up with Seifert and next generation leader Carina De Blois, who was recently appointed global lead on the company’s Samsung business, to chat about where the agency is heading.
John Seifert, CEO
You’ve spent your entire professional life at Ogilvy—39 years. Where's it heading next?
Ogilvy’s mission from day one has been to build brands. David Ogilvy’s founding vision was to put creativity at the heart of building brand. He understood the power of a brand in driving business growth.
In an age of big data, algorithms, digital disruption, some in the industry are saying brands no longer matter. We argue that they matter now more than ever. In a world of myriad consumer choice, brands are the only things that help companies connect emotionally with consumers. Our job is to help our clients’ brand make that emotional connection. Our mission statement is "make brands matter." The language is new but it’s the same core principle, David’s founding principle.
One of the first things you did when you became CEO was to restructure the entire organization under a plan you called Ogilvy’s Next Chapter. Why?
I did it for one simple reason, the Ogilvy brand. I had felt that in pursuit of growth over a period of time when everything in our industry was about adding stuff, adding capabilities, adding new value propositions, acquiring new entities, that we had become a mini holding company. And I really felt the Ogilvy brand was being diminished. I believed that to grow in the future, we needed to have a point of view that was distinctively Ogilvy, brand ourselves in a compelling way. And then be really disciplined about how we execute it for both for our people and for our clients.
Functionally, that meant moving from individually managed business disciplines to a connected organization comprised of experts that puts clients at the center of everything that we do. But more importantly, philosophically, it meant going back to the the values, principles, and ways of thinking about our company and brand that David Ogilvy built 70 years ago. The end result is a well-defined, unified creative network that brings together experts, capabilities, crafts, and ideas in pursuit of making brands matter.
How does next gen talent play a role in all of this?
Recruiting, developing and retaining top talent at every level is a top priority; it is especially true for next gen talent. Not keeping a constant pipeline of future leaders is the surest path to extinction. It is one of the reasons why we’re being so bold with our transformation agenda. I don’t want to lose talent who are impatient for change and who want a bigger role in the company, who don’t think we’re moving fast enough and who therefore go some place else.
I also have a very personal stake in this not only as a leader of the company but because I feel compelled to pay it forward. Throughout my 39 years at Ogilvy, I have experienced the generosity of so many senior leaders who were willing to teach me, give me opportunities way, way ahead of my proven ability. It has really been extraordinary. I've only known a company that cared nothing more than helping its people develop and learn. Our re-founding was to try to bring back that sense of founder mentality that has made Ogilvy successful for 70 years.
What are Ogilvy's future goals?
Our goals are two-fold: to be the best place to work, grow and develop for our people, and to be the best partner to our clients in growing their business through building strong brands. I’m confident that we will exist and thrive the next 70 years because everything we are doing today is to ensure that is true.
There will be many things discovered in the future that influence the relationship between consumers and the brands that serve them. Whatever comes around, I am confident that we will have a major role to play in making sure it works for clients. That is the entire premise of "make brands matter."
It will ensure our relevance and success. We simply serve the interest of clients ahead of our own and if we serve them well then they will serve us well. The only risk that exists is if we are not willing to change and that’s why we are being bold with our Next Chapter transformation agenda. We want to ensure we never lose that gene of adapting and looking around the corner to see what’s next.
Carina De Blois, managing partner, worldwide client services
You've been in the industry for 19 years, the last five at Ogilvy. What are some of the biggest landscape changes you've seen that you are excited about and what do you see are some of the biggest challenges?
This is the most complex and dynamic time I've experienced in the industry. It’s just as exciting as it is challenging. The competitive environment continues to heat up and has reached a point where legacy brands are having to push themselves to go back to their values and what makes them special and purposeful in order to differentiate against the start ups or disruptor brands that are becoming more relevant and at accelerated speeds.
We now even see start ups and brands like Amazon and Google turn to agencies and advertising to compete where traditionally they only needed to rely on their product experience to stand out. This environment requires shifts in the agency model, Ogilvy’s Next Chapter is an example of a more modern agency approach that allows us to partner with our clients to creatively solve these challenges more seamlessly and with greater speed.
What are the challenges of managing a global and well-established brand like Samsung?
The balance between having a team and work that shows both a universal understanding of trends and what’s happening in culture as well as a local relevance—this can’t happen from one place. We have to bring together our network of experts, this has been a much more seamless collaboration and operation our global clients are benefiting from since Next Chapter.
You're an advocate of diversity and inclusion. What are some of things that Ogilvy is currently doing that you are most excited about to change the face of the agency?
I recently attended a woman's leadership workshop and it was a moment where I paused from the busy day to day and was able to see how far we've come under John’s [Seifert] leadership and how far ahead Ogilvy is as an organization. For example, in the U.S., we are dedicating two-thirds of our annual raise pool to women until pay equity is achieved.
I also see this showing up in how we look to bring in top talent. My Samsung creative partners in London, Johnny Waters and Angus George, are piloting a program they created called The Pipe, that looks at entry level candidates solely on their ideas, not their age, gender, or qualifications. My belief is we need diverse teams that come from different schools of thoughts, backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities and career journeys to uniquely and creatively solve our client problems that continue to increase in complexity.
What advice do you have for other women and the younger generations about how they can drive change within their organization?
Most of the achievements I've experienced in my career have been because I always asked for bigger and better assignments. I'm always raising my hand for more. Most of the time you'll find someone on the other side of the ask ready and willing to support and give you the opportunity. This type of thinking is built into Ogilvy's culture, so much so that there’s a push toward giving big opportunities and big roles to those based on meritocracy more so than the usual years of experience.
This idea of its nothing personal, its business couldn't be further away from the truth in our service model, it’s all about people, our talent. There’s nothing more important than that. In my previous role on IBM, I practiced always on recruiting so we could be constantly on the lookout for the best talent in the industry for one of our larger more dynamic clients.
What are your personal goals as a next gen leader of Ogilvy?
The two most important and exciting goals I'd be most proud to achieve this year is, one: creating a diverse global team for Samsung. I'm partnering with Donna Pedro our chief diversity and inclusion officer; this will allow us to bring our best talent and thinking to our clients.
Two: partnering with Samsung to continue to push the boundaries of their brand and their industry leadership. With all of the business pressures brands face today, to have a client who constantly wants to evolve their last best piece of work and create first-of-a-kind brand experiences is something that gets you excited to wake up and come in the office for everyday or get on that next flight to Seoul.
(The article first appeared in Campaign US)