Close-Up: The Advocates - A brave new approach for the brave new world

In the latest in Campaign's series The Advocates, championing clients who spend through recession, Nokia's UK marketing director, Will Harris, explains to John Tylee why the telecoms giant has had to start thinking like the new kid on the block.

Atop the roof garden of Nokia's London office, Will Harris, the company's UK marketing director, is predicting where he thinks Britain's creative future lies as his arm sweeps across the skyline of its Soho heartland.

For years, this crammed quarter of the capital has proved inspirational for agencies, production and media companies of all kinds and, more recently, to the latest wave of designers and new-media specialists. And it's these last two groups that clients will be reaching out to in the years to come, he says.

"In five years' time, the creative industries will be more creative than ever," Harris claims. "Yet we as clients will have less and less contact with traditional agency creatives, suits and planners."

In Harris' brave new marcoms world, nothing will ever be quite the same again. How can it be, he asks, when clients have more places than ever before - some of them costing no money - in which to get their messages across?

"We'll never go back to the way we were in 2005 when traditional media had a stranglehold," Harris says.

"Media is cheaper and more prolific. In the last two years, we've switched a lot of money from 'old' to 'new' media and we're investing more in digital than ever before. We were once one of the top three outdoor spenders in the UK. We aren't anymore."

According to Harris, the impact on its agencies, Wieden & Kennedy, appointed in 2007 as the lead global agency for handsets, and JWT, which implements the work globally, is already profound.

"My conversations with Wiedens are rarely about advertising but about activisation, partnerships and media ideas," he explains. "We pay them a fee for that so they're properly rewarded regardless of whether they sell us an ad. What's the point of an agency coming up with a left-field proposal if it can't monetise it?"

Nokia's changing demands on its agencies reflect what's been a dramatic revolution within the company itself. Once better known as a maker of Wellington boots and car tyres, the Scandinavian conglomerate has evolved into the world's largest global handset manufacturer, with almost 40 per cent of the market.

But with handset sales in decline, Nokia is having to reinvent itself as a software rather than a hardware company. Over the past year, it has established a music store and a burgeoning e-mail service, while thousands of customers are now downloading its games.

While the strategy is very much in line with Nokia's tradition of innovation, it presents some significant challenges.

For one thing, the shift takes it into uncharted territory. "This is a new market for us so we become a challenger brand," Harris explains. "We have to be humble and think like the new kid on the block."

For another, it begs the question of whether the Nokia brand can be stretched that far while keeping its credibility. "As long as the product delivers, the brand can stretch," Harris declares. "It's not an implausible leap."

All this emphasises the need for careful husbandry of the Nokia marketing budget. The company won't divulge what it spends in the UK, although industry sources estimate that its annual investment is north of £80 million. However, this is thought to have been shaved by about 10 per cent this year.

Harris argues that brand and price advertising aren't mutually exclusive when allocating that spend. O2 campaigns convey price in a value way and that's what Nokia aims to do, he says. How-ever, his real inspiration is Tesco: "They'll tell you the price of their meat - but that meat still looks tasty."

Moreover, he's happy to have procurement specialists helping him maximise his spend. "They're the best thing that ever happened to a marketing director," he says.

"Bring them in and you make them part of the solution rather than the problem. Keep them out and they mistrust you. But if procurement ever drove agency selection based solely on cost, that would be wrong."

And, he adds, a false economy: "If you try getting agencies to work for next to nothing, they'll just spend their time chasing business on which they can make money. Clients get the agencies they deserve."

Just as controversial is his response when asked if he thinks there are marketing services where he believes he's still overpaying. "Media needs reform," he insists, belying the conventional wisdom that says creative agencies can't hold a candle to their media counterparts when it comes to commercial competence and transparency.

He's at pains to point out that this implies no criticism of MediaCom, which recently lost the £300 million Nokia global media assignment to Carat.

"The number of media outlets has exploded in the last five years but the media business doesn't reflect it," he says. "Media needs taking back into the creative world from which it came."

So, is it cheap media he's really after? "No, it's well-planned media that I want. Only then do I want to worry about how cheap it is."

Meanwhile, it's back to the future. "From the top to the bottom of Nokia, there are just eight levels separating the chairman from the person who writes the contact reports," he points out. "Agencies used to dish out titles just to keep people. Well, they don't have to do that now and they've a real opportunity to establish flatter structures."

And it seems as though Harris' brand of evangelism is getting through. Even JWT, that bastion of the advertising establishment, is shooting a viral for Nokia, which, he smiles, has a budget that "wouldn't cover the cost of the creative director's lunch!"


A love match

Will Harris claims his long-running love affair with advertising is because it combines his twin passions of creativity and commerce.

Indeed, the Nottingham University English graduate once harboured hopes of being a copywriter and thinks he may have a novel in him.

Cast on to the job market as John Major's government struggled with the early 90s recession, Harris was lucky enough to be one of those selected from the 800 who applied for two graduate trainee jobs at Lowe.

Poacher turned gamekeeper

Spells at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and WCRS (to run the Orange account) followed before he joined Genie, then BT's mobile content division, as the marketing director. "I felt I was a better client than an agency person. In an agency, you don't get to make the big decisions about brands and that's frustrating," he says.

Tory blues

A dramatic change of course occurred in 2003 when he worked as the Conservatives' marketing director. The relationship was short and not very sweet. "You're always at the whim of a leader or a donor," he says. "And if you're out of government, you've no power or influence."

An equally brief reign as the chief executive of The Bank agency was followed by a stint as the strategy director of Rebtel, a rival to Skype. He joined Nokia in August 2007.