Feature

Yahoo! Report: A view from Vodafone

David Wheldon, Vodafone's director of brand and customer experience, talks about working with David Beckham and Lewis Hamilton, the future of mobile ads and being able to speak both 'client' and 'agency'.

David Wheldon, Vodafone's director of brand and customer experience since 2004, has a unique perspective on the marketing world. He's not just a big-hitting client (he was formerly the worldwide director of advertising at Coca-Cola), he's also had senior management roles at Lowe Howard-Spink, BBDO, Tempus and WPP.

On starting out After university, I was teaching English as a foreign language and travelling around. I had a fabulous time but I got to about the age of 25 and thought, "Crikey, I'd better try to do something serious," and decided I wanted to get into advertising. I wanted to be a copywriter and so I signed up for D&AD courses, at the second of which my tutor was the legendary Dave Trott. At the end of the course he said I'd probably make a fair to middling copywriter, but a really good account man. That's how I ended up getting a job at Saatchi & Saatchi as a graduate trainee in 1983.

On achieving a work-life balance I really do like travel in moderation. I love my wife, I love my kids, I like to see them as much as I can. I like to have a bit of time for me, I like to have time for mates ... so I manage to keep it in balance most of the time. The phases I've had when I didn't do any travelling, I've missed it. I do love getting in where the business is done.

On the unique perspectives gained from working at the top level on both sides of the fence When you go from the agency to the client side, you start to realise pretty quickly how much time in an agency is wasted because people aren't expressing what they really think clearly enough. I speak "client" and "agency" and those still are two very different languages. Very few people speak both of them. In the advertising industry, there isn't a deep enough understanding of client businesses, what goes on inside them and what they need in terms of support on the outside. Ad agencies still recognise theprimacy of the big idea and vaguely understand that it needs to be multiplatform and be able to do all sorts of different things. But in truth, the advertising industry has moved on very little since the 80s.

On when it's time for a pitch The rule generally is if three pieces of work in a row aren't good enough, then you get to the bit when we go: "Guys, we were asking for some action on this." Our global lead creative agency is Bartle Bogle Hegarty and if we were holding a local pitch these days we would always put a WPP agency on the list - but they have to win the business. We're not giving them anything other than a chance to be there. And actually, they really ought to be able to because of the deep knowledge they have of our business and our brand right now.

On the inspiring figures encountered along the way Sir Frank Lowe was brave enough to bet on me and give me a job when other people wouldn't have - so I'm always grateful for that. We had a volatile relationship, but I enjoyed his eccentricities. I also enjoyed the fact that he believed in the primacy of the idea - and there's been no-one better at building senior client relationships. Also Sergio Zyman, the former chief marketing officer at Coca-Cola, was an inspiration because he had the art of simplifying everything - and was a really excellent, crisp communicator.

On David Beckham and Vodafone's use of celebrities We were exceptionally lucky because when we first began developing a relationship with David Beckham, he was just becoming a superstar and in a marketing context he was just such a natural, regular guy. Now we are the huge beneficiaries of the world's next Formula One superstar, Lewis Hamilton. You couldn't meet a nicer, more modest young man. If you get someone who is on the upswing and you ally your brand to them in the right way, then it's very powerful.

On the growing importance of the internet as an advertising medium We're now in partnership with lots of internet brands and we can see the business through their eyes too. It doesn't quite yet have the reach that television does but it is more nimble, more accountable. And it's true that as a technology company, we're natural evangelists for the medium. We see future revenue in mobile advertising, so we need to be expert at it and understand it.

On digital's impact on traditional advertiser-agency relationships There is an increasing amount of direct contact between advertisers and media owners. The worry is that, because of this, agencies might not continue to attract the talent that they - and we - need. In certain areas of expertise, I'm seeing increasing amounts of talent in these new funky agencies and less of it in traditional ones.

On a non-Vodafone campaign or strategy that has excited you recently I like Innocent as a product and a brand and as a construct. I also like the fact that the packaging is treated with the same love and care that an ad would be and there are real deliveries of everything that it communicates. It's a great product at a ludicrous premium. There's a lot to be learned from that.

On a big idea for the future in any field I believe that the world can be saved through collaboration - collaboration of various people that back in my student days I would have seen as the enemy. I now see that multinationals can be a force for good. If business and non-governmental organisations could really collaborate with some of the politics around the world, then poverty would go away. I'm not talking about Live 8 and Live Earth and all that sort of stuff. I'm talking about something involving serious commitment from companies.

If you live on planet Earth, you will have heard of Russell Davies, Campaign columnist and blogger extraordinaire at russelldavies.com. He talked about this interview on his blog and we invited people to submit questions for David. Here's one of the best, posted by Jeremy:

Given that the big old internet companies tend to get aced by the new kids on the block such as Flickr and Facebook, how do you think Vodafone Live! will fare in the brave new mobile internet world? The once walled garden of Vodafone Live! is getting a makeover - the walls are coming down and new partners are going to make Vodafone Live! a more vibrant place to visit. We believe that Vodafone will fare very well.