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McCann Worldgroup

"Diversity is the lifeblood of creativity. Without it, great ideas can't happen"

How McCann Worldgroup's unique collaboration model is working as an inspiring blueprint for brand brilliance across the UK

"Diversity is the lifeblood of creativity. Without it, great ideas can't happen"

McCann Worldgroup in the UK is a thoroughly British network. Which doesn’t mean the Union Jack flies from its mast or that there’s a picture of the Queen above CEO Mark Lund’s desk. Rather that, instead of being a London agency with regional outposts, it’s a seamless group of first class entities in which London plays a role alongside Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Milton Keynes, and Leeds. Anybody who has seen the network’s consistently funny work for Aldi – run out of both Manchester and London – knows how good it is at capturing the national character beyond metropolitan clichés.

A unifying mission and vision
Responsible for driving the network’s global vision – to provide a set of best-in-breed agencies who collaborate seamlessly to drive integration on behalf of clients – under Mark’s stewardship, the diverse talent, thinking and people have enabled McCann Worldgroup to prove this concept in abundance across the UK.

Today, the network’s broad, deep national footprint and unified offering answer Lund’s brief when he arrived five years ago. "The mission was to take a group of very good individual agencies and turn them into a cohesive whole," he says. "Pretty much everything we’ve done since then has been underpinned by the mantra ‘brilliant individually – unbeatable as one’".

He continues: "As agencies and individuals, we work well independently, but there’s a real magic when we come together. The power we have when we combine the understanding of all our
agencies to solve clients’ business problems is inspiring." He recalls a moment in January 2016 when this collegiate atmosphere began to gel. "We went away as a leadership group for a three-day seminar about how we saw ourselves individually and as a business, and how we could work more closely together. By the end of day two the entire dynamic had shifted tangibly. That was the beginning of a collective identity and shared understanding that persists to this day."

He points out the network’s multiple accolades in every leading industry award in both creativity and effectiveness (including top rankings at Cannes, Effie, IPA, WARC, LIA, Creative Circle and EPICA) not to mention its consistent double-digit growth or the past four years, is a direct by-product of this strong sense of collective identity.

Says Lund: "We all have a very clear understanding of the global mission – to help brands play a meaningful role in people’s lives. This rallying cry motivates everyone across the network to value creativity, invest in it, and reward it. That wouldn’t happen if we didn’t see it happening at the centre. This strong connective DNA means that we are exceptionally well positioned to win and partner on global clients in a seamless way.

In addition, the access we have to a range of global resources, combined with our local market expertise, means we can deliver powerful creative solutions for our clients that are both globally and locally impactful."

In addition, the network’s commitment to embedding diversity and inclusion as a core value to enable a culture which fosters excellence in creativity, was exemplified in the appointment of Sufia Parkar as the region’s first diversity & engagement director. Adds Lund: "Diversity is the lifeblood of creativity. Without it, truly great creative ideas can’t happen. It’s a mandate for every single one of us in this industry."

In London, its agency units are preparing to relocate to new shared offices to nurture an ethos of cross-disciplinary fluency and culture in 2020. This new workspace has been designed in part to enable the agency better meet the range of new challenges that clients are facing, requiring a broader range of integrated services.

Equally, the network is keen to reiterate its ‘non-London-centric’ perspective and strength of offer beyond the M25. "If you were to create the communications industry in this country today, you wouldn’t put it all in London," Lund suggests. "There are huge advantages to having half our business outside the capital. We can do much more production in Manchester or Birmingham because we have more space."

Karen Buchanan, CEO of McCann Manchester, explains: "We can offer young talent a standard of living that is hard to achieve in London, which makes it possible to have a more diverse set of people – great for our clients and crucial for the industry’s future."

Creatively speaking, wins in Cannes by Birmingham and Bristol prove that success doesn’t have a single location. As joint UK CCO Rob Doubal says: "In the past, people maybe thought ‘I can’t do famous work because stuff like that doesn’t come from Birmingham.’ It’s an attitude thing."

Each agency is encouraged to retain the stamp that makes it special. Bristol is a case in point. "There’s an almost romantic nature in the West Country that makes the agency creatively and strategically attuned to emotion. The work they’ve done for Nationwide, a financial services company that actually understands people, and Refuge, a charity against domestic violence, is very emotionally nuanced."

It’s also a perspective thing, Lund observes. "If everyone you know lives in London, you become part of an echo chamber of opinion that represents only a small slice of the population. Having offices in other cities gives us a perception of the whole of the country. For many of our clients we have teams both in and outside London, and the interaction between them enriches both sides."

Deeper client partnerships
Aldi is just one beneficiary of this cultural understanding. Lund says: "If the business was run from London without input from the north, Aldi’s heartland, I believe we would have a less firm grasp of the role the brand plays in consumers’ lives." Dean Lovett, CEO, McCann Central, says: "Our clients are facing a host of new competitive and growth challenges that require a wider range of approaches to effectively win over and keep customers. Our strategy, which has seen us diversify our business by broadening and deepening our services across a range of marketing disciplines to meet these client needs, is one of the key reasons we are the most successful agency network in the UK today."

A shared language
"Fortunately, as a collective entity there are an awful lot of things that bring us together. Our clients, our contact with each other, and also our operating system – Truth To Meaning. This is our proprietary strategic process, which has now become a shared language, rather like the way Latin was a unifying force for the Roman empire," explains Lund.

In addition, the entire network has access to the findings of Truth Central, its global research division, which among other things has carried out research into the British identity. "Truth Central provides insights into areas that are of interest to all of us, and therefore unite us. In times of uncertainty – the critical thing for our clients is that we stay close to the consumer to deliver on our global mission: ‘Helping Brands Play a Meaningful Role in People’s Lives.’"

Solving clients’ problems through collaboration
As well as achieving geographical unity, the various skill sets are connected and synergistic – from experiential at Momentum to digital and CRM at MRM, for example – all in service of the client.

Commenting on the cross-agency collaboration for long-standing client Microsoft, Nicky Bullard, chairwoman and CCO, MRM, enthuses: "Collaborating on Microsoft is quite frankly a joy. It’s obviously an amazing brand. We all know which agency is great at what. And we all genuinely like and respect each other. You can see that joy in the creative, can’t you? That’s when you know it works." A particularly strong partnership between strategy and creative supports this vision. With leadership in those areas closely linked in the way they engage with our communities. "We believe it’s the only way to make good work," says Lund.

Good work also requires close partnership with clients. L’Oréal, Microsoft, Mastercard, Nestlé, and Aldi are just a few recent award winning examples. Client and agency teams work closely together to ideate, approve and create work in record time. L’Oréal’s recent ‘non-issue’ issue of Vogue, which combated ageism, came out of this process – requiring quick decision-making on both sides.

"Productive collisions"
One notable aspect of the new London hub at 135 Bishopsgate is that its organisation is inspired by its sister offices in other parts of the UK. "Agencies with several different specialisms collaborate on clients, so it’s better if they’re yards apart rather than streets apart. At the same time, you don’t want to lose the quirks and specialisms that made these agencies great in the first place. We’ve seen how well that works in Birmingham and Manchester – where there are several businesses under one roof – to enhance trust, the exchange of ideas and productivity," says Lund.

Sheryl Marjoram, CEO of McCann London, explains: "Our clients are increasingly under pressure in terms of resources and time, so if we can provide a greater level of coordination, synthesising ideas and processes into a coherent whole, then that benefits all of us. Microsoft’s Fanchise Model was a great example of this – and with several of the agencies who contributed to this success living together under one roof, we hope to accelerate more award-winning collaborative work thanks to the water-cooler effect." Lund sees the London hub as the culmination and showcase of the past five years’ lessons: answering clients’ need for greater collaboration between agencies, while safeguarding the agencies’ individual strengths – ultimately leading to more "productive collisions".

It’s a smart strategic move in an age where collaboration is key.

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