It’s hard to get a word in edgeways once Ogilvy & Mather London’s new senior team gets going. In a meeting room with a view of the Thames and St Paul’s, Charlie Rudd, Mick Mahoney, Kevin Chesters and Claire Donald have gathered to explain why their plans for the WPP agency amount to something different.
The first thing that sets the quartet apart from previous management teams is the way it was composed. After years of underperforming its rivals, Annette King, who became UK group chief executive in 2014, decided O&M London needed a gang. She says the key thing about the team is that "they have chosen to work at Ogilvy and have chosen to work with each other – with the emphasis on the ‘and’".
"Being able to build a leadership team where you’ve all chosen to work together doesn’t really happen," Rudd says. "Annette really made that possible. You only usually get to do that when you do a start-up."
Rudd, former chief operating officer at Bartle Bogle Hegarty London, was the first, joining in January as chief executive. Shortly after, he hired Chesters as chief strategy officer, then Mahoney as chief creative officer. Before signing his own contract, Mahoney approached Donald about the role of chief production officer. Donald says it’s hard to leave Google – where she was head of operations at Google Creative Lab – but the fact that she agreed shows the size of the opportunity.
The role of production
The reason Mahoney contacted Donald before he’d even got his own fountain pen out was that the second part of O&M’s plan is about production. Rudd hopes that having production represented alongside creative and planning at the top will enable the agency to be more receptive to clients’ needs. Mahoney and Donald already have experience of this, having worked together at Havas London.
"We started this journey, this total production approach at Havas," Mahoney explains. "We’ve had a couple of years of bollixing it up. So we have already learnt what we should be doing."
The old adage is that you can only ever have two of the triumvirate of production: fast, good and cheap. That’s no longer a satisfactory answer. Rudd recalls that, during British Airways’ major CRM and creative pitch that began in 2013, Abi Comber, BA’s then head of marketing, demanded all three. Rudd’s team at BBH beat O&M to the prize. "She wanted people to do quality at speed," he says. "It’s what agencies have to have. The world had changed."
This isn’t about insisting clients use their in-house production services, however. "We’ll look at the best solution for the clients," Donald explains. "It’s going to be a very different solution for Pizza Hut versus Unilever."
Rudd says many clients who separated production from the main creative account are reacting to their agencies not changing fast enough. "While creative and media agencies wasted time arguing who was more important, media owners like Google, Facebook and Twitter had their lunch," Chesters says as he tries to ignore Mahoney laughing at him – a planner – for having an opinion on production.
"I’ve always believed agencies should do brand advertising and PR and social," Mahoney stresses. "We’re seeing that more and more, but everyone is blagging it – they’re a bunch of gentlemen amateurs.
"We’re looking to do socially relevant work that fuels conversation that is bigger than the advertising. Shouldn’t it all do that? Some agencies do it sometimes but we are in a position now where we can build an agency around that."
This is all about having the same approach to work – rather than knowing exactly what the answer should be. "It’s almost more important to have a shared value system than a shared vision," Chesters says. "Because we will cook. Like the best kinds of gangs – everyone from the Disney Club to the Brownies – it’s exciting to feel part of the system." The "toughness" of his examples did not go unnoticed by Mahoney.
The team’s ability to poke fun at each other like siblings is infectious. It is also incredibly believable. A number of past O&M management teams have struggled to get along, never mind build the London agency into something distinct beyond the network offering. Now, with arguably one of the best offices in town and a team that seems genuinely excited about working together, there is a chance it will finally happen.
Chesters adds: "I want everyone to look across at this building in a year and think: ‘I want to be part of that.’ There’s something new and different happening.
"Gangs are brilliant to be members of and it always feels a bit upsetting if they won’t let you join. That’s the feeling I want. I want clients to think it."