The power brokers: John Wren

What keeps John Wren awake at night? The chief executive of Omnicom speaks to Campaign's Ian Darby about the key trends in five big areas.

John Wren: chief executive of Omnicom
John Wren: chief executive of Omnicom

1. Digital and the changing consumer

For as long as I can remember, we have been coping with a changing media landscape. If I let that keep me awake at night, I would have collapsed long ago. The big difference now, I guess, is the pace of change; but I find that exciting.

I fully expect the word "digital" to disappear in the next few years. Almost all media will be digital. We are going to have more and more opportunities to target more precisely, to create experiences that consumers engage in more fully, and to measure, analyse and then optimise the efficacy of our campaigns and programmes.

Traditionally, we used audience demographics as a proxy for identifying prospective consumers. We now have better data; real insights about behaviours that allow us to do much more precise targeting in a demographic proxy.

We are putting enormous time and energy into training our people to thrive in this emerging world. It's one of the advantages of being part of a large, strong holding company. We can learn from each other if we are smart, not reinvent the wheel 200 times.

2. Brand management

This is becoming more complex every day. There are new pressures and new opportunities. Part of our role is to simplify things for our clients.

To help guide them to focus on the things they should be doing well, rather than dissipating effort across all of the things they could be doing, and to simplify the process of managing it.

There is a big difference between simplifying and being simplistic. The former requires really hard work. The latter sometimes pretends to be insight. It seldom is.

I do wish there was a way to create greater continuity in brand management. People who actually owned, lived and breathed a brand for several years, rather than simply using it as an 18-month stepping stone to their next assignment. I get it.

Marketers want to build careers. But it would be great if they really built brands along the way, instead of simply managing them for a period.

3. Hiring, retaining and developing talent

I've said many times that at its core Omnicom is in the business of talent – recruiting, recognising and retaining the best people in the industry.

I think we do this better than any of our peers. At some point in this role, you come to terms with the fact that you are never going to have as much brilliant talent as you'd like. There just isn't enough of it out there. But you can have more than your natural share.

To do this, you need to have a really clear picture of what kind of talent you want and then create an environment in which what they do best is valued and appreciated. Paying competitively is necessary, but creating the kind of environment I have described is the differentiator.

From there, you have to keep your stars moving forward. Learning new tricks and taking on extra responsibility. That's why we have Omnicom University.

4. Globalisation

Our clients are expanding their products and services in all corners of the globe. As a consequence, we have invested quite heavily in our own global resources, particularly in fast-growing markets such as China, Brazil and India. Many of these markets are witnessing faster deployment of personal communication technologies, such as mobile communications.

The fundamental challenge is how to have the necessary capabilities in all the places that matter to our clients; and to have both a culture, and the processes, that will enable us to deliver against the differing, and constantly evolving, requirements of our clients.

I mention culture because unless you get that right, all the strategy and process in the world won't get you anywhere. As we teach at Omnicom University – "In the war between strategy and culture, culture eats strategy for breakfast."

Whatever client model we are working with, whatever the market priorities are, we operate against the "brand first" principles. The needs of the brand come first, then the agency, then the individual.

As long as we do that, we will remain properly focused.

5. Social media and social responsibility

Crowdsourcing is a perfectly acceptable way of soliciting ideas and one of the many techniques that we might employ for a client. It does not, in and of itself, however, replace the creative inventiveness of the teams that are working every day on a brand and who are charged with its success.

Crowdsourcing, of one sort or another, has proven to be a good way of generating consumer engagement. Walkers' "do us a flavour" campaign [created by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO] is a world-class example of this. But if you really want to be blown away, have a look at what is happening in China.

As a way of generating brilliant ideas, it has so far proven to be somewhat less reliable. I don't subscribe to the "monkeys with typewriters" school of thought – the more people you have bashing away at the keyboard, the more likely you are to come up with something brilliant.

The empirical evidence simply doesn't back it up. What I have seen work is a relatively small number of highly talented people working very hard to produce brilliant work. Which is why we put such a premium on exceptional talent. We don't just need more hands.

On top of that, sifting through thousands of ideas looking for the diamonds is way more time-consuming than anybody ever thinks it will be, and not a productive use of our best creative directors' time.

Interview by Ian Darby, deputy editor, Campaign