Advertising: Cracking the ad code

Not all the glamour and hype of advertising can dissuade DDB’s Sandy Moore from his belief that an advertising agency is simple beast. As DDB’s New Zealand CEO it’s his role to perform to six basic KPIs that keep the company booming. It’s surprisingly mechanistic line of thought from someone whose agency gathers gongs with regular ease and whose company website says it values awards because DDB was founded on the belief that creativity is the most powerful force in business.
“Creativity is in our DNA,” it says. “It is the most important contribution we can make to our clients’ success. Consistently ranking among the most-awarded networks confirms our claim to worldwide creative leadership.
“But winning awards also makes us feel good. It makes our clients feel good too. And when we feel good, we work better.”
And DDB sure has stacked up pile of awards. It netted its most recent group of golds at the Fairfax AdMedia Agency of the Year Awards which, held this year in association with CAANZ for the first time, celebrate the rubber-meets-the-road end of the spectrum. This is the bit where clients are happy and bottom lines droop under the weight of dollars well won.
This year, DDB Group won the Advertising Agency of the Year Award and went on to take out the top prize as Supreme Agency of the Year. Moore was named CEO of the Year.

And yet, to Moore, an ad agency is “just simple business. There are just few things to get right and if you get them right, you’re fine.”

As one of the DDB Group’s worldwide CEOs, he’s assessed every year on six KPIs, all of which start with ‘P’ and “are in no particular order apart from the first one – which is the first one”.

He means “people”: the engine room of his group’s success. Get that one right, he reckons, and many of the others ‘Ps’ produce positive impact that cascades down throughout the organisation.

For after people, in Moore’s book, come product, partnerships, performance, positioning and prospecting.

“All of those KPIs have an impact on each other and several of them help each other,” he says. “A couple of them really impact the company’s business performance: those are people, then partnerships and product.” His agency’s performance, he says, stems from getting those right.

The mantra de jour is, of course, that hiring the best people makes strong business sense. In Moore’s case he’s gone out on limb, “investing ahead of the curve” by seeking out and snapping up the best talent even before he could reasonably pin them to bottom line dollar returns for DDB.

“It’s been risky in the [economic] environment of the past few years, as you can imagine,” he says. “Really good people cost more money… In our case, it’s worked. But it does take CEO with bit more internal fortitude to do that.”

Moore’s theory, and probably DDB’s too, is that better people make for better partnerships. DDB, for instance, has held the McDonald’s account ever since those Golden Arches first opened for burger-flipping business in their first store in Porirua in the mid-1970s.

Moore reckons the impact of such strong partnerships cascades further down the business emboldening clients to do “better and more exciting things”. And this, in turn, enables DDB’s strategic and creative departments to create better product which produces better performance.

He mans up that this “virtuous or positive circle” can be unravelled pretty quickly too. Even the best people may move on to further their career elsewhere, for example. He jokes that as CEO, it’s his job to make it difficult for people to leave.

A couple of initiatives are likely to be doing just that. DDB commits two percent of revenue to staff training each year. Its inhouse training programme, Learn, includes tailor-made prospectus from which all staff can hand-pick their own opportunities to learn: everything from Photoshop design, to digital skills or presentation techniques.
It’s interesting to note that this year’s Rookie of the Year Award went to DDB’s Scott Milat. Senior and up-and-coming staff get chance to turbo-charge their careers with Harvard courses.

Keen to promote work/life balance, Moore gives everyone day off on their birthday. And all staff get one no-questions-asked ‘off day’ year. Less conventionally,in December last year Moore introduced ‘summer hours’ to DDB, allowing anyone to leave work after lunch on Friday on full pay as long as their work is sorted. That one move has gifted staff precious commodity.

“I don’t think we’ve done anything else in my time with the company that has received as many plaudits as this,” he says. “I can’t believe the joy and ecstasy that went through people when they found they could leave then.”

Ross Goldsack is all too aware of the ecstasy of advertising. The former Y&R executive chairman helped judge this year’s Fairfax AdMedia Agency of the Year Awards alongside former Colenso BBDO chairman Roger MacDonnell and DB Breweries MD Brian Blake.

First published in NZ Management magazine’s sister publication AdMedia, Goldsack’s “personal observations from humble judge” trace his belief that agencies should be judged on three simple criteria – business performance; vision, innovation and strategy; and awards.

And therein lies the rub. The awards bit, he says, can so often prove self-serving.

“Creative awards mean lot to agency people and little bit to clients (mid-level ones at that),” he says. “Media awards mean lot to media people, and little bit to some agency people and some mid-level clients. The EFFIEs (which checkout advertising effectiveness) mean lot to agency people and mid-level clients, and maybe some senior marketing people.”

Yet, in Goldsack’s view, none of the above awards are on the radar of the most important people of all – finance directors, managing directors and CEOs.

“While it may be 110 percent of your day, advertising makes up about 0.0001 percent of the average day for the average CEO. They just don’t think about agencies that often and, when they do, it’s mainly around the performance and quality of their agency partner.

“That’s where an Agency of the Year Award comes in. It takes into account business performance, strategic capabilities and creative/media/effectiveness awards. It means that winners are judged to be the best in the industry.”

And that, he says, is very simple, compelling and highly relevant message to business leaders.

This year’s winners can justifiably say this to their CEO clients, he told the ad-crowd at the gong-giving ceremony. “They can also say it to yours,” he warned.

JustONE is one such Agency of the Year winner, having pipped runners-up Catch!Media and Fuse Network to take out this year’s Specialist Agency of the Year Award.

MD and founder Ben Goodale remains mindful that, critical as it is, his company’s expertise is just one part of any client’s success.

“I say to my team that what they are doing at any one time may not be the most important thing in client’s day. They have to recognise that the dynamics in client’s organisation are many and varied.”

In way, Goodale’s approach simply embodies his company’s offering to clients. He describes justONE as very focused, specialist one-to-one agency providing CRM and loyalty expertise. Its client list – which includes Farmers, Subway and Farmlands – is weighted heavily towards retail. Around 80 percent of work focuses on the company’s core specialisations.

In an industry selling ideas and opinions, justONE layers in an additional focus on its customers.

“We find out about client companies’ procedures and processes, and try to fit in with them as best as possible. We aim to be responsive,” says Goodale.

“You’d think that would be hygiene factor and you wouldn’t need to even say it,” he says, “but being easy to deal with is very important. We always try to follow up on phone calls and emails, and do what we say we’re going to do. We send estimates

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