THE CHANGE(D) AGENCY
Erin Mckenzie sits down with FCB CEO Dan Martin to see how his English influence is taking the agency into the future.
When the high-energy Englishman Dan Martin joined FCB in the middle of last year, it was clear he had a very different style to that of his reasonably understated predecessors. Now that he’s settled in to the CEO role, he talks to Erin Mckenzie about his transition to New Zealand life, his goals for the agency, his desire to push the local ad industry further onto the world stage and the existential crisis caused by his cufflinks.
Eight months ago, after a global search for a replacement CEO, FCB welcomed Dan Martin to the business. To welcome him from the UK, FCB’S ‘cultural ambassador’ Peter Vegas handed him an All Blacks jersey and a framed picture of FCB’S global chief executive Carter Murray. Bryan Crawford, who led the search to replace Brian van den Hurk, commented that “Dan’s body language would indicate this may take some getting used to!”
But as we sit down to talk about his aspirations for the agency – and the broader New Zealand industry – his accessories show that he’s already embraced his new home: he’s wearing a pair of silver fern cufflinks, a gift from his eight-year-old son (who has quickly become a massive All Blacks fan).
“I already see myself as an adopted Kiwi,” he says.
During his tenure at Ogilvy, Martin secured Kronenbourg UK’S social advertiser of-the-year status, drove behavioural science into the heart of the UK’S biggest supermarket, Tesco, and led SCJ, the world’s largest account win of 2012. Also, while at WCRS he led his client Transport for London to being voted UK advertiser of the year by Campaign magazine and won the MINI global business. This built on a track record of being a key part of teams and brands that had won numerous Cannes gold Lions with a variety of clients.
And judging by Martin's extracurricular activities, he shouldn't have too much difficulty settling into New Zealand life. Outside the business, Martin ran a craft brewery for some time.
However, he admits there was some disruption in the first few months, both in terms of adapting to a new culture and his new agency adapting to a creatively-focused CEO.
Compared to the previous incumbent, van den Hurk, who retired in 2017, Martin says he has been more involved in the day to day business. And this stems from his belief that it’s critical the leader of an agency is involved in the product and stands by it.
Now, having settled in, he says he and the agency have a very unified vision and focus on driving the work and its clients’ businesses to ever greater heights.
“I have had a number of clients state how much they appreciate the CEO being directly involved in their businesses, and that it is unusual for an agency of our scale.”
He adds he’s been very fortunate to have a strong and experienced management team, which has been extraordinarily helpful in helping him bed in.
“I couldn’t have a better right hand woman than our COO Niki Pettifer, she is utterly intrinsic to my own and the agency’s success. I, in turn, was very keen to unleash the sheer fire power of this team, by giving them a clarity of role and ambition.”
Despite FCB’S long-running slogan of ‘The Change Agency’, Martin is quick to emphasise that he did not join to change everything.
“It’s to take something that works really well and work with the team to tweak it and make it work even better.”
It’s an idea that’s reverberating across the industry on both client and agency side as the fracturing media landscape and advancements in technology have opened up opportunity for all to reconsider their offering.
One of those opportunities has been for specialists to make themselves known to clients that have opted to work with agency partners on a project-by-project basis. While there will likely always be clients that require big, generalist agencies to take care of their big, general demands, more senior marketers are indicating the importance for clients to secure specialist partners that are suited to specific roles or, increasingly, specific projects.
When asked for his thoughts on full-service agencies versus the specialists, Martin believes there is always going to be a place for specialist agencies, considering their ability to laser in on an area.
However, looking at full-service agencies, he sees value in having all the specialists under one roof, sitting around one table looking at a client problem together.
“Using 10 different specialist agencies is incredibly inefficient, it’s very expensive in terms of time and money but also, they just end up competing with each other and eating each other’s lunch.”
The same problem can be seen in some larger agencies that run multiple P&LS. This can make the diversion of revenue across different parts of the agency more of a focus than the client problem and Martin sees agencies suffer as a result.
He says one P&L makes for a unified, focused agency and with its specialist staff working together towards one outcome, Martin says its ambition is to out-specialise the specialists.
“We constantly evaluate our offering against the best specialist agencies in market and make sure we can beat it.”
When asked about financials to back up the agency’s momentum, Martin didn’t share any information and instead used the agency’s nine pitch wins and five agency of the year awards in 2017 to show it’s onto something (while it’s well before his time, the latest publicly available Companies Office figures show that FCB NZ increased its revenue from $37.5 million in FY2014 to $42.6 million in FY2016).
Included in those pitch wins are the creative accounts of Audi, Keep New Zealand Beautiful, Comfort Group and Farmers; and the media accounts of Torpedo7, Lego, Stanley Black and Decker and Spotify.
Meanwhile, the agency of the year wins include Media Agency of the Year at The Beacons; Most Effective Agency of the Year at The Effies; New Zealand Media Agency of the Year (gold) at Campaign; Australia/new Zealand Social Media Agency of the Year (bronze) at Campaign; and the Grand Prix at the New Zealand Direct Marketing Awards.
Despite having one P&L, FCB is part of Interpublic Group, a holding company with three global networks: Mccann Worldgroup, Lowe and Partners and FCB.
Holding companies were introduced as a solution to the idea that only one client in a sector could work with an agency to avoid conflicts of interest. Having multiple agencies funnelling into one holding company, the holding company can reap the benefits of multiple clients within a sector.
But it’s an ageing idea, and Martin points to professional firms like EY and KPMG – which are increasingly offering services in creative and media – that do not put themselves in a position where they are unable to service more than one client in a category. He says it’s unrealistic
in the long-run to expect agencies to stick with just the one client per sector.
He explains that as agencies becomes more consultative and focus on moving to the higher ground where they can add intellectual and creative fire power to clients on a project basis, it is likely that an agency will work with a number of different clients in a sector.
“Generally, I think that as clients increasingly shop around between agencies, and have multiple agency partners, they need to be realistic.”
While he believes it will work, Martin says that it won’t work for agencies if they can’t establish trust with clients by keeping each client’s business separate. It’s here Martin points out how critical it is that the same staff don’t work across competing pieces of work.
And with FCB’S united front meaning all senior staff come together to solve a client’s problem, it’s found a solution to potential conflicts in Jolt, which Martin refers to as a conflicts shop.
Jolt was created to service the Audi account, which the agency picked up towards the end of 2017 (Martin was heavily involved the whole way through). With the Volkswagen account already on the agency’s books, Jolt creates a separation between the two car brands and at the time of the Audi win, VW general managing director Tom Ruddenklau told Stoppress he was confident Jolt would be able to work on Audi while the assigned FCB team continues to look after VW.
And as well as creating the Chinese Wall between competing clients, Martin adds Jolt has value in being a place of innovation and place to test new operating models.
A long-term vision
Under the rule of Crawford, who was CEO for over 10 years before being appointed to a global role, FCB moved from a mid-tier agency to one of the best in the country – and, on its day, the world. The success of the agency often saw it held up as an example for the rest of the FCB network and Crawford’s experience on the client side and his understated nature was seen as a good thing in an industry renowned for big characters, a focus on creativity and a degree of looseness. Van den Hurk was also extremely capable, but even more understated than Crawford. So Martin, by contrast, is something of a whirlwhind, according to chief strategist David Thomason, who has been with the agency for over ten years.
“The sound-bite for Bryan Crawford was: ‘He’s not an adman, he’s a business guy’. That helped position FCB perfectly for the long-term. Without detracting from his considerable strategic nous, I’d say Dan Martin is the ‘The Energy Guy’. And he is an adman. He’s all about ideas – in the broadest sense – and pushing things further. I think that’s perfect for FCB’S next phase.”
Thomason says it would be easy as an agency that’s grown to FCB’S size, with large clients in most categories, to get complacent. But, under Martin, it’ll continue to avoid that happening.
“He doesn’t know how to slow down. Dan’s quick, a good listener, and obsessed with creative quality. He’s also happy to rattle cages. After a very short time, the results justify it. It’s early days but we’ve already had a run of significant new business wins, launched outstanding campaigns, and reshaped some key aspects of our offering.
“FCB’S enjoyed a strong, stable culture, with unusual longevity of leadership. Perhaps ironically for the Change Agency, any change at that level is quite a big deal. After the initial cultural shock of having a young and impatient (possibly my age showing) English CEO question everything, I’m a big fan.”
Homing in on where Martin wants to FCB go in the future, he puts an emphasis on long-term work – something already seen with the latest campaign for The Health Promotion Agency.
The campaign tackles binge-drinking, by reminding young adults of the harm it can cause to their memory. However, ensuring it keeps away from a fingerwagging tone, the story is presented in a twisted, surreal, crazy world, or ‘the Department of Lost Nights’.
Martin says the platform is set to stick around for years to come, with more creative to come from the idea.
Thomason has been very vocal about the need for the agency – and the industry as a whole – to focus more on long-term brand building rather than just shortterm activations. Effectiveness expert Peter Field says the magic ratio is 60/40 long-term vs. short-term, so there will always be a mix of activity required. But,
reflecting on the Effies last year, FCB’S haul was an indication of the success of both its brand platforms and its stunts, winning 12 of the 18 golds handed out on the night for work including ‘Energy Made Wonderful’ by Mercury, ‘Go Balls Out’ for Testicular Cancer New Zealand and ‘Escape My House’ for Fire and Emergency New Zealand.
Chris Baker, founder at Bacon Strategy and Research London and 2018’s international judge for the Effie Awards, presented a workshop and keynote in New Zealand and shorttermism was the issue he took on.
“Long-term isn’t just running the same ads or doing the same thing continuously, it is driven by a broader brand purpose and sometimes a broader communications idea or platform,” he told Stoppress. “You can be doing new stuff but very much always on the same journey.”
Baker explained that in the digital world, the temptation to steer clear of work that requires long-term investment is even greater as an instant response to a campaign is easier than ever before.
Reach and likes on social media can come at little cost to a business but Baker says it’s only worthwhile if that reach and those likes translate into a behavioural change in consumers and that behavioural change translates into revenue.
“The real question you should always be asking is how does this turn into money?” Baker says, and the answer is always more robust than having a general sense it will do well because a lot of people have seen the campaign.
And while FCB is promoting its move away from short-term thinking, it’s just as important clients are on that journey too.
Martin compares a client/agency partnership to a marriage, saying both parties need to make sure their values align from the start and for FCB, it’s an idea that contributes to the fact it only takes up one-in-five offers to pitch.
“We want to be able to make a big visible difference to the client,” he says. “We don’t want to take on client business and do the same old same old, we want to be able to push them on.”
Mercury’s ‘Energy Made Wonderful’ campaign, which focused on electric bikes, is a great example of this brand purpose in action – and the justlaunched update to that campaign, which rebuilt a classic car with an electric engine, shows the importance of appealing to consumers through emotions, rather than rational information. Martin also refers to the ‘Department of Lost Nights’ campaign, saying the agency was only able to do it because it’s already spent years with the client establishing a solid base. If a client doesn’t extend their gaze into the long-term, FCB won’t pitch.
A frustration in marketers’ inability or unwillingness to play the long game was expressed when NZ Marketing and TRA asked 40 agency executives to assess marketers.
Their responses included: “Shortterm thinking is a problem. Marketers aren’t willing to challenge the status quo when it’s obviously faulted thinking” and “Marketers often have no vision for the brands they work on”.
These reasons, as well as cost, were cited when 95 percent of agency heads explained why they have been known to turn down invitations to pitch.
And the cost factor is no surprise when considering that ANZA chief executive Lindsay Mouat believes that among clients, there is little awareness of the direct and indirect costs generated by pitches.
“A major pitch may generate costs of $500k per agency in hard costs and head hours. Multiply this by say four to five agencies and we have a very expensive process,” he told Stoppress in 2017.
The interview with Mouat came in the wake of the Association of New Zealand Advertisers (ANZA) and the Commercial Communications Council releasing a Code of Best Practice, a guide designed to ease the process in the New Zealand market.
Within it, the code points out that some clients are paying agencies to participate in a competitive review process, usually a nominal amount. This helps to cover some of the agencies hard costs of participating in the process and does not transfer ownership of any ideas presented by the agency to the client. A rare few clients simply find an agency they like and go with them, rather than test the market.
Martin agrees clients should pay for agencies to pitch and from the agency’s perspective, he sees it as important to pitch with the team that will actually be working on the client’s business.
Both, he says make for an efficient, effective and pleasurable experience.
Navigating a new world
An efficient and effective experience for clients would be welcomed by clients who are facing an increasingly challenging market.
Martin sees the focus on ROI being greater and this, combined with a more complex market, makes for a greater demand for agency partners who can take some of the problems off their shoulders, simplify things for them and deliver across the board.
They are also particularly valuable when sitting alongside clients’ in-house studios. And while they could be considered a threat to agencies, Martin sees value in their ability to produce “business as usual work”. However, he points out a danger in clients turning it into “hygienefactor work” that satisfies the studio’s internal audiences, rather than work that’s interesting and cutting through.
He says once they’re built and paid for, in-house studios need to be used and if the work is ineffective, it’s not paying for itself.
“There is no point in creating lots of work that does not cut through and I worry a lot of these in-house studios are doing that because people who work in a marketing organisation quickly become attuned to the path of least resistance creatively,” he says.
“It’s easier to carry on producing the same stuff that you know is going to be approved and that means clients stop pushing.”
Farmers is one of those brands that has an internal suite of creatives working on the brand, and they do so to produce photography for the websites as well as digital display, its in-season and new season TV ads, as well as ads for holiday sales, like Waitangi Day and Easter.
Former head of marketing for the company Dean Cook has now joined The Warehouse Group and upon his departure, told Stoppress in-house agencies had a risk of second-guessing how far they can push an idea due to being hemmed in by the likes of the merchandising and marketing teams.
“When you want to think big and outside of the box, you need someone to take the blinders off and you can only really get that from going out.”
For Farmers, it asked FCB to take the blinders off and it launched a new, emotional brand campaign for Christmas.
Called ‘Secret Santa’, the campaign
told the tale of a grumpy man who is actually kind, the frustrated mum who tries her best for her family and the naughty kid who ends up giving the neighbour cookies and milk. It’s an ad that brings a tear to the eye and the emotional strategy was one that came from the marketing team.
However, being the first time in 100 years the retailer had invested in this type of brand work, it turned to FCB to execute it.
It’s an example that reiterates the importance of agency partners and Martin recalls a conversation he had with Cook about it.
“I turned around and said ‘you have to have a client who is going to give you a good brief and they are going to trust you’. And [Dean] turned around and said: ‘Why wouldn’t I let you get on with what you need to get on with – you are the storytellers and that’s what I’m buying you for’.”
Martin says it finds high-value work in being able to offer the strategic advice that enables clients to make big leaps and “any agency that’s not in that space probably should be worried”.
He sees the alchemy of bringing together interesting characteristics and mindsets in an agency creates a real buzz and a sense of tangible excitement, particularly when things are going well, and it’s not something he’s experienced in non-agency environments during his 20 years in the industry.
“I hate to say it but I think the reality is, you will not get the best creatives and strategists going to work client side because creative people want to work in a particular culture and they’re not going to find that culture outside of agencies.”
While some clients have taken creative facilities in-house to create cheap and fast, FCB has its own solution in The Hive, a content service team that allows clients to develop, produce and deliver audio visual and static content fast and cost-effectively.
The team then distributes the content across digital channels and can manage paid media spend to support a client’s objectives.
Last year that was put to use in the rebranding of Greggs. While Marx Design worked on the packaging, FCB was bought in to bring attention to the new design and The Hive proved to be the right creative assets for the FMCG brand that has to incorporate the retail channel into its budget.
In the same way The Hive is an ability and capability that sits within the FCB brand, so is the new FCB Open.
The offering is a response to the increasing diversity of New Zealanders and the significant growth opportunity this presents to the agency’s clients and New Zealand business in general.
Martin says the agency’s understanding of New Zealand’s cultural codes and the new insights from FCB Open will keep the agency and clients relevant and up to date with what makes Kiwis new and old tick.
It helps clients to identify specific deep insights, develop tailored media and creative strategy and guide execution through the agency’s integrated model to ensure that their clients are succeeding with New Aucklanders for example.
“The point of it is not ‘let’s take the existing campaign and translate it’,” explains Martin. “It’s about truly understanding those audiences and connecting with them.”
As well as the diversity of the entire country, Martin also identifies Auckland as an area where there has been a quantum shift in demographic and the Chinese, Indian and Korean markets are among those the agency will be researching.
In saying this, he points out that he doesn’t want FCB Open to create a separation between new and pre-existing Kiwis. Instead, FCB wants to find the commonalities and bring them together.
Leading FCB Open is Vera Dong, who was previously planning partner at Ogilvy China and is now lead strategist alongside Murray Streets, general manager of innovation and strategy.
Dong is one of a number of leaders to have joined the agency, or been promoted, since Martin’s arrival including Storm Day (ex Assignment Group) as a group business director, Kathryn Robinson (also ex Assignment Group) as a planning partner, Elizabeth Beatty (former head of Ogilvyone Sydney) as general manager on Vodafone, Christine Abbott (from BTL) as the shopper marketing director, and Jane Wardlaw who after 17 years with the agency has been promoted to head of account management.
Fleur Head and Kamran Kazalbash, who were managing director and general manager of retail respectively, both departed last year, but Martin says they had resigned before he arrived.
Also set to depart is Rufus Chuter, managing director of FCB Media, who will be leaving the agency in May after handing in his resignation earlier this year. A change in CEO is often a time for staff to consider their own new move, and when responding to suggestions that his departure was the result of the new CEO, Chuter told Stoppress: "A change in leadership last year may have been one of the catalysts for me to consider what my future looks like – as is natural with the arrival of any new leader, with their own vision and values – but it’s certainly not the reason for my decision. The reality is that after three years running the team, and six years at the agency, I was always going to have to consider whether my next step was with FCB or whether I needed to find a new mountain to climb. That’s a conversation that pre-dates Dan’s arrival. I’ve got the highest regard for the agency, its culture and wish the leadership team there every success."
The headcount of the agency is now 215 compared to the 213 when Martin started. He says it’s not chasing growth for growth’s sake, rather it’s focused on improving its talent and skills in all departments and growing organically with clients.
Talk it up
While the agency is looking closely at the “new New Zealander” with FCB Open, speaking about his own experience in comparing New Zealanders to the rest of the world, he says we are “quite modest”.
In fact, it’s one area of improvement Martin did identify inside FCB when he joined the agency.
While he says the agency was producing strong creative product with top flight creatives such as Tony Clewett and James Mok, and exceptional suits such as Toby Sellers and Wardlaw, there’s need for a confidence boost.
“Sometimes our suits and creatives at more junior levels didn’t believe enough in their talent, perhaps because they are a modest bunch. To that end our focus is on an increased steely determination
as individuals to help our clients create work that will see them win in market.”
He says it felt like an appropriate character trait for an agency in which 80 percent of its clients are New Zealand-owned.
“We wanted to balance an increased drive with our ‘No Wankers philosophy’.”
That line, Martin says, comes from beyond the agency as he sees the Kiwi modus operandi of working as a team with no-one getting too big for their boots.
It’s a Kiwi characteristic he appreciates but, at the same time, he would like to see good-work shouted about a bit more.
“I don’t want to get rid of modesty but I want us to go out and believe we can all be world beaters.”
And that’s not just when it comes to advertising. Martin looks at the America’s Cup and the ingenuity that was required to put sailors on bikes to give more stability during foiling, as well as the make-up of the country and how it’s built on immigration.
“Socially New Zealand is far ahead of the rest of the world and the inventiveness and ingenuity and energy of it makes it a country that’s going to carry on really succeeding.”
Creativity loves constraints
Further cementing his adopted Kiwi status, Martin embraces the idea of Number 8 wire when explaining that scarcity drives creativity and that’s why New Zealand’s data solutions for advertising are world-class, giving the example of FCB New Zealand’s solutions being used by the FCB global network.
He says for too long, data has been owned by tech companies and what the market is now seeing is creative companies take ownership of the technology and putting it to use in creative ways for clients.
“The issue until very recently is tech companies want to keep all the information for themselves because they know creative companies can make bigger leaps with it sometimes,” he says.
And those leaps are seen in the marriage of creativity and data to drive campaigns. Because the agencies are no longer hostage to the data – they control it.
“When you have a bunch of really creative planners and then you have creative data people sitting in the middle of them, it’s bloody powerful.”
Helping to do that are new specialists from the West Coast of the US, the heart of tech country, and it is also developing its own IP and tech that allows the agency to turn databases in businesswinning advantages.
An example of the type of work it can produce is the ‘Virtual Coastguard’ campaign for Maritime New Zealand, created to remind boat owners to wear their life jackets when out on the water.
FCB partnered with Google and Facebook to create a geo-fence surrounding the New Zealand coastline and when a boat user crossed it, they would be provided with a behavioural prompt to their phones.
It was delivered via Facebook, Instagram, Google and thousands of other mobile sites and contributed to record levels of life jacket wearing and a 75 percent reduction in boating fatalities.
“I can now see we are genuinely harnessing tech and data to fire creativity and that’s tremendously exciting,” says Martin.
Genius from the edge
While FCB’S digital team has been given an injection of international talent with the US specialists joining, that’s not to say New Zealand has no talent here.
Responding to the agency’s decision to hire from offshore rather than employing a local, Martin says there’s a lot of talent on the ground here but he wants to encourage cross-pollination.
The idea being that when local and international talent is brought together, they share their skills and ideas allowing everyone to broaden their horizons.
“If occasionally we find gaps in talent, we will source the best global talent but then use that global talent to train and inspire Kiwis in those skills.”
One way Martin sees that international talent being drawn down into New Zealand is the overall calibre of the agencies here and he is passionate about seeing local agencies continue to perform brilliantly on the global stage.
“I’d love a situation where FCB and all the other agencies here knock much bigger markets out of the way in terms of global recognition for our creativity,” he says. “The more we can do great work together, the more talent we will attract down here.”
Of course, that is already happening. In 2010, New Zealand had the most Lions per capita of any country in the world, with one Lion per 155,989 people; in 2016, New Zealand finished in sixth position overall at Cannes and dropped down to a still very respectable 13th In 2017.
But Martin says we can get better when it comes to promoting it and this is less likely to happen if there are shooting matches between local agencies.
And despite wanting to see New Zealand agencies on a global stage, he warns against falling for the temptation of entering all the awards shows across the world.
“That’s not a focus to us because we don’t think that’s important to our clients,” he explains, instead naming the Effies, TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards, the Beacons as his priority because winning those recognises the client’s great work and the trust they put in their agency.
Beyond those, he also sees value in Axis as a recognition of the great work of creative talent, and in Cannes as a platform for both the agency and client to have international recognition. But again, this recognition should be for work that’s created a genuine difference as well as being creatively brilliant.
“The real awards to me are the ones you’ve really had to put in the hard yards and go the extra mile. Putting together a bunch of scam ads for Cannes or D&AD is pointless in my view. The sooner the industry stops doing that the better, because our clients will take the industry more seriously.”
It’s hard to believe Martin’s body language would ever betray him as looking uncomfortable. Now, he is exuding confidence. Amazing what a good set of cufflinks can do.
Socially New Zealand is far ahead of the rest of the world and the inventiveness and ingenuity and energy of it makes it a country that’s going to carry on really succeeding.