Ogilvy CEO John Seifert on his 70-year-old agency.

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Happy birth­day Ogilvy!

The leg­endary agency turned 70 last month. Those years have brought about sig­nif­i­cant change in the in­dus­try – far from the land­scape David Ogilvy once dom­i­nated. Now, in the midst of ad­ver­tis­ing un­rest, the shop is dra­mat­i­cally shift­ing course and find­ing a new voice to stay rel­e­vant.

A re-found­ing has been led by cur­rent global chief ex­ec­u­tive John Seifert, who is man­ag­ing the ten­sion be­tween stay­ing true to who Ogilvy is and adapt­ing to the times. Seifert im­ple­mented the Next Chap­ter strat­egy in a bid to bring back the core val­ues upon which David Ogilvy built his com­pany and rein­ter­pret them for a mod­ern world.

Cam­paign US caught up with Seifert and next gen­er­a­tion leader Ca­rina De Blois, who was re­cently ap­pointed global lead on the com­pany’s Sam­sung busi­ness, to chat about where the agency is head­ing.


You’ve spent your en­tire pro­fes­sional life at Ogilvy – 39 years. Where’s it head­ing next? Ogilvy’s mis­sion from day one has been to build brands. David Ogilvy’s found­ing vi­sion was to put cre­ativ­ity at the heart of build­ing brand. He un­der­stood the power of a brand in driv­ing busi­ness growth.

In an age of big data, al­go­rithms and dig­i­tal dis­rup­tion, some in the in­dus­try are say­ing brands no longer mat­ter. We ar­gue that they mat­ter now more than ever. In a world of myr­iad con­sumer choice, brands are the only things that help com­pa­nies con­nect emo­tion­ally with con­sumers. Our job is to help our clients’ brand make that emo­tional con­nec­tion. Our mis­sion state­ment is “make brands mat­ter”. The lan­guage is new but it’s the same core prin­ci­ple, David’s found­ing prin­ci­ple. One of the first things you did when you be­came CEO was to re­struc­ture the en­tire or­gan­i­sa­tion un­der a plan you called Ogilvy’s Next Chap­ter. Why? I did it for one sim­ple rea­son: the Ogilvy brand. I had felt that in pur­suit of growth over a pe­riod of time when ev­ery­thing in our in­dus­try was about adding stuff, adding ca­pa­bil­i­ties, adding new value propo­si­tions, ac­quir­ing new en­ti­ties, that we had be­come a mini hold­ing com­pany. And I re­ally felt the Ogilvy brand was be­ing di­min­ished. I be­lieved that to grow in the fu­ture, we needed to have a point of view that was dis­tinc­tively Ogilvy, brand our­selves in a com­pelling way and then be re­ally dis­ci­plined about how we ex­e­cute it both for our peo­ple and for our clients.

Func­tion­ally, that meant mov­ing from in­di­vid­u­ally man­aged busi­ness dis­ci­plines to a con­nected or­gan­i­sa­tion com­prised of ex­perts that puts clients at the cen­tre of ev­ery­thing that we do. But more im­por­tantly, philo­soph­i­cally, it meant go­ing back to the val­ues, prin­ci­ples and ways of think­ing about our com­pany and brand that David Ogilvy built 70 years ago. The end re­sult is a well-de­fined, uni­fied creative net­work that brings to­gether ex­perts, ca­pa­bil­i­ties, crafts, and ideas in pur­suit of mak­ing brands mat­ter. How does next gen tal­ent play a role in all of this? Re­cruit­ing, de­vel­op­ing and re­tain­ing top tal­ent at ev­ery level is a top pri­or­ity; it is es­pe­cially true for next gen tal­ent. Not keep­ing a con­stant pipe­line of fu­ture lead­ers is the surest path to ex­tinc­tion. It is one of the rea­sons why we’re be­ing so bold with our trans­for­ma­tion agenda. I don’t want to lose tal­ent who are im­pa­tient for change and who want a big­ger role in the com­pany, who don’t think we’re mov­ing fast enough and who there­fore go some­place else.

I also have a very per­sonal stake in this not only as a leader of the com­pany but be­cause I feel com­pelled to pay it for­ward. Through­out my 39 years at Ogilvy, I have ex­pe­ri­enced the gen­eros­ity of so many se­nior lead­ers who were will­ing to teach me, give me op­por­tu­ni­ties way, way ahead of my proven abil­ity. It has re­ally been ex­tra­or­di­nary. I’ve only known a com­pany that cared for noth­ing more than help­ing its peo­ple de­velop and learn. Our re-found­ing was to try to bring back that sense of founder men­tal­ity that has made Ogilvy suc­cess­ful for 70 years.

Our mis­sion state­ment is “make brands mat­ter”. The lan­guage is new but it’s the same core prin­ci­ple, David’s found­ing prin­ci­ple.

What are Ogilvy’s fu­ture goals? Our goals are two-fold: to be the best place to work, grow and de­velop for our peo­ple, and to be the best part­ner to our clients in grow­ing their busi­ness through build­ing strong brands. I’m con­fi­dent that we will ex­ist and

thrive for the next 70 years be­cause ev­ery­thing we are do­ing to­day is to en­sure that is true.

There will be many things dis­cov­ered in the fu­ture that in­flu­ence the re­la­tion­ship be­tween con­sumers and the brands that serve them. What­ever comes around, I am con­fi­dent that we will have a ma­jor role to play in mak­ing sure it works for clients. That is the en­tire premise of “make brands mat­ter”.

It will en­sure our rel­e­vance and suc­cess. We sim­ply serve the in­ter­est of clients ahead of our own and if we serve them well then they will serve us well. The only risk that ex­ists is if we are not will­ing to change, and that’s why we are be­ing bold with our Next Chap­ter trans­for­ma­tion agenda. We want to en­sure we never lose that gene of adapt­ing and look­ing around the cor­ner to see what’s next.

CA­RINA DE BLOIS, MAN­AG­ING PART­NER, WORLD­WIDE CLIENT SER­VICES You’ve been in the in­dus­try for 19 years, the last five at Ogilvy. What are some of the big­gest land­scape changes you’ve seen that you are ex­cited about and what do you see as some of the big­gest chal­lenges? This is the most com­plex and dy­namic time I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced in the in­dus­try. It’s just as ex­cit­ing as it is chal­leng­ing. The com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment con­tin­ues to heat up and has reached a point where legacy brands are hav­ing to push them­selves to go back to their val­ues and what makes them spe­cial and pur­pose­ful in or­der to dif­fer­en­ti­ate against the start-ups or dis­rup­tor brands that are be­com­ing more rel­e­vant at ac­cel­er­ated speeds.

We now even see start-ups and brands like Ama­zon and Google turn to agen­cies and ad­ver­tis­ing to com­pete where tra­di­tion­ally they only needed to rely on their prod­uct ex­pe­ri­ence to stand out. This en­vi­ron­ment re­quires shifts in the agency model. Ogilvy’s Next Chap­ter is an ex­am­ple of a more mod­ern agency ap­proach that al­lows us to part­ner with our clients to cre­atively solve these chal­lenges more seam­lessly and with greater speed.

What are the chal­lenges of man­ag­ing a global and well-es­tab­lished brand such as Sam­sung?

The bal­ance be­tween hav­ing a team and work that shows both a uni­ver­sal un­der­stand­ing of trends and what’s hap­pen­ing in cul­ture as well as a lo­cal rel­e­vance – this can’t hap­pen from one place. We have to bring to­gether our net­work of ex­perts. This has been a much more seam­less col­lab­o­ra­tion and op­er­a­tion our global clients are ben­e­fit­ing from since Next Chap­ter.

You’re an ad­vo­cate of di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion. What are some of things that Ogilvy is cur­rently do­ing to change the face of the agency that you are most ex­cited about?

I re­cently at­tended a women’s lead­er­ship work­shop and it was a mo­ment where I paused from the busy day-to-day and was able to see how far we’ve come un­der John’s [Seifert’s] lead­er­ship and how far ahead Ogilvy is as an or­gan­i­sa­tion. For ex­am­ple, in the US we are ded­i­cat­ing two-thirds of our an­nual raise pool to women un­til pay eq­uity is achieved.

I also see this show­ing up in how we look to bring in top tal­ent. My Sam­sung creative part­ners in Lon­don, Johnny Wa­ters and An­gus Ge­orge, are pi­lot­ing a pro­gramme they cre­ated called The Pipe, that looks at en­try level can­di­dates solely on their ideas, not their age, gen­der or qual­i­fi­ca­tions. My be­lief is we need di­verse teams that come from dif­fer­ent schools of thought, back­grounds, cul­tures, eth­nic­i­ties and ca­reer jour­neys to uniquely and cre­atively solve our client prob­lems that con­tinue to in­crease in com­plex­ity.

What ad­vice do you have for other women and the younger gen­er­a­tions about how they can drive change within their or­gan­i­sa­tions?

Most of the achieve­ments I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced in my ca­reer have been be­cause I al­ways asked for big­ger and bet­ter as­sign­ments. I’m al­ways rais­ing my hand for more. Most of the time you’ll find some­one on the other side of the ask ready and will­ing to sup­port and give you the op­por­tu­nity. This type of think­ing is built into Ogilvy’s cul­ture, so much so that there’s a push to­ward giv­ing big op­por­tu­ni­ties and big roles based on mer­i­toc­racy more so than the usual years of ex­pe­ri­ence.

This idea of it’s noth­ing per­sonal, it’s busi­ness couldn’t be fur­ther away from the truth in our ser­vice model. It’s all about peo­ple, our tal­ent. There’s noth­ing more im­por­tant than that. In my pre­vi­ous role on IBM, I prac­tised al­ways-on re­cruit­ing so we could be con­stantly on the look­out for the best tal­ent in the in­dus­try for one of our larger, more dy­namic clients.

What are your per­sonal goals as a next gen leader of Ogilvy?

The two most im­por­tant and ex­cit­ing goals I’d be most proud to achieve this year are: one: cre­at­ing a di­verse global team for Sam­sung. I’m part­ner­ing with Donna Pe­dro, our chief di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion of­fi­cer; this will al­low us to bring our best tal­ent and think­ing to our clients.

Two: part­ner­ing with Sam­sung to con­tinue to push the bound­aries of their brand and their in­dus­try lead­er­ship. With all of the busi­ness pres­sures brands face to­day, to have a client who con­stantly wants to evolve their last best piece of work and cre­ate first-of-a-kind brand ex­pe­ri­ences is some­thing that gets you ex­cited to wake up and come into the of­fice for ev­ery day, or get on that next flight to Seoul.

This idea of it’s noth­ing per­sonal, it’s busi­ness couldn’t be fur­ther away from the truth in our ser­vice model. It’s all about peo­ple, our tal­ent.

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