Wayne Arnold, Global CEO of MullenLowe Profero, tells us how he started with his brother on maxed out credit cards, the changing nature of the industry and what it’s like to be named one of the 100 most influential people for the Y generation across any industry.
Hello and welcome to the Movidiam Podcast. Today I’m speaking to the global CEO and co-founder of MullenLowe Profero. Welcome to the podcast, Wayne Arnold.
George thank you for having me. Looking forward to it.
You have an interesting story. In fact, you have a fascinating story for growing and building an agency. You and your brother exhausted some credit cards and started, presumably with a first client who helped you repay them off, and now you are part of a huge international global agency network.
Yeah. I think every business comes from its DNA and I think every business always has a nucleus of a starting point, and I guess ours was maybe slightly different from most. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as the way to go for everyone, but it seems to have sort of served us well so far.
You’re now part of the IPG group and you’ve been known by them. Presumably, your instincts and insights at the beginning – what was the genesis moment for you in terms of recognising that businesses needed different services?
So our business, if you take a step back, is a global marketing business focusing on the digital area, if you like, of expertise. I guess, the biggest benefit that we had was that we didn’t come from this world. I was a very poor lawyer, to be honest with you, and my brother was a masters in information technology from LSE before starting a digital business himself.
So, we both came from this area of non-advertising, non-marketing so we kind of looked at it with a plain sheet of paper, which is probably our biggest benefit. When we looked at the world and going, what’s the problem that clients need to solve? It was so blatantly obvious to us that – this was back in 1998, so just before Google if you like – that actually the whole world was going to become digital. That was blatantly obvious to us.
Two was that, this idea that you can only come with great ideas if you understand the creative landscape, the media landscape, and technology. Which, again, is obvious to us and the world’s coming that way now but this was a time when Martin Sorrell was separating out creative and media.
The third one was that the world was very, very flat. Maybe that’s because, from a very young age, I think from the age of four, pretty much every two years we moved to some different location around the world and so it was blatantly obvious to us that, actually, markets, particularly in Asia, would be the future drivers of the global economy. We set out with a, as you say, a burnt out credit card and I think we managed to get about 1,000 US dollars courtesy of Sainsbury’s and cashback, and over the years we’re fortunate enough to, I guess, make some good decisions along with many bad ones and we grew a business that is now in 15 markets around the world, and I’m very proud to say is – I believe one of the most globally curious businesses in the world full stop, not just in the advertising and marketing communication space.
Media and creative – you believe they’re very closely aligned or absolutely essentially need to be in order to communicate most effectively. Let’s just discuss that.
It’s blatantly obvious. If you ask a person in the street and go, “Okay, so if you come up with a great creative idea, how did you see it?” The reality, most people don’t – if you’re talking about the Joe Public – don’t think about, oh someone put a great media placement there or someone creatively did a fantastic bit of content. They just go, “I saw that and I thought that was funny or entertaining or made me cry.”
But, bizarrely, in the world that we live in, we’ve kind of separated those two out. I think mainly out of convenience because of the way that accounting works and let’s face it, people who think analytically by media quite often think very differently to the creative mindset, and so basically they’ve been separated out.
I kind of use this analogy, it’s a bit like the divorced parents. They get together for the kids once a year and play nicely, and that’s what most client relationships are like unfortunately where they have a media agency and creative agency that don’t really talk well together, and they get together for the client and play nicely. Where, our view was: surely you can come up with better creative ideas if you can understand the media landscape and the context that content will be viewed. Likewise, you can be smarter with your media insights and placements if you can influence how that creative idea comes about.
For us it’s the most obvious thing in the world. But, not necessarily – businesses don’t necessarily work in obvious ways because sometimes the numbers dictate you work a slightly different way.
It’s very interesting. Just looking, let’s dissect immediately, or straightaway, the creative side of it. Perhaps the creative also can be split up into idea and execution. Do those two things love each other or hate each other, or are they again, to use your analogy, get together at Christmas with the kids?
I think they’re probably more like cousins.
Cousins. They’re more like cousins.
I mean, I think there’s more blood sharing between them. Because, the reality is, I think, again – the landscape’s changed dramatically over the last 15, 20 years, but I don’t think now, increasingly in this digital content distributed world, you can separate an idea from the execution. Because the execution now is far more, or is equally as important as what the creative idea is, and there’s plenty of examples there of great creative ideas that never really took off because the execution was done poorly.
Even the wrong channels, right? Or basically just not done well or visa-versa, great executions that didn’t have a great idea behind them. Increasingly, I think that marriage of the idea and the execution is really important. I mean, technology is changing that – is the reason for that change, because quite frankly the way that content is created now is normally technology driven. But that creates an interesting – a challenge for anyone in our business because the skill sets required now, if you’re truly going to do from ideation to implementation and delivery, is really quite vast. The skill sets you need to do all that areas is really quite challenging, and not everyone is able to build those capabilities from day one, so hence you’ve got such a fluid, I guess, freelance market out there right now. Where people are still basically using partners.
This leads us onto the sort of in-house out-house debate which rages certainly on our island nation in the UK, but are the teams of best fit for client budget in-house or inside the agency organisation, or do they sit in unique specialist units that are freelance?
I think, unfortunately, the answer you get to this really depends on what the business model of that business has created. Because, you’ll have people who haven’t got big teams saying, “It’s best to be able to pick and choose, do a pick and mix model and pick the best people from all the talent in the world,” and those who have built great big organisations will say, “The best resource is in-house,” so unfortunately you don’t normally get that many honest answers.
My honest answer to this is, actually, you need to care about the crucial points of that customer journey. What I believe is important, whether that’s making a fantastic film or whether it’s a big brand campaign or a bit of content or a brand experience like an airline, is about the crucial point of the customer journey. I do not believe that any business on planet earth has all those bits of the customer journey done, from for example being able to do big TV work through to basically deep, digital transformation work, through to, I don’t know, great social work. I just don’t believe any company in the planet can do it and if they say they can, they’re lying.
What I think is possible is to go for this client or this brand – there are three, four, five key crucial customer touchpoints that drive 80% of the transaction or the effect, and I think it’s important to be able to identify those and make that team that works on those crucial points as tight as possible. I think, like anything, if that team’s worked together for years and years and are very tight, that’s probably going to give a better result than if you bring a mish-mash of people from different… together on a one time project.
Interesting. Do you see new tools and products entering the market which – obviously you have a very very digital, transformation, sort of DNA. Other agencies that aren’t endorsing newer technologies, are they going to be left behind?
I think the model of all the answers sitting within four walls I think is a very archaic model. Yeah, I mean the best talent these days is naturally mobile. I don’t think necessarily – the freelance and the digital economy means that people want more freedom of their time. The good thing about digital tools, it allows you to do a job in virtually different ways in different places.
So, I think there is a natural trend of movement to using collaboration with a more borderless kind of motif. For us, that’s about not having every single office looking exactly the same or every team looking exactly the same. For us, it’s about saying, “Right, let’s identify our best talent. For example an APAC across the nine teams that we have in different markets,” and saying, “Our best UX talent for example sits here in Singapore, or in Australia,” and not trying to replicate that in Hong Kong, for example. Or, “Our best technology development talent sits in Chengdu.” And then working out, using tools to let those teams to collaborate together.
The model of building a single empire in every single market, I think, is just an old fashioned and dumb one, quite frankly. One, it’s very expensive, I don’t think it’s the best solution to the client, and, quite frankly, not in every market can you find all the talent you need, so I think it is changing. I think if you got the old way you will struggle. The market seems to be moving that way when you look at how Ogilvy trying to restructure itself, Publicis is trying to restructure itself right now.
What are the big challenges ahead in 2017? I mean I know you have a very Asia-centric leadership approach.
No, I don’t. I disagree with you slightly. I have a very global view of the world, but I firmly believe in the opportunity, probably more than 99% of the population in our industry, of the opportunity of Asia. So when I look at the challenges, I think on the global level there’s the challenge of businesses understanding the potential of developing markets, most of which actually aren’t developing anymore, of Asia. I think, basically, the global economy still focuses too much time on Europe and the US, and actually most businesses could grow far quicker if they actually understood the opportunity of APAC.
Secondly, I think there’s got to be a big movement away from this very silo-ed, sort of, dare I say, advertising focus. “Oh we’re now building a big website, or now we’re doing a big film,” to a customer journey approach, where it’s all about the customer journey and how do you create a seamless experience as opposed to an emotionally exciting but functionally brilliant, i.e. I can buy my ticket for that cinema or buy that plane ticket, across the whole journey? At the moment I think people still think too much in silos. “I’m creating a piece of advertising, I’m creating a piece film, I’m creating a website.” I think that’s the big shift we’re going to see over the next three to five years, and the businesses that understand that and can control that customer journey will advise how that works – will be the ones that win and the ones that still stay, and the silos will fail.
Sure. Very interesting. Very interesting. I think some of the interesting challenges that the structure of actual internal teams and the roles that people have – we see that they’re in flux, aren’t they? Speaking to teams over in New York and how they have integrated producers and the description of roles is changing. Perhaps – is that just because of the distribution or the user journey or the client journey requires a different array of distribution? Snapchat as well at TVC?
Yeah, no, I think you’ve brought up a really important point. It’s like, our industry has, especially in big markets like the US, has taught you to be a producer in… fill in the gap, right? In film, in TV, in print, in digital. Because the market’s so big. So what you end up, most people are kind of forced to become a specialist in a particular skill set. Hence, why in the old way, you have great art director copywriting teams for example.
The new way of thinking you need to become a generalist, right? I firmly believe, these days to be a successful talent, you either need to become the top 1, 2% in your specialism. So you need to become the best UX person in the world, right? Or the best copywriter in the world. And only a few people can do that. Or, I think more successfully for most talents, is you need to be able to put three or four skills together and become a top 25% or top 20% person across three or four skills. If you’re in the top 20% of talent in UX, in copywriting, in account management, in presenting, I think you’ll become a more successful talent and useful talent than if you’re for example in the top 5% of copywriting, for example.
Sure. Yourself, you’ve been voted top 100 most influential people of the Y generation across industry sector and have many accolades as you’ve gone through your building an agency journey to the acquisition. What has this done for your – is your personal brand and reputation terribly important for the agency business?
To be honest, I find those things always quite amusing, because we never set out to win those accolades, and it’s always flattering when you’re put into the like a hall of fame, that kind of stuff. I always kind of find them quite confusing, because there’s never any master plan for that to happen. My philosophy is if I help solve problems, then that becomes useful. So, the reason why, for example, I took on being the chairman of the marketing side here was, in Asia, because I realised there was no place for the most senior talent in APAC to basically sort out problems and discuss challenges. And so I far more look at the world, where’s there a problem? Do I have the skill set that can maybe help solve that problem? And then, if those things come along on the background then fantastic and then, as you say, profile helps build the business and helps guess drive revenue and opportunities, but that’s an afterthought for me.
Sure. Wayne, it’s been fantastic talking for the full 25 minutes on the agency landscape. Wayne Arnold there, co founder of Global CEO of MullenLowe Profero. Thank you very much for your time.
Thank you, thanks for having us. It’s been a pleasure.
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