This article was originally published by Campaign Asia.
Tony Harradine says he’s not your typical investment guy. The former Asia-Pacific chief investment officer at Omnicom Media Group didn’t bury himself in numbers but credits help from his statistics and analytics team for freeing up his time to gain a broader sense of OMG’s overall business. That breadth of knowledge proved valuable in his promotion to CEO last month to replace Cheuk Chiang, who left the business.
“I spent a lot of time with clients understanding their business and understanding the new ways that we could deliver value,” Harradine tells Campaign Asia-Pacific in his first major interview since taking the helm. “Value by its nature is starting to change as our business evolves. The templated year-on-year metrics that we’re beholden to over time will become a thing of the past and we’ll be measured more on business outcomes.”
Think like a consultancy
That means offering more consultancy-type solutions around clients’ digital transformation, an arena that most media agencies are also gearing up to play in. One way to do it is to build out your own bespoke consultancies, and Harradine notes that could be an element for OMG. But he says he’d rather have all his agencies’ staff to be thinking like consultants anyway.
“If I was to summarise an overall vision for the business, it’s really that element of consultancy-level thinking backed by operational excellence.” Harradine says. “Obviously the operational excellence side is the thing that consultancies are lacking at the moment and are probably looking to rectify through acquisition. We can’t take that for granted—we’ve got that already.”
Giving existing talent the bandwidth to offer up consultant-level work, Harradine argues, is critical and is where the holding company comes in. “Certainly that’s the role of Omnicom, to relieve that burden of agency brands just to allow them to be the best that they can be and let the holding group take care of a lot of the heavy lifting so they can concentrate on the work.”
Bigger spine and Annalect
Repeatedly referencing a strong central “spine” running through OMG that agencies can work from, Harradine wants the holding company to provide much more than administrative and operational help. Just as GroupM agencies have been gushing about how they leverage the [m]Platform, Harradine wants to provide more help to agency brands on the data analytics side, which means giving its data and marketing sciences group Annalect “a more critical role in our business than ever before”, especially in China, with some key hires expected soon.
Beefing up Annalect in China is partially a requirement of dealing with its unique data ecosystem, controlled largely by BAT (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent). But it’s also part of a recognition by OMG that now is the time to “up the ante”, in Harradine’s words, in a market too large, important and competitive to play in without the being at full strength.
“It stands alone to the rest of the world when you work in [China], so we’re putting lots of investment behind that at the moment,” says Harradine. “You’ll see some very exciting things come out of that market in the next six months.”
Viewing this as a bit of a turning point, OMG is now looking for a new CEO to lead the charge in China after making recent changes to its Hong Kong leadership.
Bigger Hearts too
But a potentially bigger development will see OMG expand its data-driven Hearts & Science agency in China. “We have big ambitions for Hearts in that market,” Harradine says. “We think the time is right now to bring that to life.” This will be aided by Annalect’s growing presence there, just as Hearts has tapped Annalect talent in all the markets it has launched in. Harradine says the company has people ready to go but is still looking to work out the foundational clients to launch it with some supplemental hires. Hearts & Science began in a similar way in Australia last year when it first signaled it was entering that market. It eventually launched under the radar this spring, Harradine explains, with Intuit as a foundational client and Annalect’s joint-CEO Jeremy Bolt taking the role of chief executive of Hearts in Sydney.
So while GroupM and IPG most recently have been consolidating agency brands, OMG appears intent on growing a third major agency.
“We still take a great deal of pride in the agency brands that we produce,” Harradine says. “PHD, OMD and in the not too distant future for Hearts, we think they’re very distinctive in their own mind both in terms of the people they have and the visions they have.” Harradine also notes that they agencies pitch based off those different strengths. That’s why he can’t foresee much joint or OMG-led pitching in the future the way WPP or GroupM have done.
Case in point for Harradine is PHD’s recent global HSBC win, which proved the agency had the scale, resources and global coordination to succeed on its own. Crediting Mike Cooper’s efforts from London, he noted the key roles played by Hong Kong and Shanghai. “I just think we did a fantastic job of joining it up,” he says. “We were consistent where we needed to be but added differentiation elsewhere,” he noted, again referencing China’s uniqueness.
Vocal on local
Big global wins like HSBC and Volkswagen, Harradine says, are borne out of the work done in the past five or six years under his predecessor Cheuk Chiang to make the business operate more efficiently and cohesively as a regional network, joined up by centers of excellence with shared resources. “That foundation is good and that momentum should carry on, but I think [we also need] to look at how we drive a lot of local business as well, certainly in markets like China,” he says. While Japan and Korea have their share of multinationals, local brands in Asia are growing quickly with the potential to form many of the MNCs of tomorrow. But for Harradine, who wants to put the focus back on growing the business, it’s the stability of a broader client base that mostly attracts him right now. “The ambition to localise is as much a business need as anything else because you can control your own destiny to a much greater degree if you’ve got a local group of business as well. It’s as much about that as about overall expansion.”