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Managing Marketing: The Twenty Year History Of TrinityP3 so far…

Trinityp3 20 years

Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

To celebrate today’s 20th Anniversary of the company, Darren Woolley, Founder and Global CEO of TrinityP3 talks with Nathan Hodges about the founding and development of TrinityP3 from his time as Creative Director at JWT to the founding of P3 and the development and expansion of the company to Asia then Europe and the USA, the name change to TrinityP3 and the lessons and challenges along the way.

You can listen to the podcast here:

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Transcription:

Nathan:

Hi, I’m Nathan Hodges and welcome to Managing Marketing, a weekly podcast where we sit down and talk with marketing thought leaders and experts on the issues and topics of interest to marketers and business leaders everywhere.

Today it’s me, Nathan Hodges, managing director at TrinityP3 sitting down with the founder and global CEO of TrinityP3 Marketing and Managing Consultants, Darren Woolley. Normally we’re in the opposite chairs but there is a reason for that. Today is the day when TrinityP3 turns 20 years old. Happy birthday, Darren and happy birthday TrinityP3. You don’t look a day over 20.

Darren:

Thanks, Nathan. I suddenly realised I’ve spent more than a 3rd of my life in this business. And yet before that I used to change jobs every couple of years. So, there must be something about TrinityP3; I must have a very good boss.

2000 – 2005 – the first five years

Nathan:

Exactly, you certainly don’t have to argue with your boss anymore do you? Your boss can’t fire you anymore. Darren, take me back 20 years ago to the day when you started this business. What did you set out to do? What was in the brain at that point?

Darren:

The start of the business was the culmination of almost 2 years. You have to remember back then I was about to enter my 40s. I was one of the creative directors at J Walter Thompson. I was president of the Melbourne Advertising & Design Club and I was also heavily involved in new business.

And all of those things gave me an exposure to parts of the industry a lot of creative people may not see. With new business I was seeing marketers looking for new agencies. With the Melbourne Advertising & Design Club I was talking with a broad range of creative people and I could see this gap in the marketplace.

It wasn’t until I had a conversation with Reg Bryson who was still running the Campaign Palace at the time and he was talking about a paper in the Harvard Business Review which said we’re moving from the 3 Ss (strategy, structure, and something else) to people, purpose, and process when suddenly the whole thing came together.

That’s it, P3; people, purpose and process. Helping people achieve commercial purpose through creative process. And that’s what it was called. It wasn’t called TrinityP3. This day 20 years ago it was P3, which was very good because it was the dotcom bubble so P3.com was very cool.

Nathan:

And so you then went to TrinityP3 a bit later but what was that about?

Darren:

That was in 2007. When I started I had the intention of being the independent facilitator between marketers and agencies and that was very much a linear relationship. By 2006 there was suddenly a 3rd party involved in that relationship which was procurement and finance.

So the change of name was for 2 reasons. One was to represent the fact that the tripartite (the unholy trinity—some might say) of marketers, their agencies and procurement was where we played as a company.

The other thing was it became really clear that we’d grown beyond just the P3. We were no longer a dotcom business; we were actually becoming a proper consulting business so that’s why we changed the name in 2007.

Nathan:

So those first 5 years from when you started to about 2005/6, what kind of business were you finding yourself doing in those days?

Darren:

It’s funny from the point of view that when I meet people who are talking about starting their own business–how did you do it? The honest truth is for the first 6 months I just had lots of coffees and lunches with people. I had this business and I had an intention of what I wanted to do but I was really just meeting and talking to a lot of people and opportunities were dropping out of the trees so to speak through those conversations.

But almost all of them were cost consulting. It was marketers; am I paying my agency too much for production, for fees, for this event? It was all cost consulting which was never my intention. I never set this up to be a cost consultant. It was about making marketing, creative and strategic people achieve greater results not about how much you pay me.

Nathan:

But we know you’ve got to follow the money to find out where the problems are most of the time.

Darren:

Yeah but it wasn’t that type of thinking. Back then, the early 2000s, it was literally people phoning up; I think I’m paying my agency too much, or this TV production is too much or how much should I pay to have a website done. It was very much cost consulting.

It wasn’t about analysing the costs to find out if there was a better way of doing things though that would come out of it. The intention was give me comfort that I’m not being ripped off here. And that was replaced by procurement because that was the initial intention of most procurement teams.

Nathan:

They always assume they’re being ripped off don’t they? We wouldn’t have built the benchmarking pool we’ve got if things hadn’t started like that. It’s quite an important tool to have based the business on at that stage.

Darren:

Absolutely.

2005 – 2010 – The next five years

Nathan:

So, that was the first 5 years. What changes after that in the 2nd 5 years?

Darren:

The thing I noticed was that a lot of marketers were not just having one or two agencies. It was no longer just a creative agency and a media agency; there was suddenly this roster of agencies.

So as procurement started to take more and more responsibility for cost consulting we found ourselves seeing the opportunity for how do you manage a roster of agencies? How do you structure a roster of agencies? How do you get agencies to collaborate together? These were the bigger issues we found ourselves answering. Now, there was still some cost consulting happening but it was becoming minor. By around 2007/8 /9 more and more of the projects we were doing were much more about have I got too many agencies or not enough agencies? How do I make those agencies work together?

These were the sorts of challenges that started coming up.

Nathan:

And that’s when you developed the evaluating tool isn’t it?

Darren:

Absolutely.

Nathan:

In order to monitor, measure and drive that collaboration across rosters.

Darren:

I remember sitting in a cafe in New York with a guy called Marek Lis who was an ex-Aprais person. I said to him the problem I have with apprais is they look at relationships as if they exist in isolation. The marketing team, the creative agency, the media agency yet there’s no tool out there that allows me to get all of those agencies and marketing teams and get them to evaluate how well they work together.

It didn’t exist which is where evaluating came from. The whole idea of building the evaluating platform was to create something that went beyond that 2-dimensional view of client-agency relationships to look at rosters and how they work together.

Nathan:

And it’s still a unique tool of course. Nothing else does what that tool does.

Darren:

Not that I’ve seen, no.

Nathan:

So your 2nd 5 years includes the GFC.

Darren:

Yeah and I have to say one of my big failings is great moments in poor timing. I literally opened an office in Hong Kong and Singapore the week the global financial crisis hit in 2007. It was really tough times and we really struggled.

A lot of people because they thought of us as cost consultants thought we must be making a fortune. You imagine a marketer phones up, I need to cut my budget by 30% can you help me? Yes, we can analyse your scope of work and work out better ways of doing it but then they turn to their agency, ‘I’ve got all this work to do but I’ve got 30% less money’ and agencies will go ‘we’ll do it’.

So, there was no work. The work dried up before my eyes.

Nathan:

And the other important plank of the business in those first 5 or 10 years was pitching so when did that start? A lot of people know us as pitch consultants and it’s about 25% of our business these days, when and how does that start?

Darren:

Again, it wasn’t something I said strategically I’m going to become a pitch consultant; it wasn’t even on the radar when I started.

Nathan:

Did it come out of the cost side of things or out of the roster side of things?

Darren:

A marketer called Andrew Nowicki, the CMO at Cadbury before they were bought by Kraft said to me, Darren, you do a great job at analysing our costs (this is around 2003/4), why don’t you apply that to helping select agencies run tenders? You could make a lot of money doing that.

I said, ‘Andrew I’ve never even thought about it.’ I just thought people were doing a good job; how could I add anything to it?’ He said ‘no, the level of analysis you bring to all of our agency costs would be great if you could apply that to a pitching process’.

So that’s where we started offering a pitch process.

Nathan:

Wow, I’d never heard that story.

Darren:

We ran a couple of pitches and I was running them based on my experience of being on the agency side. A couple of years later (around 2005) I went overseas because I thought they must be doing pitches much better overseas and I found that in almost every market they were doing it exactly the same way. The pitch process was almost universal and flawed.

It wasn’t until I got to Amsterdam and a guy called Hein Becht who had been running a consultancy for 30 years shared with me that in his mind the best pitch process was one where the client gets to experience the agencies as close as possible to as it would be if they were working together.

Nathan:

Like a good job interview.

Darren:

He recommended where possible doing full day strategic workshops where the client and a prospective agency would work on a problem together. And he’d been doing that. So, I took that along with the other things I’d picked up on that 6-week trip and I came back and completely redesigned the pitch process from that point.

Nathan:

So, it’s a Dutch process?

Darren:

Absolutely.

2010 – 2015 – The next five years

Nathan:

Those Dutch; they’re always ahead of the game. So, that takes you to about 2010 so let’s look at the following 5 years. I was around for that.

Darren:

That’s right; you’ve been with me for half the time.

Nathan:

Yeah, 10 years. I came in for a late 2nd half substitution to change the way the game was going is how I like to look at it. So 2010 to 2015; you’re coming out of the GFC, there’s a pitching and roster function, less cost control consulting going on. What else is happening over that time that gets you to where we are now?

Darren:

Not so much change in the work we did but one of the big changes was we embraced the idea of inbound marketing or content marketing. I’d been writing a blog sporadically with not a lot of discipline since 2006 and this is part of who I am and one of the reasons I ended up in the creative department and not account management or strategy—I’m driven by my curiosity.

So when blogging came along I started blogging (not particularly well) and then around 2011 I was introduced to Mike Morgan at High Profile Enterprises and he looked at what we were doing and he goes ‘you’re doing a lot of great stuff; you’ve just got no discipline. You’ve not identified key search terms; you don’t regularly produce high quality content, it sort of happens in spurts and great periods of nothing’.

He said, ‘if you start to focus on sharing the knowledge you’ve gained through a really disciplined blog’ and from that we put together a whole content strategy, which has led to blogging, videos, podcasts like this, books, all sorts of publications. He said, ‘this will help you build an online presence where people will come to you.’

It was 2011 when we really started that process. Within 12 months we saw a 300% growth in the traffic to the website. But more importantly the growth was not just in Australia and New Zealand; it was global. And later that decade it became the thing that drove us to set up offices in London although again it was poor timing; I opened in London the day of the vote for Brexit.

Nathan:

That’s in 2016; that’s the final 5 years; we’re not there yet.

Darren:

But going back to my great moments in poor timing. But that 5 years is really about the focus on inbound marketing, going from cold calling, emailing all that traditional outbound work to building a body of work online that’s accessible to people that positions us as (I hate the term thought leaders) people who have interesting informed opinions who are willing to share it.

Nathan:

I certainly noticed in that time the work we were doing was arriving at the door prequalified 1st of all and then 2nd we were asked increasingly to move from pitches to roster and then from roster into marketing structure and process over that time.

I think about when I started in 2010 versus 2015, about 30 or 40% of our work was not to do with agencys at all; it was much more about marketing and how that worked. Is that how you remember it?

Darren:

I think it wasn’t until around 2014/15 where that was happening. Initially it was marketers who had got us in to sort out their external roster. We don’t call that roster rationalisation; we call it strategic alignment. We’re trying to align that roster of agencies to the strategic requirements.

Then we were getting phone calls telling us the roster is great but we realise we’re not aligned to our strategy. You’d see things like a separate digital unit or data analytics sitting on the other side of the organisation. You were seeing this fragmentation within marketing, which we’d already addressed externally so we were then being asked to do the same internally.

Yes, you’re right, it started happening in that 3rd 5 years but I think it consolidated in the last 5 years.

2015 to 2020 – The past five years

Nathan:

So, let’s go to that last 5 years because that seems to have transformed what we do. There’s a progression here but also a discontinuity. When I think about what we’re up to now in 2020 now versus what we were doing in 2015 there’s a focus on aligning everything that goes on in marketing; strategy, structure, capability, process and culture and then looking at the skill sets and capabilities that are required to get all of that aligned. It’s a very different kind of conversation now. What’s your subjective take on it?

Darren:

I’m wondering if the market’s evolved or just our approach to it has evolved. As we’ve worked on these problems over the years we’ve deepened our knowledge and what we look for when a project comes. What drives people to contact us is still the same thing as it was 20 years ago.

How do I get better use of my money? Am I paying too much? Have I got the right agencies? They’re still the same questions. What’s happened is we’ve learnt about complexity. When I started the business it was very linear; it was pretty much agency and marketer.

And then when we got into rosters we started to understand the complexity of how rosters work together. And then we started to look at the complexity within organisations and how marketing sits within that organisation and interacts with external agencies but also how it interacts internally.

This is becoming more and more focused on understanding complexity.

Nathan:

That’s a good observation because you could also look at the marketing industry and the practice of marketing and the proliferation of data points and channels over that 20 years and go marketing has realised that things are a hell of a lot more complex than they thought they were when they could just get a TV, shout at people and tell them what to do.

It’s gone hand in hand with marketing over that time as well. Marketing in many ways is the same now as it was then in terms of some of the techniques but the awareness and complexity of the task and interdependence of all of the elements is what sends a lot of marketers into a spin these days.

Darren:

Except one of the lessons we’ve learnt about complexity is that you don’t solve complexity by trying to do everything; you solve complexity by understanding it, mapping it, acknowledging the complexity that exists. And then looking for the things you can do within that complex system to bring about change.

A lot of people are trapped in the thought that they have to do everything, that because they’ve got more options than ever before they have to do every option. Except they’ve now got the same or fewer resources in real terms than they had before.

That’s why one of the things about strategic alignment is actually allowing the strategy, which is the thing that informs you on where you should be focusing; it helps inform you on which of the options you should be choosing and investing in and which ones you can either minimise or abandon completely.

Let’s take agency roster structures. We hear this conversation all the time; ‘consolidate to a holding company solution where it’s just one’. We’ve seen Publicis and WPP and others have gone down that track. Then the opposite is let’s diversify and lets cherry pick the best.

And it’s seen as a dichotomy; one or the other but we’ve come to understand there is actually an infinite array of options between those two extremes and it’s finding the right version of that for that particular complexity of the problem that you’re dealing with is the smart thing to do.

It’s not a cookie-cutter approach of this or this. That’s the sad thing about the industry dialogue is that almost every issue gets turned into one of two options. On transparency; you’re either transparent or you’re not. You’re either in-house or you’re not. It’s not that at all. This is what complexity allows you to do.

Nathan:

Binary choices—the bane of every one’s existence.

Darren:

Complexity isn’t about binary choices. The world is not black and white; it’s a million different colours and you need to do the work and the thinking to make informed decisions on which part of the rainbow you’re going to exist in.

Nathan:

That’s reflected in our remuneration IP now isn’t it? How many different remuneration models did we count up?

Darren:

There are 12 base ones and then on top of that an infinite number of versions or hybrids.

Nathan:

And even that’s evolving again now.

Darren:

The SMUs.

Nathan:

Yes and what Michael Farmer’s been up to. That’s a podcast for another day; that’s 2020. Let’s ask some cheesy questions here, Darren. I know you’re not a man for regrets but give me one regret on the way through. What should or shouldn’t you have done?

Darren:

I touched on it. I seem to have the worst timing when it comes to making decisions. The number of times I’ve tried things and it wasn’t that the idea was wrong; it was just the wrong time. Opening in Singapore and Hong Kong at the start of the GFC, opening in London on the Brexit vote.

There have been a number of software platforms that no longer exist that I have invested in and built because they seemed like great ideas at the time but they were too early. It’s one of the things that frustrates me; evaluating, we built in 2007 but it’s only now that people are really starting to appreciate the idea of being able to measure collaboration.

Would you say it’s 10 years before its time? Potentially. This is why I’m not a funny guy because I don’t have the secret of good comedy: timing. I’ve got the worst timing in the world.

Nathan:

You’re definitely not a funny guy. And the last question, what are you most proud of?

Darren:

I think the people I work with.

Nathan:

You have to say that because I’m interviewing you.

Darren:

Beyond that. When I started the business I looked around and almost every other consultancy that was like me in the industry was one or two people and they pretty much created a business to give themselves a job. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to create a business.

I didn’t call it Woolley Consulting, first of all because that’s a terrible name to put with something like consulting. I called it P3 because I wanted to create something that wasn’t about my name and who I was.

And then I wanted to build it so it became a place where people with great skills and knowledge could come and be almost entrepreneurs within an entrepreneurial structure. I didn’t want to fill it up with lots of employees. I wanted to fill it up with people who had a drive to build something together and share in the rewards that comes with it and also make a commitment to the hard times as well.

I wanted to have partners without it being partners because ultimately, I take the financial responsibility but along the way there have been terrific people with great knowledge and expertise who were probably not ever able to build something the same but they could participate in this and have a sense of ownership because their contribution and reward came from their efforts inside that.

Nathan:

That’s definitely true. And because you’ve hunted down people with quite deep specialist skill sets along the way and that knowledge has rubbed off on TrinityP3’s IP on the way through it has ended up as quite a bespoke, boutique marketing focus with a deep vein of experience and IP around the practice, structure and process of marketing. We’re not a general consultancy.

Darren:

A lot of times people advise me to broaden the offerings; the work you do could work in the legal industry and other professional services. But I’m not passionate about people or accounting; I’m passionate about marketing. When marketing is well practiced and implemented, with strategic discipline then it’s unbelievable in what it can achieve.

I just see that there are so many challenges and obstacles that get stuck in the way and what excites me is working with marketers, their agencies to eliminate those so that people can get on with the job of achieving the great results that marketing can deliver.

Nathan:

And if you look at what we’ve seen in marketing over the last year or so there’s still plenty getting in the way, stopping the potential success that is there. What will we get to work on in the next 5 years do you think?

Darren:

There’s an article that came out in December by Bain Consulting, where they agree with something I’ve been observing for the last 6 to 12 months and that is that most CEOs and Boards do not truly understand the role of marketing. They have a superficial almost archetype of what marketing is. And Bain identify 3 different archetypes. Yet, no one marketer could fulfil all three so they end up choosing one and end up wondering why within 2 or 3 years that marketer has moved on.

Marketing needs to align with the objectives of the CEO and the Board on the basis of what marketing is best at doing. We need to have these conversations, not just to appoint CMOs and give them objectives that they really can’t influence.

A prime example, everyone is talking about customer experience. You appoint a CMO and say you’re in charge of customer experience. The CMO goes great, rubs their hands together and asks can I influence the retail experience? No. Can I influence the online experience? No, that’s the IT department. What about the call centre? No, that’s sales.

So, how do you actually manage customer experience when you have no authority over most of the customer touch points and the only things you really control are the comms, the advertising prompts?

Nathan:

It’s just putting a beard and glasses on the customer experience.

Darren:

This where there needs to be more conversations. I think this is going to be the future for us. We’ve been looking at roster structures, contracts, and remuneration. We’ve then turned internally and looked at marketing structures and process, KPIs and budgets and the way budgets are applied.

The next step is to then align all of that back in with the CEO and the Board around here are some amazing resources that can do a whole lot of stuff. What do you want them to do? And what resources, authority and budget are you going to give them to allow them to do it?

And then how are you going to measure their success or otherwise against those particular measures? I think that’s a really interesting part because people bemoan that fact that marketing seems to have fallen away. Has it fallen away or is it just a lot of organisations really aren’t sure how to harness the potential that exists within their marketing function?

Nathan:

And that would then give a great focus then to galvanising what the capabilities and skill sets are that are required over the next 5 years and also the way it’s articulated and advocated within an organisation.

Darren:

Absolutely.

Nathan:

That sounds like there’s a lot of work to do.

Darren:

We are going through a transformation ourselves you are aware of this, which is in the past we’ve been very analytical and will continue to be so. But the focus going forward is going to be much more about the human resources, human capital. We’ve both worked in the advertising and marketing industry. People talk about it being a people business. That’s going to be the next frontier in terms of how do we give the resources and support that allow those people in those roles to be the best they can be?

Nathan:

Yeah. To do that with an unrelenting marketing focus is going to be the key to that isn’t it? That whole world can be so fluffy. It can be very easy to hang a sign outside your company saying we do leadership, resilience. But when we do it it’s got to be a marketing-based real thing.

Darren:

It’s always been a challenge for me because we are a niche that is competing for lots and lots of generalists. There are lots of business/ management consultants that touch on marketing but marketing is just one small part of everything they do whereas we’re only about marketing.

If someone asked us to help them with their operational. No, it’s not something we’re passionate about.

Nathan:

There are other people better equipped to handle that side of it than us. We do say this to people.

Darren:

Yeah. But then you miss out on opportunities because it becomes easy to just bundle marketing in with everything else and flick it off to a general management consultant who treats marketing as just another box to tick.

The only upside of that is almost invariably, at some point down the track (with 20 years’ experience to look back on), you end up getting called in to help fix what was screwed up by the generalists. Because they almost invariably go to a cookie-cutter approach to marketing; decentralised marketing—make it centralised or centralised—let’s make it decentralised.

They use that binary choice rather than what we’ve developed by understanding the complexity within marketing, which is deciding which of the 1,000s of options available is going to be the best one and work in with the stakeholders and help them make an informed decision about how they want to work together.

Nathan:

Yeah. Well it looks like there is plenty to do for the next 20 years, Darren. You’re half way through are you?

Darren:

I’ve always wanted to create something that would last for 100 years but that doesn’t mean I’ve got to be the one running it. So there’s always plenty of opportunity for other people to step up and take over. Maybe I’ll be like old Mr Grace—in 20 years’ time people in TrinityP3 will be talking about Mr Woolley’s coming in today.

Nathan:

‘You’re all doing very well; carry on’. Maybe in 10 years we’ll do a podcast where you can say exactly those words. Great. It’s been a pleasure talking to you. I’ll continue talking to you after this because we’re in the office and we’ve got loads to do. Thanks for listening to Managing Marketing with the 20th birthday of TrinityP3.

Darren:

Happy birthday to us.

Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals, Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by Darren Woolley and special guests. Find all the episodes here

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Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com

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