Managing Marketing: People Powered Growth


Nick Keenan is the Chief Executive Officer of Starcom Australia, a Publicis Groupe Company. Globally, Starcom is known as the Human Experience Company and combined with the concept of People Powered Growth is designed to improve their positioning and point of differentiation. But what does it mean and how will it work for advertisers, media owners, their other agency partners and their staff. Nick and I discussed this to determine if this is a tangible advantage for Starcom Australia or not.

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Welcome to Managing Marketing, a weekly podcast where we discuss the issues and opportunities facing marketing, media, and advertising, with industry thought leaders and practitioners.

Today, I’m in the new Publicis offices in Sydney, and I’m sitting down with Nick Keenan, Chief Executive Officer at Starcom Australia, part of the Publicis Group of Companies. Welcome, Nick.


Thank you, Darren. Good to be here.


And thank you for the invite. But one of the things is that when we deal with a lot of companies, a lot of agencies, not many of them have a long-term platform. I can almost name them on one hand, and then more creative agencies than media agencies; like BBDO, the work, the work, the work, TBWA, disruption.

But Starcom has actually had a sort of global positioning or a way of thinking for quite a while, haven’t they?


They have. The Human Experience framework, which I believe we’ve had now for over three to four years. So, it’s certainly been around for a number of years and becoming more and more relevant as time goes on.

And we certainly noticed that during the COVID period that clients are increasingly talking about the human experience, not just the customer experience. The human experience is ultimately built around that tension between a brand need and a customer need, and trying to find what that middle ground is with the experience design that you’re building into the campaign.


And Nick, it could also be because I think there are some people saying that yeah, a Western society, we’ve got all the things that we could possibly want. That really, the only thing that’s left to fulfil us is the human experience, isn’t it?


Yeah, I mean, that’s an interesting point, isn’t it? We’re in that sort of lap of luxury in a lot of Western society and we’re getting to some really incredible territory when you look at cultural diversity when we’re taking our Indigenous questions and challenges more seriously and we’re generally trying to solve more complex societal issues that have been bubbling away for a long time.

Whereas if you go back through the decades, I guess it was all about the economy and making sure that we got this consistently established wealth. But yeah, definitely, I think the human experience now is getting that meaning and value out of life, isn’t it?


Yeah. And would you/or have you reflected on how the past eight or nine months working in a pandemic, has also reshaped in a way, the way people think about the human experience?


It’s one of those … and “disruptive’s” an overused word, I guess, but it’s the best way to describe it… where the human race, every now and then, gets snapped out of its inertia on something, when something big happens.

You know, there’s a lot of silver linings in COVID, the way I look at it. This is not to dismiss in any way, shape or form that obviously the awful tragic nature of the lives that it’s claimed. I think another interesting reflection when we talk COVID is, that politicians got out of the way for health reasons and they listened to the scientists. And maybe that’s another disruptive moment where we’ll start listening to the scientists and let them solve the problem… getting us on a path, like what we’ve done with COVID.

Also, I’ve spent more time with my family and kids. I’ve got into better conversations. I’ve gone out of the conference room, if you like, to the virtual conference room at the dinner table, where I’m not commuting. And I’m suddenly having a really good conversation with my seven-year-old and my 10-year-old or my 12-year-old.

And as much as we like to think it’s quality over quantity time, there’s actually a familiarity with family which sparks better conversations and a more intimate relationship. And so, that’s one of the biggest silver linings I found coming out of COVID. That and COVID kind of got rid of Donald Trump and that was a good thing too. So, well, there’s a lot to like.


Well, I read recently that a whole lot of American celebrities are moving to Australia, because they say Australia has handled/and New Zealand have handled the pandemic with a very human focus. But the best quote I thought to sum it up was someone– and I can’t remember who it was. I just remember it left an impact.

They said, “Economies have a long history of bouncing back, dead people do not.” And I thought that really brought it home, that everyone that’s focused on, “Well, what about the economy? What about the economy?” It goes up and down. And it’s people that drive that economy, isn’t it?


Absolutely, it is. And there’s also the great quote of, “The true test of society is how much it protects its weak.” And that’s agile altruism, I guess, that we find often and ping it around at a dinner party, but how seriously do you take it?

I believe in Australia, we put the human experience, certainly the human health element first, didn’t we?


Yeah, absolutely. And I think one of the things – this is an interesting conversation because we started talking about the human experience company. And I think that often, companies will have a line, a positioning, they’ll have a document about it.

But I think in some ways, Starcom, you said three to four years ago, this was the line for the global business. But suddenly, it’s got a context and relevance that I’d really like to explore, especially as you’ve recently announced a strategy around People Powered Growth.

Now, there is a lot of cynicism and you’d be aware of it, not just in advertising, but in the wider marketing community and even the business community about how marketing is great at being creative and coming up with new strategies and ideas.

But I’d love to talk a bit about where People Powered Growth comes from and what it actually means for all of the different stakeholder groups that you as the CEO of a major media agency has to deal with. Because media agencies are the great intermediary, aren’t they? You’ve got very powerful media owners on one side, and with them, also the aggregators, I call them. I don’t call them media owners because they refuse to take the responsibility of being a media owner.

And on the other side, very powerful brands. And you’re really being the go-between those, aren’t you?


Definitely. And look, you mentioned the cynicism in terms of positions in marketing, and there are a few eye-rolling moments and other agencies talking about themselves… but look, I think there are a few points to note when we talk about the human experience and we talk about having a strategic position in market…

The human experience agency, the human experience platform is a strategic framework. And a very effective one. It’s a great way to take a client brief and rinse it through the various different exercises to see what is that brand tension and customer tension, where you can get to as many of the relevant eyeballs as possible in a really engaging way… even a retail experience is an experience that we can dissect and we can respond to. It’s a strategic position.

What I find with strategic positions like that is they’re not great positions in market for the agency within a local market. So with human experience, everyone loved it from a strategic proposition. Our clients loved it, it led to great work, but it was also incredibly broad and it didn’t have a position in a market where you could bring in those different relationships (as you mentioned, the media) and bringing together the client, the media and the agency, and the group services that you’ve got, in what essentially needed to be a collaborative platform.

So, our position in market, People Powered Growth, is our definition and interpretation of being the human experience agency in the Australian marketplace. We felt that people-powered, it needed a position that enabled collaboration.

It’s fine to have the technical thinking but how are you then engaging and bringing the parties together to do better work, to actually generally look at and create human experience for customers and their brands. And that comes into experience design, which is really at the heart and the hub of the HX framework and what we’re trying to achieve through a collaborative form in People Powered Growth.

So, People Powered Growth ultimately is a collaboration platform.

And it’s got a lot that sits underneath it, but what powers it is interconnected capability, training and the cross-training of staff, so that we have an agency structure that is cross-functionally operated.

In the past the HX framework would sit in strategy and that work would then hand over to people who are doing things like channel planning. And then they’ve got to do in-channel planning and-


The hand-off.


The hand-off. So, we’ve pulled HX right through the agency structure. And we’ve done that through a People Powered Growth platform, which ultimately, is about training these guys up and diversifying their skill sets.


So, just to give me a visual, because I’m quite a visual person. I know I use words, but it seems to me that you’re embracing this idea of collective hubs in a way, bringing cross-functional teams to work together on a problem. In many ways, the highest level of agile is the same thing. Is that part of the vision?


Absolutely. So, if you see it like at the end of the day, we’re a project management team in marketing comms really. We’re bringing together different parts. So, what’ll happen if you look at 55% of Starcom’s portfolio or even closer to probably 60%, but a good majority of our clients have more than one Publicis agency working on them. And ultimately, without a collaborative platform and way of working, they’re going to operate in their various different siloed forms until a project team brings that together.

So, if you take some of the consulting groups like PWC and Deloitte, what I’ve experienced on the client-side was those projects, the big initiatives that you were launching in the market for the customer, that might’ve been a program that you were launching, or it might’ve been a JV or partnership that the business had done, where you’re integrating two technologies and then you’re going to go and market to that customer in a consistent way. It really struck me the way those teams would come in and embed themselves in your marketing teams, in your operations teams and your technology teams, and they would knit those three, what were incredibly siloed functions on a client’s business-


But into one team.


But into one team.


But they’ve had a long-term philosophy and structure that agencies have never really managed to embrace. And that’s the idea of the project sponsor, the project lead, and the project manager. And when it translates into agencies, the sponsor is virtually non-existent. It usually falls to the managing director or the CEO, or the most senior account management person.

But then, the lead is usually an account management person. And the role of account management over the years has become a service one. Whereas in consulting firms, it’s very much about proper management and driving and identifying obstacles and keeping everyone aligned and that type of work. Can that sort of culture translate into agencies?


Well, I certainly do. I think with Starcom and having the benefit of the Publicis Group, absolutely. And we’ve just hired our first Chief Client Officer, which is Louise Romeo who’s running the P&G account. But also, sitting on the national exec as our Head of Power of One.

Now, ultimately, where that’s relevant is Louise has been trained up in terms of the creative work that we’re doing. So, we’re kind of creative. We do the corporate PR, we do the performance, we do all the transactable media. And that’s one person sitting across for the brands and not all of the 12 and 30 brands that account has been fitting into that mould.

But there will be a significant portion of those brands where we’ll be doing all of those things. That person has to see and learn how the sausage is made in creative and to bring that together. And very much like I described in a PWC model, they are the designated group lead, the project manager, if you like. So, they have to learn how creative messaging comes to the foreground.

They also have to work out with the competing interest of strategy teams. And you have a strategy and this is in this agency village where clients get really caught up. Everyone’s trying to outsmart each other if they’ve got all these independents running around saying “My strategy is better than theirs, or this is better for this particular campaign that we’re running or this particular product that we’re launching”.

And really there needs to be one ring that rules them all when it comes to strategy. And that is certainly our best example of pulling that through where you do have one project management lead. The really exciting thing with that when it comes back to people is that it’s a career path.

There’s a lot of insecurity when you talk to particularly the top talent who are looking in media agency land going, “Well, where does this go in the next few years?”. Because the amount of convergence that’s happening, the amount of the traditional ways and the business model of media agencies is evolving at speed, is leaving a lot of them open to think, “Well, is my skillset going to be needed? If I’m just now TV buying, am I going to have a future in three to four years? The guy that’s doing in-channel planning for social media does, but do I?”.

And so, you’ve got to have an agency structure that provides diversified training and skillsets. And they’re going to have to take on multiple roles. They’ll have a specialism at their core, as we all do. But they have to be trained and developed to have what we call T-shaped talent, broad in knowledge.

And the best example of that is the one I’ve given where you’ve got a Chief Client Officer who’s now got to learn how corporate PR fits into what they’re doing and how reactive that’s got to be to what we’re seeing in the market, both positive and negative in terms of that brand. How does the strategy work for the creative production that’s been done? And then pulling that through right down to campaign execution.

You’ve also got to figure out how to bring the parties together. There is a lot of work that the media partners have done, particularly your more traditional businesses that are increasingly digitising themselves and doing it successfully. You can look at some of the TV networks like Nine, Seven and TEN, they’re getting pretty good with an omnichannel platform. They’ve got good content, they’ve got good audiences and they’re coming into siloed environments trying to sell an omnichannel solution.


And particularly, that they are very much customer-focused, aren’t they? Because the thing that I noticed that the upfronts, that both Nine and to a lesser extent, Seven and TEN, they’re very focused on being able to track customer engagement across their multiple channels. Incredibly valuable when it comes to the role of working out well, what’s the right combination for our client wanting to engage with those people through those multiple channels.


And on our side, we need to engage that more and we need to trial it. Because I think for a lot of brands, they’ve become very overweight in certain areas, in certain channels where the buy for expediency, ease of tools and systems that you’re using, even the Trojan horse mentality that I think is going on, where there are – and whether you call them aggregators or the various different partners, particularly on the digital side  – where they run lots of training and development programs.

This is how you get in there and you get all these wonderful tools and it makes it easy and this wonderful automatic reporting. And so, what happens is there’s an indoctrination where someone goes, “Oh, I know and trust that system.” And it’s incumbent upon us to actually engage with that, but also look at training our staff on some of the omnichannel platforms that we’re seeing with the other networks so that it doesn’t become a habitual buy.


Well, and the danger is that the main players and Amazon increasingly, are winning the game because they’re making it easier and easier.


Easier and easier.


So, where there is an intermediary like a media agency that is already time-poor, resource-poor, often, fund poor, fee poor – if there’s a simpler solution that appears to be delivering the results, why would you go elsewhere? And that is absolutely the trouble. And it’s good to see that some of the traditional media owners are starting to look for ways of making it more convenient to interact with their omnichannel offering.


Well, they’re coming up with training modules. So, People Powered Growth is a collaboration framework. It is a cross-functional operations and training development program we’ve launched through the HX Academy.

On that point, we’ve gone on to do more of those, particularly with the TV networks. And we’ve asked for training modules to go into the HX Academy and they’ve engaged with that in a fantastic way. So, come January 2021, we’ve got an HX Academy where yes, they’re doing all the digital training and they’re learning all of those things, and we’ve got all the training modules that are relevant to us as well.

But we’ve kept 30% of the capacity in there to populate it with other training modules. And as recently as a few weeks ago, Nine has a training module that is going to go into the HX Academy in the new year. And we’re really excited about that because I think then, we’re doing the right thing by our clients and our partners by really looking/and they’re going to make the campaign buying and execution of that a lot easier.

So, I think for them, they’re really starting to learn how to sell their product in a better way.


Now, I just want to pick up, you talk about it being a collaborative process or platform. And you said, I think it was around 55 or 60% of Starcom’s clients are also engaging with other Publicis group agencies, creative agencies. So, that means there’s 45-


Digital performance, there’s a few in there, yeah.


So, 45% are also working with other creative agencies, be they independent or inside other networks. Where do you see this role – does it exist outside of the walls of Starcom? Does it exist outside the walls of the Publicis Group in Australia? Can it extend out to those companies? And what do you think it would take for non-aligned agencies to actually see the benefit of this?


Look, it’s a great question. We certainly believe that it extends outside the walls where we might be the only agency whether it’s in their agency village or ecosystem that’s Publicis, and obviously, there’s 45% of those.

So, it’s going to depend on the client. Are all of them going to want to go into the people platform? Well maybe, maybe not, but we’re certainly having good conversations at the moment and showing it’s not just a high-level framework, but that it’s got a lot of detail that sits in a way of working.

So, for example, there are three sorts of tranches to the campaigns we receive from a client. There’s annualised planning. I think we were discussing earlier it’s good when businesses have longer-term strategic thinking. The annualised strategy really worries me greatly because you never really execute in time. And then you run the danger of ripping up the rule book and starting again the next year.

And you’re caught in this awful cycle of never achieving. And a good strategy should stretch for three years at a minimum in my view. But that’s certainly coming from client-side.


I actually have a different view. I think it should be five years. It worries me that they keep saying the average CMO tenure is what? 22 months or 26 months, because how could you actually execute a proper strategy? A five-year plan that gets updated every year, but keeps a constant objective is the only way you could actually meaningfully impact a business.


Well, certainly, when you work and I’ve been exposed to a fair bit of private equity; five-year plans and five-year EBITDA targets are always the sorts of the accounting benchmark if you like, and then they look for strategies. But it is, I think the market and just how fast some of the transformation pieces are. People get a bit nervous now with five years.

There used to be that great quote I think from Bill Gates, that everyone overestimates what will happen in five and underestimates what will happen in 10. I do think it’s narrowing, it’s shortening. A company life cycle, as we know, the average age in the fifties of a company was say 40-50 years. And that’s now down, the average life cycle for a company is 15 years in the Forbes 500.

So, they rise up and they get to the top of their S-curve and then they go broke with a far greater speed than what they used to because the market’s just – it’s become a lot faster as we all know. So, whether it’s three or it’s five, long-term strategy is critically important.

I mean, the way I look at three, our strategic thinking is certainly well set up now. I think we went into COVID as a business, a little unfit, a bit unhealthy. If I give the human analogy, our blood pressure was up, our cholesterol was probably pretty bad. Our iron levels were up shooting through the roof and we’ve come out of it, not with a six-pack, but we’ve used that time really well.


Not too many COVID kilos around the mid rift.


No, we did a lot of work. We engaged 56 of 140 staff and got them engaged in this whole process so that they had their fingerprints on the gun, so to speak. And that they bought into the strategy because too often, executive teams go off into the room, think they’ve solved the problems of the world, come out and then wonder why no one’s going to follow them over the trench and they just don’t understand it.

So, you’ve got to engage them and most good leadership teams and certainly, I said in agencies, should get that and do get that. But it is interesting. If you’ve got a client, that’s got that … and I was talking about annualised planning and the three tranches that we’re trying to plan for. Annualised planning, you can schedule. You know it’s got a seasonality to it. You know when a P&G is going to go into a planning period. You know when an FCA is going to go into a plan. You know they have rigorous processes that are well-established.

So, what we’ve designed to bring our media partners, and as part of People Powered Growth, we’ve got a whole program in terms of how we run those annualised plans, and we bring the media in upstream to hear directly from the client and we’re running workshops together. We can’t do it for all media, but we will go through a process of matching the right client with the right media partner in order to run those programs.

We can bring in certainly the majors into that process. And we’ve got that commitment from our clients, the ones that we’ve talked to and asked: “Are you comfortable with that?”. And there are some environments where you’ll need an NDA. There’ll be some environments where it’s confidential in nature as you would expect. But by and large, you can bring the media into that environment, bring them upstream.

There’s such a critically important piece to the ideation, the way the content could match with the creative messaging. The creatives need to be in that room too. They need to be part of that so that there is this one ring that rules them all from a strategic point of view so that we don’t have competing strategies. And it’s easier to communicate amongst one another; media, client, internal agency, external agency.

By doing so, we can be the custodian of that project. We’re not going to get it every time, but if we get it more times with more clients than we have in the past, we’ll have a very close relationship and we’ll do great work.


So, Nick, you’ve spent time on the other side in the hot seat, sitting in the marketing lead role, how much of this approach is actually informed by your experience of being on the other side and looking at your agency roster and thinking about, well, if only …


It’s entirely based off that… I mean, there’s that experience and I also had seven years on client-side working at Crown and CrownBet as Commercial Director. And that was a fantastic experience. I worked launching new digitally-led businesses. It was a lot of fun; it was a hell of a lot of work.

And look, when that business was sold, there was a sense of accomplishment and a bit of a relief because it was a pretty full-on experience. I think I was employee 83 or 86, and we topped out at 400 by the time that was done. So, it was like trying to hold onto a bolting horse that was growing so quickly.

Our CAGR was 120% every year. And every one that was involved in that just made a phenomenal effort. They took an unknown brand into a number two position in the end, by the time it was sold to Stars Group. There were so many agencies in the village – I’d see marketing teams trying with the pressure to connect internally to the operations teams.

And you’d see the time that was left over to deal with the media buyers, the media that wanted time and attention. And there wasn’t the project team that I gave you as an example, where PWC came in and I saw them bring all these departments together in such a wonderful way. And that was certainly, I guess the first seed… why isn’t there a group solution where everyone has an agreed scope, so you can get rid of the conflict, at least in the short term?


And a way of accounting it.


And you’ve got away from it, and you’ve got accountability. And for that period, you’ll get that the work will improve significantly, and everyone should get excited about that because people gravitate to success very quickly. They also will rip it up at the first sign of trouble. So, that was the first part.

At Red Rooster, it was incredible, the time spent by marketing and operations, looking at the unit dimensional daily sales figures. When really, the daily sales figures were basically decided months and months, and months, and even years earlier, in terms of what that brand architecture was, what was that brand signature in terms of consideration – all that top of the funnel stuff that we talk about in marketing.

But then on the client-side, you get so surprised at how addicted you are to that daily unit dimensional: “Oh my God, we’re down 2% or up 1%. Amazing, we’re up 7%.”

And then there’s this forensic auditing that goes on, of trying to find out what happened yesterday versus last year or last week, or last month. When really, working and trying to measure what matters and pulling yourself back from that day-to-day is really difficult on the client-side.

So, what that means for agency partners, everyone’s then trying to dance to that drum saying I’ve got the answer, and none of them really do. They have a piece of it, they have a little bit of it, but ultimately, it’s more of a longer-term strategic process. There are all sorts of variables, but ultimately, there’ll be three to four to five things that really matter.


So, I’ve got a friend who’s a pilot, a commercial pilot, and he said, no pilot flies on the instruments. As in, you’re constantly course-correcting. It’s a waste of energy because if you’re constantly course-correcting, you don’t know within the next 10 kilometres, you’re going to get a jet stream that’s going to put you back on, anyway.

He said you watch it for trends. You watch it for potential watch-outs ahead, but you’re not adjusting the aeroplane constantly to being right on target. And I think that’s, in some ways, what you’re explaining here, is that when people become so obsessed about the macro measurement, in retrofit, what it should be informing is, is this trending to working or is it trending to not working? And if it’s not working, then we have a problem. If it’s working, perhaps we should be doing more of that.


Absolutely. And so, that annualised planning, whether it’s in a three or five-year strategy is where you get to play a little bit more upstream and there’s a bit more time. And there’s more stepping back to answer that question and see what the underlying trends are and measure what matters.

So, we need to bring the key partners in that room at that time with the client and generally keep that in a framework and in a format that doesn’t waste time. But it is critically important that the brands do that for that very reason. Because there are only very few things that really matter and show the true health of the brand and product and service they have in the market.


Look, it’s really interesting, but then translating that back down to the human experience. Because I find that technology has been a great enabler, but I think it’s what drags us away from the fact that at the end of the day, we’re talking about people.


Yes. When I came into Starcom everyone loved the human experience from a strategic standpoint. When you put it through its machinations to respond on a brief, it makes sense, but it is incredibly broad. And your question is, well, how do you define that in terms of what you’re doing as part of that ecosystem of agencies? What are you actually doing that’s a human experience.


Yeah, how does it actually occur for the individuals involved?


Where is it tangible, where does it happen?


Because I’m trying to pin you down on this because I-


No, I’m going to give you a definitive answer. So, fair enough, and I’ll come down from 30,000 feet and get down to the tarmac.

So, experience design is really where it comes to the fore. My layman’s interpretation of experience design is, certainly the last seven months as we’ve been designing and looking to commercialise experience design, it’s simply this; it’s the points of interactivity that are built into a campaign for those that respond to the advertising. And there are various different degrees of how people interact with an advertising campaign.

To give a more granular example; it’s looking at an automotive client for instance and designing the in-purchase survey. You’re going to buy the car, you’re sitting there waiting to get your finance checked, and you’ve got time to kill. You’ll tick any box just to waste the time. So, as he’s making his phone calls and doing his various different checks, and you’re hopefully going to get the keys and drive out of there, you’ll fill it out.

So, if we went to Jeep, for instance, and someone nominates they’re going to take that car camping as part of that question, that whatever we design based on the information we want to grab – then that’s useful information that we then build into the CRM. And we work with their operations department. Maybe we go to an Anaconda and we look for promotions for camping equipment. So, we start that path to purchase on day one for the next car, not leave it for two to three years. And so that is-


And then pop up and go, “Hi, we’re back.”


Hi, we’re back. It’s like that one-night stand at a nightclub, and then you see them three years later. And you don’t want to be like that with your customer as a brand. You want to connect with them on a regular basis. And when it’s bad strategy, and when it’s a bad thought, that’s when millions of dollars get poured into petrol apps.

Now people buy petrol for convenience, they’re not going to drive 50 kilometres because there are two or three cents that the app says you can save … unless it’s on the way to dropping the kids off to school, great. I’ll pull in and maybe I’ll notice. But we’ve learned the real-world application of experience design vs. what is just someone sitting with a whiteboard trying to come up with a good idea.

Experience design is how we build the human experience into a campaign. And it’s a point of interactivity. And that might be an experiential event where you’re kicking a football into a blowup cup and you’re getting people’s data – and there is a product and a promotion you’re doing around that. So, points of interactivity are when the human experience starts to become really tangible.

That’s what we’ve changed at our agency. We had a great strategy, good strategists doing human experience frameworks, but we didn’t have the experience design. And we’ve got to look to bring that externally into the agency. And we’ve also got a couple of people who are very well-versed and specialise in that area.

And we’ve got to train them up on some of the strategy, and we’ve got to get them to train the strategists, to learn more about the experience design. So, that doesn’t become a pass-through to different departments. That it actually is something that is built-in, and the account service teams need to be trained on that as well. And where channel planning was done, needs to come into the account service teams and so does in-channel planning.

This is where it gets really interesting when you really de-structure and de-silo.


Yeah, because I like your T-


T-shaped talent.


… it is the way to do it. Because giving people very broad knowledge so that they’re able to think (I hate the word, but holistically), that they are able to engage in conversations with specialists and see how all the parts come together.

And I think that’s one of the things that’s been lost, especially in the last decade, is that there’s been the rise of so many specialists, but no one or few people that are in a position and have the knowledge to be able to see how they all pull together.


Well, otherwise, it just becomes … specialisms really – and if you get into the business model of the future, in my humble opinion specialisms are only part of it. If you look at your composition of an agency in terms of where they make their revenue, a good part of it is on a fixed fee. Everyone ran to fix because it’s certainty and it’s great.

But then there’s a baked-in scope that becomes immovable and inflexible. And I think in marketing, why it’s changing so much, that’s something that you want to/you want to lower that fixed fee remuneration. You want more of the commission-based structure, which became a dirty word years ago and it’s gone. I think it needs to come back the other way so that specialisms can come in and out and they pay for what they need.

And we call it dynamic scaling, which is just a fancy term for we’ll bring someone in on a needs basis so that you-


We call it value-based pricing.


Okay, great. We might borrow that. So, value-based pricing, you’re not paying for something that you’re not using, and it also teaches the agency just how much you need of those specialisms and how connected they are to the rest of the team.

And also, the people communicating them need to learn what they’re doing, because otherwise, the specialism isn’t accountable and then you become beholden to specialists and you never want to be … it’s like the guy that fixes your laptop. If it didn’t work and you’re stressed that you’ve got a meeting and you got an email you need to send or whatever it is, and they come in in two seconds, they fix the laptop, you’re almost going to give them a big bear hug.

And it might be his fault in the first place the thing crashed, but you don’t know what he does. I don’t know what’s going on in the background of that laptop. And specialisms can become like that.


Well, and the other danger is that specialists often can’t talk to other people because they learn the language of this specialism. And so, you suddenly need translators.

I’ve always thought that the best career path for anyone, especially in media, is to work across the disciplines to start with. Work out where their core competency or aptitude is, and then really build that depth.

But then ultimately, at some point in your career, you’re going to move on from that back into helping pull it all together. Because I think the combination of the generalist and the specialist actually allows you to cope with the complexity that media is all about these days. It’s becoming more and more complex. And yet, at the end of the day, do you vary positioning? It’s about people, it’s complex ways of engaging with people.


People hire people, it’ll always be that way. And thankfully so, and good talent absolutely is critical to that. But of equal importance, is having the right working processes and frameworks that enable them to do their best work and connect and there’s interdependencies everywhere. And you’ve got to identify those very quickly, as you’ve also got a lot of habits set in stone. Have the strategic thinking, but be tactical enough to react when necessary.

People Powered Growth is also a workflow integration platform. It’s a collaboration platform and it’s a cultural platform, those three things; and its number one objective is to offer a client group marketing services. That ultimately is what we’re trying to achieve. That’s what success looks like in three years’ time.

When you look at a career path, which keeps and attracts good talent… if I’m a Client Service Director and 55-60% of our portfolio has multiple agencies working on it, if they cross-sell into the agency group (and this comes back to that 45%), their career path, they can grow and become a Chief Client Officer organically by increasing the agencies in the group.

And you’re never going to get a hundred percent, you’ll get the big accounts that will put all the eggs into one basket. And I think that’s amazing when that happens and some great work will happen, but not every client is going to be prepared to do that. They’re going to want a bit of competitive tension between partners sometimes.

But back to one of your earlier points too, in terms of what I noticed on client-side and what you want to see, is you can’t go to all those meetings. A CEO should value marketing greatly because ultimately, that unit dimensional daily sales figure is going to look pretty awful in 12 months’ time if you ignore your marketing department and you’re not across it; and if they go rogue or go down a path that is going to cause long-term detriment to you, to your brand and your sales.

So, you need an approach where you’re having fewer meetings, but there’s a high quality of work. And there will be some cost savings there as well, no doubt.

But the digital age has led to far too many specialists popping up, just focused in one area then going in for scope creep, looking to put the strategy into it, identifying an opportunity because the relationship wasn’t great over there. And I think pre-COVID, we got to this culmination, there was just a lot of people trying to get time for the client, and the client does not have that time to spend.


Nick, it’s been a great conversation, but we’ve run out of time. Time flies with such an engaging topic. Perhaps we should re-title you as a Chief People Powered Growth Officer as you’re in charge of this new way of working, what do you think? Or is it a bit of a mouthful?

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