It’s all about the DNA of an agency. It’s pointless connecting the strands of your company – no matter who has the more sizeable shareholding – to another whose ethos doesn’t meld with yours. That’s just going to cause a nasty tangle in the future.
Mike Cooper, CEO of PHD Worldwide, says when they went looking for a partner in South Africa, they were looking for one that shared PHD’s DNA: innovation, groundbreaking ideas, a similar philosophy, a belief that people lie at the heart of the business. “We have to be compatible in the way we operate,” says Cooper. “It’s like a marriage. Sometimes it works, sometimes not.”
“Page three has a similar approach and quality of work,” says Cooper. “It’s important to have the same values. For us, it’s about thought leadership and creativity. We need to be aligned in the way we think. Our distinction is that we focus on strategic planning, rather than buying.”
Ann Dearnaley, managing director of page three, agrees. “We’re not a cut and paste agency. We always look for a new angle.”
Cooper – in Cape Town to sign the deal – says PHD knew they wanted a stronger presence in South Africa. “We have an active interest in emerging markets, and clients that are present in Africa and South Africa. It became a priority for us to expand our network in this area,” he says.
PHD was awarded over $2.7-billion in new business last year. Its clients include Unilever, Kraft, Elizabeth Arden, Sony Ericsson, L’Oreal, Porsche, Cannon and Esprit. It scored three Cannes Lions and was named agency of the year in the United Kingdom by Media Week.
Back in South Africa, page three had a pretty good year too. It won the MOST award for specialist agency of the year, and was runner up in agency of the year. It won the Gumtree account, and services 50 clients with billings of over R1-billion. These include Capitec and Engen.
The deal with PHD means page three has to expand, and this it will do by beefing up capacity in Johannesburg. “The growth is there,” says Dearnaley. “We have a good balance of local and international clients and many of the big clients are Johannesburg-based. We intend to give the industry a bit of a shake up! We’re looking for new leaders, strategic thinkers and new blood.”
She says page three is “actively looking for the right people but in the meantime, the Cape Town office is big enough to absorb PHD business.
Cooper says Omnicom, as the parent company, is “not as controlling as some global companies”.
“That’s not to say we don’t exercise control, but we don’t stifle our partners. We give them room to innovate. If we’ve acquired a company, it’s because of what they’ve done so there ‘s little point in having an antagonistic relationship, stamping out what is good and leaving the company worse off than when we bought it.”
Cooper is well experienced in working with international partners and running global networks. He spent years in Asia working with Zenith in China, and then expanding PHD’s influence across the Asia Pacific region. He “made acquisitions, and spread the philosophy”.
And the lessons he learnt? “To take a ‘blank sheet’ approach. Never make assumptions. Be as flexible as possible. Find areas of common ground and create common goals.”
Cooper and Dearnaley are on the same page when it comes to their belief in the growth of digital media. And the fact that South Africa has “leapfrogged” the personal computer age and gone straight into mobile as a mass communication platform means there are some exciting prospects to be mined.
“Mobile will drive digital spend,” says Cooper. As the devices get faster and cheaper, and more and more people who’ve never been active online before embrace social networks, so will the opportunities to capitalise on mobile penetration expand.
TheMediaOnline asked Cooper what three things are going to be key to media planners in 2012.
“There will be much emphasis on cutting through the clutter. We will be expected to work with other partners and deliver creative ideas that resonate with consumers. With the expansion of social media, clients are looking for engagement with consumers and are afforded the opportunity to do that. But there must be accountability.
“Clients are looking for collaborations. They don’t want five different strategies from five different agencies. It’s time to collaborate with agency partners. [Page three says it is an extension of the creative process and has dedicated office space within its creative agency clients. It’s called Page Three Inside.]
“Branded content is a huge area. We launched the first creative content agency, Drum, in 1996. We make ideas ‘live’. Content creation is very important and people love being engaged in making content. It’s a bit like the creative department of an ad agency. [Drum was so successful it launched in New York in 2010.]”
Technology, says Cooper, is the most exciting area of all. “Technology is what drives change in the media. Think about what’s happening with the tablet. Look at outdoor digital media, think about social networks. These are fabulously exciting developments. Media is evolving into a creative technology business.”