Campaign Brief caught up with Australia’s Marty O’Halloran, the newly appointed global CEO of DDB Worldwide.
CB: Australia and New Zealand have enjoyed significant success in recent years. What will you export from the region to DDB’s global offices?
O’Halloran: I am tasked with transforming and revitalizing, arguably, the most famous advertising brand on the planet. We’re lucky there are so many learnings we can take from Australia and New Zealand who have transformed themselves in recent years to deliver market-leading integration. I will not rest until all of our agencies are considered market leaders and are creatively dominating the markets where we operate. It’s pretty simple when you get it right: focus on your people, build an amazing culture and your product then starts to stand out from a creative point of view. That drives your profit. That’s exactly the philosophy I’ll employ in all markets. It’s simple, but it actually works. But importantly, it’s getting that right talent mix. Those who know me well know there’s no bullshit, there’s no politics. It’s all about the team. It’s all about us. If you create that right environment and chemistry, clients feel it.
CB: You started as an Account Manager for McDonald’s in DDB Melbourne more than 30 years ago. What does it mean to you to have an Australian now leading the DDB Worldwide network globally?
O’Halloran: I’ve never chased the big roles overseas because it was always my belief that we could build the best agency in the world here in Australia – you didn’t have to be in New York or London to be the best. Our team in this region has proven that; it’s my privilege to take those learnings to the global stage.
CB: What does your Global role mean for the Australian and New Zealand offices?
O’Halloran: I leave the Australian and New Zealand businesses in extremely capable hands with Andrew Little continuing as DDB Group Australia CEO and Justin Mowday as DDB Group New Zealand CEO. We have incredible creative leadership in Australia with Ben Welsh and Tara Ford, the Chief Creative Officers of DDB Australia and DDB Sydney, respectively, and DDB Australia and New Zealand Chief Creative Officer Damon Stapleton; three of the most awarded creatives in the region. As the world starts to open up again, there will be opportunities for our talent to add creative and strategic firepower across the globe. At the same time, COVID-19 has shown us that creativity has no borders and I see huge opportunities for Australia and New Zealand employees to work on global business from Down Under.
CB: Creatively, Australia and New Zealand punch above their weight on the global scale. What’s the secret sauce and how do you inject some of that success into other offices?
O’Halloran: We believe creativity is the most powerful force in business. It is the DNA of DDB and we push people every day to think big and think differently. I plan to double down on creativity and ensure all of our leaders are as passionate about the creative product as I am. In my experience, by fostering an environment that genuinely nurtures creativity, people will create the best work of their life.
CB: As Global CEO, what are your priorities?
O’Halloran: I am a 34-year DDB veteran who believes in constantly transforming the business to ensure we are ahead of the competition. The industry change we are experiencing truly excites me as I see how new platforms and technology are opening up more opportunities for us to create amazing ideas for our clients. That said, our industry is obsessed with change. I’ve seen many people join DDB and think they need to change it, but those of us that have been around for a while realise that there’s something extremely powerful in the legacy of DDB and its founder Bill Bernbach that we need to hold onto. We are building a modern DDB and embracing what data and technology have to offer our clients, but we will always have one step in the future and one in the past.
CB: There’s a lot of talk about the battle between creativity and data and technology. Where do you stand on the debate?
O’Halloran: We’ve allowed a false narrative to emerge in the industry; that there is a tension between art and science. I disagree with that. For as long as marketing has been around, it has been the genius intersection of art and science. Unfortunately, we’ve seen many clients partner with martech suppliers that aren’t equipped to deploy those services. In Australia and New Zealand, we have brilliant people in our data business TRACK that help clients navigate those platforms and tools. We are seeing more briefs globally with data and customer experience at the heart and will be investing more in these areas. Creativity will always be at the core, but the holy grail is leveraging the personalisation that data and technology offer and marrying it with creativity.
CB: DDB Sydney has some of the longest-standing relationships in Australian advertising – McDonald’s for 48 years, Westpac 8 years, Unilever 23 years, Johnson & Johnson 17 years – what can the DDB Network learn from these relationships?
O’Halloran: We believe in having partners not clients. Long-term partnerships aren’t just more profitable for us, but they are more profitable for the client as the brand can commit to long-term brand-building objectives proven to be the most effective. In Australia and New Zealand, we’ve put significant resources into proving the value of creativity and what we do. Our partners now see the true growth we can deliver and subscribe to the power of emotional brand-building.
CB: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing advertising agencies currently?
O’Halloran: There’s an obvious answer which is dealing with the commercial challenges presented by COVID-19, but the more interesting long-term challenge is to anticipate what the agency of the future looks like and ensure that we’re the first agency network to get there. That’s a transformational challenge that speaks to our ever-improving technical capability, cultural diversity, and ongoing commitment to proving that creativity is the most powerful force in business in a rapidly changing world.