Elaine Underwood
Jul 24, 2020

DDB's new leaders discuss plans to bring new broom to agency network

Talent, creativity and embracing the giant inside are a few of the forces they will leverage to move forward.

Justin Thomas-Copeland and Marty O’Halloran
Justin Thomas-Copeland and Marty O’Halloran

Securing great talent and providing a home for it to flourish are two of the goals of DDB Worldwide’s new leadership team.

This week, the global agency named Marty O’Halloran global CEO and Justin Thomas-Copeland CEO of the network’s North America region. O’Halloran replaces Wendy Clark, who departed DDB in April to become CEO of Dentsu Aegis Network.

The pair updated Campaign from Auckland, where O’Halloran most recently headed DDB’s operations in Australia and New Zealand, and Brussels, where Thomas-Copeland is wrapping up duties as chief of OPMG Health, which, like DDB Worldwide, is part of the Omnicom Group.

They discussed plans for moving to New York, where they’ll focus on growing the DDB brand, particularly in North America, and hunt for strategic acquisitions in cities where DDB operates.

Their most important goals, though, tap into a more personal dynamic. O’Halloran and Thomas-Copeland want to nurture junior talent, many of whom can feel lost in a work-from-home world, and create a setting where close client relationships flourish.

What excites you both about this new era of leadership at DDB? And, is there anything you’d like to unload as far as headcounts, acquisitions and other orders of business?

Marty O’Halloran (MO): The first priority for me, for DDB, is to lean into very closely, look at other Omnicom agencies that have skill sets that will help us. Another area I will be aggressively looking at is the talent pool. We want to help North America succeed. We are looking very closely at acquisitions in various cities in which we operate. I am very focused on working on a global plan that will drive North America business development. It is a very exciting time.

Justin Thomas-Copeland (JTC): Nothing to unload! There is a great capability across North America. A great capability in performance marketing, a great studio, a great content division...we are looking at how to build those areas.

I am joining a company with a great brand heritage and a great focus will be on creativity. Creativity has got to be paramount to our business; creativity is the way of the world, in my mind. I don’t think it is even an advertising proposition, but the way of the world.

It seems the holding company/global agency paradigm is getting its share of, for lack of a better term, digs. What do you say to that? We get it, independent shops are ‘it’? Where’s the myopia in that thinking?

MO: Sometimes we worry too much about boutiques, that they’ve got this perceived edge on us. But a lot of clients are reassured by scale, that is my experience.

I personally really champion creative talent. For me that is making sure we have got the best talent, better than a boutique would have. We have got to give that talent the freedom to develop the kind of work that is right for clients. We outperform any boutique when it comes to creative excellence, that will be our focus, working with Justin and our creative leadership.

That is what I love about New York. There is an amazing talent pool there and we will look for that talent.

JTC: I would reinforce one thing, although we are big, the best relationships are local and they do feel intimate. At DDB, we have got to make sure our clients feel that intimacy. Those are the best relationships, ones that feel intimate.

We will not be nervous about our size, as we can bring scale and different things to those relationships. You don't have to act big. We are going to double down about getting close to clients.

Justin, your background, especially, has been in digital marketing. Everyone talks about merging digital and creative, is that happening? Can digital transform mainstream branding and mass communications?

JTC: The business is still innately human. It is still about getting customers to desire and want your business, your product. We get caught up in data and digital. When I talk about data, I talk about insights. That is what you have got to do with data. I never had a data briefing, but I have applied data. To really manifest itself, you have to talk about insights.

If you can distill that data to an insight they (creatives) will have more to play with. We don’t blind them with science, we blind them with understanding of humans. That is where you get creativity. That is where you get the best work. It comes from simple, distilled insights.

MO: For me, this is really the time to reimagine our business. It is the interaction of art and science. That is why, just this (new) leadership role in North America is going to be so vital to a new DDB that we will see (unfold) in the marketplace.

One of the reasons I have been put in this role is I’ve helped build a group of businesses where we are bringing this (art and science) to life. Do we have creatives that are brilliant at storytelling but can also creatively communicate in a personalized way? Not many brands are doing that well in the current environment. The power of DDB will be applying this to all the opportunities in front of us.

What are your plans for building the DDB culture, especially during this time of COVID and social upheaval?

MO: The key thing for me, and what I am known for, is a focus on culture. All businesses have had a major jolt to [question] who we are and how we work. Our main focus is: How can we keep focusing on building the best culture in the industry?

We also have to reimagine how we work going forward. For the foreseeable future, having flexible working relationships with staff is going to be critical. How do we enable people to work together closely, because the best ideas come out of human connection? We are developing ways to easily work together.

Another thing I care about are the more junior people in our organization. Seniors can handle some disruption, but young people are missing social connections, mentoring and guidance of their careers.

JTC: It definitely starts with people. I want to make sure we look after our key people. It’s key to our growth. Then, clients are going through difficult times. They are trying to navigate, to get to a new normal, as are we. The last four or five months, I have been trying to really understand the space we are in and find new ways of working, new ways of partnering.

As top talent is so important to North America, give me an idea of where you'll find it?

JTC: I hire talent from so many different places. Actors, writers, talent from people doing public service. I’ve met people on public transport, who are giving live performances, and hired them as copywriters. You find talent in all different kinds of places.

How about relocating to New York to run North America, Justin?

JTC: First of all, New York is a great place. And, personal insight, I lived there for three years. There is a different New York on every third or fourth block. It is a source of inspiration for those of us in the creative business.

New York is also a place of scale that is impressive. There’s a depth of talent in New York. It is a great place to be to bring in the right talent.


Campaign US

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