Huge said Tuesday it has promoted Mark Manning to global COO, a new position at the agency reporting to global CEO Mat Baxter.
The agency is bringing on Ryan Ku, formerly chief strategy officer at independent agency Eleven, to fill Manning’s previous role as president of the West region.
Manning will implement Baxter’s vision to make Huge a more operationally rigorous, outcomes-driven business. He will oversee global processes, tools, products, capabilities and platforms to ensure the agency is both taking advantage of current opportunities and adapting for growth in the future.
“Perform and transform in tandem is how I'm thinking about the opportunity,” Manning said.
On the performance front, Manning will identify opportunities for Huge to fine-tune its core offerings and improve both the client and employee experience. For instance, that might involve mapping an entire client relationship to measure loyalty and retention and use that information to improve its offerings.
Huge’s growth has outpaced the operational rigor the business has created to support it, Baxter told Campaign US. The agency used to have the COO position rolled into the CFO role, but that doesn’t lend enough focus on process for a modern agency.
“The more complicated the market gets, the more moving parts [there are] to a solution for clients than ever before,” he explained. “A world-class experience design agency works across the entire ecosystem of experiences for a client. We need someone who's full-time job is to run operations. This is about elevating and signaling to our clients that this is a focus of ours now and in the future.”
The focus on operations comes after Baxter, who joined Huge as global CEO in June, set in place a plan in his first 45 days to reposition and transform Huge into a business that can drive more measurable, data-driven outcomes for clients. However, it’s a vision that is “complementary” to Huge’s roots in digital creativity and experience design, Baxter said.
“The industry does a good job of talking about creativity and innovation, but struggles to link it in a really meaningful way to outcomes,” he said. “It's a transformation our entire industry needs to go on.”
Manning is the latest addition to Huge’s global executive team as Baxter shapes leadership to help carry out his vision. In September, the agency brought on Accenture exec Lisa De Bonis as global chief experience officer and Ernst & Young executive Toni Howard Lowe as group VP of diversity, equity and inclusion.
As the leadership team and strategy evolve, Huge will have to attract talent with new skill sets and retain existing staff in a tight labor market with inflating salaries. In this context, Huge is implementing new business models and transitioning toward higher-value, less commoditized services to create more margin to pay for the talent it needs to compete.
The agency is also putting greater emphasis on learning and development to ensure talent feels like they have a career path, and it is looking outside of advertising and marketing for talent with new or adjacent skill sets. For instance, the Huge XD School, which Manning runs, brings in designers from underprivileged backgrounds to develop their creative skills.
“It's much better to grow your own than find [talent] somewhere else,” Baxter said. “We have to do better at bringing in junior talent and, instead of allowing them to cycle out because they're not learning enough, create career paths they don't get at other places.”
Huge also implemented a set of initiatives called New World Working that aims to create a culture where people want to work post-COVID. This includes mandating that employees take a minimum of 10 days off per year and taking three weeks of “Huge Holidays” where the agency closes globally to give its employees rest.
For Manning, the next year will be about doing the heavy lifting to make Huge’s new positioning a reality.
“My job is the how, instead of the why,” he said. “The why is very well under control. I'm here to dig into how we get it done.”