With a career that stretches back over 25 years, de Nardis is on firm ground when he argues that media has finally achieved a respect in the agency food chain that only 10 or 15 years ago was unimaginable. “We are now a strategic partner to our clients,” he continues. “I remember the days when we had to explain to clients what a media agency was and why we deserved to exist.”
With just 12 months under his belt at OMD, de Nardis is still familiarising himself with the agency’s enormous scope - 140 offices in 80 countries.
He is especially impressed, though, by the pace of development in Asia. Despite the recessionary climate, 2009 was another solid year for OMD, winning a spate of new clients across the region. “I am very lucky as I am starting from a very strong base,” he says, conscious of the solid business he inherited and the capable team that was already in place in Asia.
“I have to start from India because I think it is absolutely spectacular what we have achieved there,” he says. “We were considered to have a weak spot in India and within 24 months we have turned it into one of our best assets in the region.”
But it is not all positive. Like other media agencies in the region, OMD is operating in a business environment that has seen agency’s bottom line continually squeezed by cost-conscious clients, a trend that punctures the Italian’s overall optimism.
Such cost cutting, he says, is damaging for the industry, even in the short term. “We are a partner to our clients. We can’t be judged on just one criterion, which is the price of the fuel we put in the machine. We should be judged on performance - on what we deliver. If I had to choose my lawyer or my surgeon, I would try to find a balance between quality and quantity and between cost and value. The word value has disappeared too much in favour of cost. It’s always easier to buy cheaper, but that doesn’t help clients.”
De Nardis is less troubled by another recent trend - that of clients bringing the media buying in-house, as seen last year with P&G in China. “Large clients have been experimenting over the last five years,” he says. “Sometimes they bring some services in-house then eventually they outsource them again. Its always the larger, more sophisticated clients. But I would not read it as a trend. And what P&G, with its size, may do in China is different from what the other 95 per cent of other clients will do. These clients need the visibility that only a large agency can give them.”
De Nardis began his career in 1980, first at McCann Erickson and then Y&R. He claims to have known at the age of eight not just that he would work in advertising, but exactly which agency he would work at. In 1987 he crossed from advertising to media with independent agency Medianetwork in Milan. In 1993, the agency merged with UK-based CIA, which was itself later acquired by WPP and merged with Mediaedge to form MEC.
The largest stretch of his career then - some 18 years - has been at MEC under one incarnation or another, including seven years as worldwide CEO based out of London. A contrasting spell of just two years was spent as global head of Aegis, also out of the UK, before he made the move to OMD in early 2009. For the first time in his career, he now finds himself working in the US, an experience that he finds fascinating but very different from what he has done before. “The values are very different, the behaviour is very different and the rules of the game are very different. But I wanted to try it and I am enjoying it immensely.”
When asked to quantify these differences, de Nardis points immediately to OMD’s clients. “It is a client list to die for. OMD has a list of global clients, many of which are American, which define the culture of the agency - Johnson & Johnson, McDonald’s, Apple. MEC and Aegis were more neutral. I am not saying it is better or worse; it is just different.”
One full year into the job, it will be interesting to see how de Nardis’ experience at MEC and Aegis translates into the OMD structure. De Nardis himself is in no doubt at what he can bring to the agency. “I see my role as one of a coach that can help other people score the goals. Sometimes I like to be in the front line and have the opportunity to score the goal myself, because it is so much more fun, but my job is to make sure that we can multiply opportunities by having many people who can score the goals.”
His vision for the agency is equally clear: to create the right agency for the digital era. “The world is changing around us. It is a cliché to talk about everything being digital and how it is affecting the consumer, and the way we create interaction between brands, but that’s exactly what we need to do.”
Which brings him back once again to his overriding passion for the media industry. De Nardis says he is not sure what the agency of the future will look like, but he is certain that media will be a large part of it: “I am sure what we are doing, what we represent, will be at the centre. We don’t want to take over the world - we want to make sure our role and our contribution will be felt in a very significant way.”
Mainardo de Nardis CV2009 CEO, OMD Worldwide
2005 CEO and board director, Aegis Media Worldwide
2001 CEO, Mediaedge:cia (MEC)
1998 CEO and board director, CIA Worldwide
1993 CEO, CIA Europe, Middle East and Africa
1988 Chairman, Media Network International
1987 Vice-chairman and founding partner, Medianetwork, Milan
1985 MD and co-founder, Alberto Cremona, Milan
1981 Account director, Young & Rubicam, Milan
1980 Trainee account executive, McCann Erickson, Rome
This article was originally published in the 25 March 2010 issue of Media.