Faaez Samadi
Apr 10, 2018

Stop flogging talent, it’s simple common sense: MullenLowe APAC CEO

You can’t properly incentivise your staff if they are asked to do one thing but judged on something else, according to Vincent Digonnet.

Vincent Digonnet
Vincent Digonnet

Getting the best out of your talent is a much more straightforward process than many agencies make it seem, says Vincent Digonnet, APAC CEO of MullenLowe Group. But you have to have the courage to take some transformative and tough decisions.

“In the end, it’s not brain surgery, it’s very, very simple common sense. You’ve got to incentivise and pay people in line with what you’re asking them to do,” he states.

Speaking to Campaign Asia-Pacific in Singapore, Digonnet says this is what almost all of 2017 was about for MullenLowe Group, with some profound changes taking place. These included consolidating all the MullenLowe units under the one brand name, building centres of excellence throughout APAC and, most significantly, instituting a single P&L.

“It’s about building these centres of excellence and our capabilities, getting them to work together, without any resistance from [our agency] brands. It’s all under one management and one P&L,” he explains.

In implementing these changes, Digonnet says the whole agency group is genuinely pulling in the same direction, which allows talent greater responsibility and reward from their roles. MullenLowe in APAC is no longer about people being siloed by “geographies and markets,” he says, but about “putting together the best people for our clients’ needs”.

You need to hire people and get rid of people according to their willingness to accept that things have changed.

Many agencies say similar things, but Digonnet points out that with its new structure, MullenLowe is actually walking the talk.

“How many operations do you have that are an agency with 600 people in the same place?” he asks. “Unless you have that, you cannot credibly say that you offer all the skills necessary to solve your clients’ problems. You cannot have one guy for analytics, or one developer, or one technologist. If he leaves, the whole department leaves.

“When you don’t have that, you need to find another way. That’s the whole idea behind our centres of excellence.”

As such, it is also much easier to incentivise your talent in the right way, something agencies greatly struggle with, Digonnet says, primarily because of incentives being aligned with individual P&Ls, despite all the talk of integrated workflows.  

“If you say to somebody ‘forget about your country, we need to have the whole network working together, but your bonus is going to be judged on the results of your market alone’, what do you think they’re going to do?” he poses. “Forget about the rest of the region, they’ll focus just on their market.

“You need to construct incentives that are totally based on what you’re asking your people to do. It’s no longer about flogging all the talent you have irrespective of what is required.”

Having said this, Digonnet is equally clear that the talent issue isn’t a one-way street, with agencies solely to blame. The changed advertising landscape means those workers who are not on board are creating their own problems.

“Let’s be honest, in the traditional advertising agencies you’ve got some account managers, strategic planners and creatives who are refusing to see that the world is changing,” he says.

“You need to hire people and get rid of people according to their willingness to accept that things have changed. That a creative needs to sit down with a business analyst and a technology guy for a brief.”

Digonnet readily admits that this issue is much smaller with the younger generation of talent coming through, who “love the challenge and understand technology”.

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