Magz Osborne
Feb 27, 2012

INTERVIEW: CEO Jon Cook on VML’s global expansion

SYDNEY/SINGAPORE – Having launched a full-service agency within the Y&R Group in Australia, CEO and President Jon Cook explains VML’s expansion strategy.

wide player in 16:9 format. Used on article page for Campaign.

VML’s launch of full operations in Sydney is part of a global rollout and follows the opening of offices in São Paulo, Singapore and Mumbai.

Cook said the full-service digital agency, which now boasts more than 1,000 employees worldwide, has taken a slow but steady approach to global expansion. He says that instead of purchasing 10 offices around the world all at once, the growth has been organic based on markets where it makes sense for clients, and markets in which VML has already been operating.

Celebrating its 20-year anniversary this year, VML prides itself on delivering creative solutions at the intersection of marketing and technology. VML’s client portfolio includes Colgate-Palmolive, Dell, Ford, Gatorade, Kellogg, Microsoft, Revlon, SAP, Western Union, and Xerox.

“VML launched [as an advertising agency] 20 years ago, with Northwest Airlines as its first client,” Cook said, explaining that a conscious decision was then made to be a full-service digital agency. “Which sounded really good, [but] it was very scary.”

Having experienced the first dot-com boom, and having weathered the subsequent bursting of that bubble, Cook attributes VML’s survival and continued success to two key factors.

The first, he says, was the decision to focus on blue-chip clients amidst the dot-com hype. “Working with ‘real companies’ was seen as less sexy at the time," he said. "It was sexy to work with all the dot-coms, and we had our share of that, but having a number of big blue-chip clients helped propel us through a difficult time in the digital space.”

Secondly, he emphasised that essentially, VML understands marketing. “If digital went away tomorrow… a lot of digital companies would be out of business because they wouldn’t know what to do," he said. "But [we built a company] that even if digital goes away, we still have value because at the heart of VML we are marketers, we’re passionate about marketing to consumers, persuasive communication and strategy. Let’s be good at that, and happen to be great at digital.”

VML’s Australian operation has launched in collaboration with Y&R. In addition to operating as a full-service digital marketing provider, VML is partnering with Y&R to serve as a digital backbone for shared clients and initiatives.

“Clients expect and deserve a world-class digital offering,” said Russel Howcroft, CEO, Y&R Australia and New Zealand. “VML’s strong growth and proven track record of helping global brands navigate the frontiers of contemporary marketing speaks for itself.”

VML’s operation in Sydney will be led by managing director Aden Hepburn, formerly head of digital at Ideaworks. Hepburn is a recognized digital industry leader and operates Digital Buzz, Australia’s leading marketing blog, which is ranked in the world’s top 10. He is also a member of the Communications Council’s Digital committee. Additionally, Betsy Ligibel, longtime VML Account Supervisor, is moving from VML’s New York City office as one of the founding leads on Hepburn’s team.

“VML will greatly enhance our digital capabilities in the Australian market,” Hepburn said. “It will push the boundaries of digital creativity on every level, driven through high-end technology, innovation and strategic focus that not many agencies can match.”

VML’s new Australian operation will offer a comprehensive suite of digital services across its core pillars of digital account management, channel activation, creative, project management, research and analytics, strategic planning, technology and user experience. Additionally, it will leverage the full depth of resources available throughout the VML global network.

VML is expected to have close to 50 staffers in the Sydney office over the next few months. Offices in Melbourne and Brisbane are scheduled to open this year. Foundation clients include Emirates, Revlon and Hill’s Pet Nutrition.

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