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News Analysis 20 Nov 2020 - 3 min read

Reengineering Starcom: CEO Nick Keenan says agency talent must multiskill, get out of swim lanes and see the bigger picture – or watch clients walk

By Josh McDonnell - Senior Writer

Former Red Rooster CEO, Nick Keenan is back in media as Starcom CEO and is using the lessons learned from five years client-side to realign the agency with brand and business needs. The mantra is ‘People Powered Growth’ and he’s moving to de-silo departments, upskill staff and stop wasting marketers’ time.

What you need to know:

  • Seven months since joining Starcom as CEO, ex-Red Rooster boss Nick Keenan is moving to overhaul an agency he thinks had become “vanilla” in market and hamstrung by its own silos.
  • He says CMOs want to consolidate agency contacts and reduce wasted time.
  • Its new positioning is “People Powered Growth” with  “T-shaped personnel” that can cross disciplines the ultimate goal.
  • Keenan wants all staff to have a broader understanding of media - conversant with planning and trading, through to data, technology and performance.
  • As part to the strategy, Starcom has merged its investment and digital teams into one unit, led by Mark Duffy as National Head of Investment and Digital.
  • The agency has also bolstered its executive team with two new hires, including the first ever Chief Client Officer and a new Head of Strategy in Melbourne.


Reengineering, not restructuring

Former Red Rooster CEO Nick Keenan has made his first major move to "reengineer" the structure of Publicis-owned media agency Starcom. He wants staff to have a wider skill set and better understand broader business challenges. In other words, staying in a single swim lane is no longer an option.

After five years client-side, Keenan returned to agency life in March, taking the top job at Starcom.

Seven months in, the former Maxus, MediaCom and News Corp exec is implementing key lessons learned at brands such as Red Rooster and Crownlotto. The upshot is "People Powered Growth", with the agency equally keen to ensure that staff and skills grow in tandem.

The new operating model is underpinned by two key hires and the promotion of Mark Duffy to the new, integrated role of National Head of Investment and Digital.

Joining from Vizeum, Louise Romeo has been appointed Chief Client Officer, charged with leading "collaborative opportunities" with other Publicis Groupe agencies, new business development, and working as the client lead for P&G.

Sally Christian, Starcom’s National Head of Strategy, will add experience design and data science to her remit in a bid to bring the disciplines closer together and strengthen the agency’s strategic hub.

Meanwhile, Roger Lintzeris has been made Head of Strategy in Melbourne, a new role.

Keenan told Mi3, 'People Powered Growth' means Starcom is now focused on cross-functional training for all staff to develop diversified skill sets. He calls this "T-shaped agency personnel".

On joining the agency in March he felt that the brand had become somewhat "vanilla in market", with a "heavily siloed structure" restricting its abilities - and likely frustrating clients.

"There were some obvious organisational adjustments that needed to be made, particularly around how each team communicates and engages with the wider group," Keenan says.

"Our new positioning essentially means we will have more team members trained across digital, performance, tech and emerging services to create less confusion and clutter for clients looking to deal with one singular point of contact."

Keenan says the move isn't just to appease clients but also to motivate and attract top-level staff to the agency.

As the digital acceleration and transformation of the marketing and advertising landscape continues, those looking to join "top-tier agencies" need to be assured they can access the right level of professional development.

"The best people in the industry know that there is now far more to the job than what we call the 'traditional' skill sets around planning and buying - they need to be across so much more," Keenan says.

"That's why the agencies that survive and thrive must offer top-level training and guarantee people looking to develop that access enable a diversified skill set."


Don't waste client time

Keenan says his adjustments to Starcom's structure are influenced by lessons learned client-side, where he sees growing CMO demand for "singular structure agency contacts".

"There were times where you could be talking with up to four or five different contacts within one agency, each with a different metric they measuring success against," Keenan says.

"That causes confusion. You need to have your creative, content, production, media and omnichannel all running through a single point of contact - or at least with a unified outcome."

Keenan says in one instance, he and his team were forced to cut a presentation short after members of one agency team claimed Red Rooster's latest campaign had been its best to date.

He says it was anything but, with the brand yielding the worst sales results for a campaign in seven years.

"They weren't looking at the right metrics and were too focused on the ones that best suited their own outcomes, not the brand's. This happens more often than clients and agencies like to admit," suggests Keenan.

"That's why we are pushing to have our staff across every aspect of the business, from trading to performance to CX. Because without a complete view of what the business is looking to achieve, agencies will continue to get stuck in their siloed views."

Keenan says this desire from brands will only grow, as cost-cutting and shrinking marketing budgets impact most verticals, likely more so post-Covid.

He believes brands can't afford not to have a consolidated strategic agency. 

"There's even just the excessive operational and time-related costs that come with solving this issue, such as not needing to have three to five different meetings for each aspect of your marketing strategy," Keenan says.

"In turn, that reduces the need to build various internal teams to communicate with your agencies, leaving brands with more options to invest their marketing budgets.

"Agencies talk a good game around this but very few execute it well," warns Keenan. "They are going to get found out, especially as there are already fewer marketing dollars to go around."


Group marketing solutions, naturally

On the flip side, brands must also be mindful of how they structure their agency relationships.

Keenan, naturally, thinks an optimum solution to communication issues between agencies is to  utilise more than one agency within a holding group.

"We've seen it already this year with some brands tapping a unified holding group solution that captures the entire brand's remit across digital, media and creative," Keenan says.

"Client teams are already struggling and those issues around budgets aren't suddenly going to change, so it makes sense for a brand to keep all of its marketing solutions in one group."

Last month, Publicis Groupe CEO Michael Rebelo told Mi3  there has also been an increase in the number of clients that are now working with two or more of the group's agencies, which he says now stands at 50% of its client base, and higher at the top end.

“Our top 10 clients in Australia work with an average of four agencies from across our group, so our connected platform and Power of One model is certainly gaining traction and creating value from our clients’ point of view,” Rebelo suggests.

“That’s something we expect to see a lot more of as brands and marketers look for efficiencies in their agency relationships, as well as closer ties between not just creative and media but data and technology solutions.”

Keenan says this is where roles such as Louise Romeo's, as Chief Client Officer, will keep Starcom connected with the wider group and provide clients with "deeper marketing strategies".

"By having someone like Louise working with the wider group, we can open the doors for clients to engage with every aspect of the Publicis business and that goes back to keeping a singular point of contact right through the entire marketing funnel," Keenan says.

"You go from having all your media services and strategies managed by our T-shaped staff, who can then keep a client connected with the creative and production, all the while maintaining the same metrics and outcomes.

"This should ultimately give clients a singular view of the customer journey, make internal complexities invisible when it comes to agency relationships and provide favourable solutions to growing cost-related concerns."

That's the theory. Now to see how it beds in.

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Josh McDonnell

Senior Writer

Market Voice

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