PHD global CEO: 'race to bottom not best for clients'

PHD global CEO: 'race to bottom not best for clients'
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Winning the global Unilever planning account has created "a lot of interest" from other major advertisers wanting to follow suit, according to PHD's global CEO Mike Cooper.

Last year PHD was named global media agency of the year by AdWeek Magazine in America, after winning the majority of the massive Unilever global planning account, something Cooper admitted they are still bedding in.

Mindshare retained the account in Australia.

On a rare visit to Sydney Cooper, who started the agency in the Asia Pacific region, told B&T the new global gamified collaborative work system Source was one of the key factors in grabbing that account from its rivals, citing the innovation it brings to global planning.

He said: “It's absolutely vital, it's a way of showing we're still up there as the leading strategic planning network. It's not just about winning awards, Source is a very innovative creative process.

"Innovation and creativity are not just about the work we do, but about how we work, and Source underlines that.

“There has been a lot of interest in the global planning communications, Unilever shifted their planning to us and we have been approached by a number of big advertisers about following a similar approach. Mondelez have followed that path and it’s a definite trend in our business."

Cooper said whilst he did not feel PHD naturally attracts braver or more adventurous clients “if a client is completely uninterested in creativity and innovation we'd probably be the wrong agency for them”.

He added: “We do like to win awards, and the major clients we work with value awards and they expect us to win awards, so we take it quite seriously."

Cooper also slammed agencies willing to “cut their own throats” to land clients in pitches, adding: “There’s been a bit of a race to the bottom, but I don’t think it’s in the clients' interests.

“You can’t tell me people are prepared to lose money on a sustainable basis. Smarter clients do make sure agencies make money on their business.”

Asia Pacific CEO Cheuk Chiang said awards are also important to the client, adding Unilever often checked with them to see how many entries they ahd made for big awards shows.

He singled out branded content as an area of real growth in the region, especially in Australia, but said clients needed to be educated on the benefits of the returns on the increased investment.

He added: “I don't think it's about taking creativity to a client and them buying it, it's about showing clients great innovation can deliver better ROI for their brands at a time when it's hugely valuable and when it will make their brands distinctive to their competitors."

Cooper said collaboration was also a key element of the PHD ethos, admitting “we can’t be good at everything”, but said they aim to be the “lynchpin” for their clients in the fragmented agency landscape.

He said: “You have to watch out though as if a marketer has six different agencies telling them they should have different priorities that can be confusing, so we have to work with all of them to come out with the definitive strategy for the brand.

“It raises issues of collaboration, and this is where we thrive as we have respect for agencies in other areas, we don’t want to be good at everything.

“We really encourage our agencies around the world to be as collaborative as possible.

“If we’re pitching for big pieces of business we will go talk to the clients’ partner agencies and develop a real plan for the client for the pitch, something of real value.”

With an eye on 2013 he said the network would continue to expand as it absorbs the Unilever work, but admitted “size in itself is not a strategy” adding: “There are and there are certain categories we would like to fill in our client portfolio, and we would like to win some really big names.

“We will also make sure Source is working to its optimum and people across the world are fighting it out to create the best possible ideas for all our clients.”

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