Sitting on both sides of the fence, Darren Woolley is the middle man who helps marketers and agencies work together. Lucy Clark catches up with the man nicknamed the Mr Wolf of advertising
The creative industry is crying out for change – but is clinging to its dusty old ways and expecting miracles.
That’s the view of marketing consultant Darren Woolley. And it’s highly qualified – Woolley operated as the missing link between marketers and agencies for more than two decades.
The pitch doctor (who is, in fact. much more than a pitch doctor) is tired of the industry expecting innovation and change without embracing it.
“For a creative industry, it’s so stuck in the old ways,” he says. “We use words like ‘innovation’ and ‘creativity’ and yet agencies and clients are stuck in the way that it’s always been done. You can innovate in the way you go to market, you can be creative in how you structure remuneration. But they stick to the same methods, expecting a different outcome.”
Woolley, founder and director of strategic marketing management consultancy TrinityP3, arrived in a career in advertising from a very unconventional path. For six years after graduating with a science degree, he worked in Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital’s pathology lab, learning about nerve and muscle diseases. But, knowing that he didn’t want to take on a PhD, an ad industry course called Copy School caught his eye.
Woolley’s first advertising break was at Mattingly, a retail agency in Melbourne, where “we were pumping out 70 to 100 press ads a week”. He went on to work at Bond Miles Coulter, Them Advertising and Grey before joining JWT, where he ended up as creative director in Melbourne. During his last two years at JWT, 1998 and 1999, he was president of the Melbourne Art Directors’ Club.
“I met with lots of marketers in Sydney and Melbourne through my role as creative director and they all said the same thing – their agency was good, but they didn’t feel that they really understood what they, as marketers, were trying to do,” he recalls. “Yet, at MADC, they were saying clients didn’t get creativity. I saw the opportunity for someone independent to optimise that relationship.”
In 1999, Woolley set up TrinityP3, which stands for People, Purpose, Process – “Helping people achieve commercial purpose through the creative process,” he explains.
He works with specialists in Australia and further afield. “We have around 20 people working with us now,” he says. “It’s about bringing the right people to the project at the right time – because I can’t know everything.”
TrinityP3 helps agencies and clients agree on pricing, works out processes, and manages relationships. The business is not just a pitch doctor.
“We’re known as pitch doctors, but that’s such a small part of our business,” says Woolley. “But it’s the most high profile because of all the intrigue.”
He adds: “Usually pitches come about because something has not worked. All the evidence shows that the long-term relationships between clients and agencies are the most effective and productive. Constantly running pitches and changing agencies is just wasting time and money.”
Explaining his ‘Mr Wolf’ alter ego. he outlines: “I’m known as the Mr Wolf of advertising, because when I come in it’s all about problems – marketers will phone up and say they have a problem with their agency. But the problem is with both sides. The marketers will have had enough by the time they speak to me, and the agencies will often feel defensive. I know I’m doing a good job if half the agencies love me and half hate me.”
Woolley has witnessed plenty of change. But the fundamentals have stayed the same. “Technology has radically changed the pace of marketing,” he explains. “But the one thing that has not changed is the process you go through to come up with ideas. Also, it’s so much more complex today, requiring you to be smarter and more sophisticated in how you come up with solutions. The smartest marketers, like the Apples of the world, do not try to do everything. They pick five or six things and do them very well.”
With a view from both sides of the fence, what are Woolley’s tips for agencies?
Number one: don’t pitch unless you can win. And secondly, focus on the client’s business. “So many pitches come about because agencies take their eye off the purpose of the client’s business,” explains Woolley. “That’s prevalent in global alignments, where the care factor drops away.”
He ends with a word of warning. “The industry is changing,” he says. “I’m scared that marketers’ expectations and agencies’ performance is not changing fast enough. They are not embracing opportunities to try new things.
“Australia is a great test market for the rest of the world. This should be the place where we are learning about things we can export into bigger markets. But we’re scared of getting it wrong.”