Initiative’s Geoff Clarke: ‘Youth Hits Targets With Enthusiasm, Experience Hits The Targets You Can’t See’

Initiative’s Geoff Clarke: ‘Youth Hits Targets With Enthusiasm, Experience Hits The Targets You Can’t See’

There are few in adland with such vast experience as IPG Mediabrands and Initiative’s chief operating officer Geoff Clarke. Starting in the industry more than 30 years ago, Clarke has held positions such as investment director, chief investment officer, client partner and managing director.

Speaking on behalf of the Experience Advocacy Taskforce, Clarke explained why agencies need to ensure that they hold onto talented older staff.

B&T: Why is it important for the advertising industry to embrace experience and experienced members of staff as much as it embraces newness?

GC: In short, so we protect the long-term value of our industry’s intellectual property.

When you boil it down to its very core, we’re in the business of investing in people, and in doing so, it’s vital that we not only provide the very best possible start to someone’s career but ensure its longevity. It makes no sense to invest significant time, effort and money developing someone, to not benefit from that investment over the long term.

Arthur Schopenhauer said, “Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see”. I like this quote as for me it defines what we are attempting to deliver for our clients every day.

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Youth, with all of its enthusiasm, bravado, and commitment will definitely hit targets no one else can hit but only through a lifetime of business experiences will you be able to hit targets no one can see.

If you allow me to extend further, all clients pay their agency partner to hit the target no one can hit, however, the smart clients will pay for their agency partner to hit the target no one else can see. That takes experience!

The value of someone’s Individual IP is something I believe we do not spend enough time discussing, as nurturing talent and helping people to evolve, improves the agency | client value equation.

B&T: Why does advertising seem to prioritise youth and newness?

GC: Churn is a significant issue in all sectors, but particularly ours. Our industry is like one giant bus, passengers ring the bell, the bus stops and people get off. The problem for us is that when the bus stops there isn’t the same amount of people willing to get on that just got off. Depleting the industry’s engine room of trained and experienced talent.

The focus on re-stocking the engine room means we inherently focus on youth, however, the loss of experience, and the cumulative value of that IP are massive. We have to get better at designing custom-built career programs and re-designing our engine room so manual burden and outdated processes and systems are either replaced or streamlined freeing people up to do higher value work.

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If we want to get the benefit that youthful perspective brings to the table it is the responsibility of those in the industry like me to re-design the industry’s engine room, providing solutions that remove manual burden so our people have more time pursuing their career dreams.

B&T: You have been working agency-side for your entire career, what advantages does having someone with your experience give to IPG Mediabrands and Initiative?

GC: I would have to say after 31 years, I have for the most part worked across most areas of the business. That said, I believe while you build experience over time, you obtain business value by being prepared to re-invent yourself, not being afraid to take a step back to move forward.

I remember mid-way through my career I was faced with a significant decision, continue down the path I was on and very likely reach a dead-end or pivot taking a significantly lower role in an area I had no experience that would potentially lead to a more versatile future. Once I removed ego from the equation and ignored the financial concerns the decision was easy. If I had not made that sharp change of direction, I believe I would not be in the position I am today.

Read More: John Steedman: “What’s Age Got To Do With It? Everything!”

Agency life today is vastly different from when I started, it is truly multi-dimensional from a craft skill perspective. At the end of the day, we are charged with designing solutions that solve business problems, and our client partners require a true depth of business experience. It is up to all of us across the industry to demonstrate the value of that experience, attaching a material value to that IP.

B&T: What change are you most proud of delivering over your career and which had the most impact on the businesses you work within?

GC: That is easy, I have been given the opportunity to lead wholesale transformation across IPG Mediabrands over the last four years. The centrepiece of the transformation is Robotic Process Automation which was launched a year ago, after taking two and half years to design and build.

B&T: How did this transformation come about?

GC: There is an uncomfortable truth this industry is unwilling to discuss, and that is, despite increased fragmentation, complexity, and scale we are still a largely process-driven industry, whose ways of working have not dramatically changed from 30 years ago.

Dependence on archaic ways of working is at the heart of our industry’s biggest challenge. Going back to what I was saying before when we were discussing why the industry invests in youth, as an industry, we recruit smart, innovative, creative thinkers, drowning them under manual administrative tasks for the first two years of their careers and killing the dream we’ve sold into them.

IPG Mediabrands developed in partnership with UI Path and Cognizant robotic process machine-led automation; revolutionising the employee experience; improving engine room efficiencies, reducing errors, and liberating our people by not wasting our high-value talents’ time on low-value tasks.

We now have eight robots, completing more than nine highly manual tasks across the investment workstream that have seen over 60,000 hours saved with the bots completing over 145,000 tasks and counting. To highlight the extent of the progress our TV campaign set-up, tracking and post analysis right through to spot matching, performance evaluation and makegood assessment is now completed by machine-led robotic automation, for instance.

This has dramatically changed our operation model, freeing our people up to focus on higher value, upstream work. Therefore, increasing the IP value of every employee.

B&T: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given by someone in the industry and by whom?

GC: If you permit me, I will provide you with two, one from outside our industry and the second from within.

My grandfather, while not in the industry was instrumental in my development. He served in the Second World War, from the first day to the last, was shot twice and survived, receiving a mention in dispatches. He knew a thing or two about toughing things out. Each morning, he would wake me at 5am and demand my shoes were clean along with a dress inspection. I went to boarding school for eight years so that routine was not foreign.

I remember the morning of my first ‘real’ job interview, as I was walking out the door he said, “Remember you have to learn to walk before you can run” and I wondered what he wanted me to do with that… He went on to say, “A career is not created overnight, it is created by hard work, determination and having the ability to tough out the low points and be humble with your success”.

I will never forget that morning as he also made me leg it to the train station. I got the job by the way!

The second comes from Melissa Fein, Initiative’s ANZ CEO, “It’s the one-percenters that matter, meaning it is often the small things done with excellence every day without fail that make the biggest difference.”

These two pieces of advice have been a guiding light throughout my career.

B&T: What change in the industry has surprised you most over your career?

GC: I know this comes with lots of bias, but the change we’ve experienced through the robotic machine-led automation program can not be understated. Yes, it took two and a half years to build but we have automated over 75 per cent of the investment end-to-end workflow.

To think our client investment leads can now send a robot an email asking it to load their OOH campaign into the finance system, and it goes away, retrieves the client’s media plan and proceeds to load their activity. This creates time to spend with our clients and media vendors, to brainstorm solutions about our clients’ business challenges, or even to simply grab lunch knowing the robot is doing the work for you. It is groundbreaking.

It is this type of real-world change that inspires me, as I know what it is like to sit there and load campaigns, I know what it is like to sit there and check proforma, I know what it is like to manually construct budget reconciliation reports. To think this is now done by robotics means we can provide our people with a brighter more meaningful future in media.

B&T: Where do you see your career heading and developing over the coming years?

I like being a COO, as I am given a very broad remit from leading our growth program, improving general operations, and developing out-of-scope capabilities, through to large-scale technology transformative change assignments and individual leadership development.

I would like to continue the journey I have been on for the last four years, creating meaningful real-world corporate transformation. We’re entering an exciting, technology-driven era, that will result in wholesale changes to how we work. The difficulty will be choosing the right solution, matched to the right benefit and investment level that translates to maximum benefits back to our clients, people, and shareholders.

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