Dentsu Creative’s Ete Davies reveals master plan to build up new agency brand
Ete Davies, the new chief operating officer at the newly rechristened Dentsu Creative, explains his plan to get the holding company’s creative division firing on all cylinders.
Ete Davies shares plans for Dentsu Creative
Business announcements risk getting lost in the noise at Cannes, where even the most studious of agency leaders tend to have their minds on the menu rather than the bottom line. But Dentsu’s announcement that it was reorganizing its creative agencies (again) into one-stop-shop Dentsu Creative enjoyed a spot of good fortune with its Bengaluru office winning Agency of the Year for a nose-thumbing campaign for Vice.
The event also provided a stage for its new standard bearers, including former FCB chief creative Fred Levron, to take the spotlight. ”This is our first Cannes Lions as Dentsu Creative and it has set a high bar,” he said of the win.
Another new starter is Ete Davies, formerly of AKQA and Engine, who was brought on board this spring as chief operating officer for EMEA.
Speaking to The Drum on the top deck of PwC’s moored yacht, he says the job ”is all about building”.
”I’ve worked in too many organizations where when you’re restructuring, you say ’We can do all these things.’ It’s a bit like a Wild West set, where there’s nothing behind the doors.”
Davies says there’s real muscle behind the new branding. ”The acquisitions that have happened over the last five to seven years mean there’s real capability and development.”
The announcement was the final touch on a years-long process of reorganization at Dentsu, which merged most of its creative agencies underneath the Mcgarrybowen umbrella back in 2020. A Dentsu spokesperson confirmed there won’t be any job losses associated with the restructure, as there were in 2020.
Since it embarked on that grand reform, though, the company has struggled to compete for clients. Reminding advertisers of the depth of its bench while introducing new points of difference against rivals may do a world of good for its prospects.
Davies’s role will be to bring the new model to life across dozens of markets – a gig that will involve ”lots of interesting puzzles to put together,” he says. ”There’s some common stuff, operational infrastructure, but there’s also the cultural and brand reputation of the previous businesses. Honestly, my job is trying to get people on board.”
Davies is not exactly a stranger to agencies going through transitions. His previous berth at Engine, under then-UK chief executive Jim Moffat, came with a modernizing brief just before the pandemic arrived.
”Very soon after we got in there we realized it was actually quite a significant amount of restructuring and transformation that needed to be done,” he recalls. ”So we spent the two and a half years doing that through the pandemic. It was a challenge for anyone in a senior position.”
When Moffat – who had been ”steering” the modernization project – left for Apple, the focus switched to readying the agency for a protracted sale process, which eventually saw it taken on by Next Fifteen.
After more than two years fixing Engine, Davies says he was perplexed by the new owners’ plans and admits he’s ”not entirely sure of the rationale” of merging its creative shop with Odd after the restructuring work of previous years. ”Next Fifteen is fine as a company, but I just didn’t see an opportunity. The vision didn’t align with where I thought it should be taking it next.”
Ironically, Davies’s work will mean persuading talent not to make the same decision he made when he left Engine for Dentsu. ”Getting people on board” with the new program means keeping key staff around at a time when agencies across the industry are struggling to keep and attract talent – Dentsu included.
”Yes, the job is to retain talent,” he says, ”and getting them to embrace changes to the models and ways they worked in their previous businesses. That’s the only way we can make the most of our new integrated offering and the creative opportunity it provides. It’s why I joined.” Davies suggests, though, that the agency business doesn’t have ”a strong enough story to show the actual value and impact that creativity has outside the industry. The advertising industry is very bad at advertising why you’d want to try and advertise.But I think we can change that.”
To replace the agency brands Dentsu has merged, it has instead been pushing a ”product set” of headline offerings, from service design, entertainment and IP to integrated production, brand transformation and strategy.
James Morris, who is chief executive officer for EMEA and UK at Dentsu Creative, asserts: ”We’re not just rebadging what we’ve got.” He says: ”With the new product, we need to make sure that taking away the brands doesn’t take away the capabilities and future potential.”
Davies suggests the focus on products and services, rather than individual agency brands, will enable ”modern thinkers” to deliver for clients: ”For a long time, there’s been a battle between telling stories and technology. It’s redundant because when we’re talking about data, we’re talking about human insights and meaningful connections.”
Creative products, he says, ”are about bringing those two points together”.
Though the Mcgarrybowen name had fallen in stature compared with its creative agency in recent years, replacing it with a new brand does have its costs. The next task for Davies and Morris, working alongside Levron, is to build up a new reputation for Dentsu Creative. It may take a while, Davies cautions, but Dentsu hopes its new champions will help recruitment and client wins to pick up.
”First and foremost, it’s about delivering on the promise. The work will start to present results by itself. But that work can take time. Until then, the statement of intent and the equity that we build will be in the new people that we bring in and in our commentary on the industry.
”There’s also a job to be done establishing and evangelizing our point of view on modern creativity, its value and impact in transforming business and brands. We’re going to have to broadcast for a little bit and, through the hires we bring in, borrow some of that equity until the material starts to produce itself.
”But it’s why I joined and I’m relishing the challenge. If I can do that at Engine, despite the headwinds I experienced, I’m excited to see what’s possible with the ambition, investment and real depth of expertise at Dentsu."