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Wavemaker’s Toby Jenner: ‘There’s always a better way to grow’

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By Sam Bradley, Journalist

August 17, 2022 | 6 min read

Wavemaker boss Toby Jenner explains how a timely rebrand, diverse hiring and its growing consulting business are giving the media agency an edge.

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Wavemaker’s Toby Jenner explains his approach to agency expansion / Wavemaker

Since Toby Jenner stepped up as global chief executive of Wavemaker, he’s made a series of hires and practically redesigned the company from the inside out. According to the chief exec, these changes were vital to the media agency’s survival throughout the pandemic.

Now, he’s focused on bolstering the competitiveness of the company’s consulting practice and making it as attractive to top talent as possible.

New approach

Jenner has been at the helm of Wavemaker since September 2019, following a long period of drift for the WPP media shop. The agency, formed from MEC and Maxus, had been without a leader since December 2018.

In hindsight, the timing of Jenner’s appointment was fortuitous. He began repositioning the agency brand just a few months before the pandemic kicked off; had that project not been complete by the following spring, he says, he ”dreads to think what would have happened.”

”It was lucky. I came in on September 2, and said that we were going to present the new Wavemaker at the end of February – we had six months to sort everything out. In hindsight, I was very lucky that I chose six months as a window.”

With that restriction, the team ”reinvented the positioning, the look and feel, the attitude, the product.” As promised, it was then shared with everyone at the end of February in Mumbai.

Having completed Wavemaker’s transition plan, Jenner says the company was in a much stronger position at the beginning of the pandemic than had those plans been paused or delayed.

”We shared the narrative, the idea that we wanted to be a business built on positively provoking growth, the idea of promoting growth for our people and for our clients. We created a global operating system for the organization, we’d created ’provocative planning,’ which was how we go to market from a product perspective, and this idea of a singular attitude ... everything had been laid out.”

By the start of the national lockdowns, all the assets were ready and the agency had a ”unifying glue.” Jenner says the business isn’t a finished product, however, and the work continues; in 2021 Jenner appointed Kathryn Spaeth (formerly of Accenture) as global chief transformation officer and Radhika Radhakrishnan as chief finance officer in 2022.

”We’re a work in progress. I’m not complacent. It’s never good enough, it can always be better. There’s always a better way to grow. And as we’ve got that kind of fundamental restlessness at the heart of the business, we won’t go far wrong.”

Consulting

The company’s consulting practice, led by Spaeth, now accounts for 25% of Wavemaker’s business. ”It’s a big chunk,” says Jenner. It is one that’s set to grow larger too. Demand for e-commerce has been ”through the roof” over the last two years, and Wavemaker has been working at the center of that universe with clients such as Amazon and L’Oréal.

”It helps us grow, it’s high margin and it drives the core business,” says Jenner. The latter point has made consulting an attractive area to invest in for the agency.

A product Wavemaker built for Amazon called Audience Galaxy, he says, is a prime example. ”We plug its data into our planning systems and it allows us to look at cross-referral of consumers and correlations between consumers and product. Is that commerce, or just really good media planning? Probably both. One fuels the other.”

Recruitment

Wavemaker’s ability to expand that portion of its business will depend on it hiring enough people to meet high demand. ”Last year was really challenging, but we’re getting to grips with it now. We’re managing our way through the pros and cons of the Great Resignation,” says Jenner.

”We’ve got open positions because we’ve won lots of business. When you grow, you have to resource ... according to scopes of work, to reflect the size of the business and make sure that we’ve got the right capabilities to service our clients.”

Jenner says it’s also been an opportunity to hire outside of the agency’s typical pipeline and make progress on its diversity goals. ”We have to reflect the consumers we’re marketing to. We can only do that if we’re representative of the world we live in.

”If we want to live out the attitude of positive provoking growth for our clients, we have to have different and diverse backgrounds of individuals to challenge and provoke each other – and to challenge and provoke me and my global leadership team. I want people to feel empowered to provoke.”

With that in mind, Jenner hired Shipra Roy as chief people, inclusion and culture officer last September. ”I wanted inclusion in there because I want people to feel included, because when people feel included in an organization, they’re going to feel more able and empowered to have a point of view. We have to create an environment where everyone’s point of view is listened to and heard,” he says.

”That’s how we’ll do the best work for our clients.”

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