Michael Frohlich reveals Ogilvy UK leadership team and says ‘tough’ remodel is paying off

Top team: Nina Jasinski, Michael Frohlich, John Cornwell, Ann Higgins and Clare Lawson

Ogilvy UK boss Michael Frohlich has promoted from within to form a new leadership team – which includes its first chief customer officer – as his radical restructure of the agency takes shape.

Frohlich became chief executive in February with a mandate to transform the business by dismantling its sub-brands and unifying their teams into a single agency operating under one P&L.

But as marques such as advertising shop Ogilvy & Mather, customer engagement arm Ogilvy One and Ogilvy Public Relations have gone, so too have some of the high-profile figures who ran these operations.

That has presented an opportunity for new blood to rise to the top and Frohlich has put his faith in existing talent by composing a leadership line-up drawn almost exclusively from Ogilvy’s own London ranks.

They include 15-year Ogilvy mainstay Clare Lawson in the newly created chief customer officer role along with heads of advertising (Jon Tapper), social and content (Jai Kotecha), experience design (Dickon Laws) and data strategy (Herdeep Natt).

Ogilvy's new leadership in full

  • Michael Frohlich, chief executive
  • John Cornwell, chief operating officer
  • Ann Higgins, chief consulting officer
  • Nina Jasinski, chief marketing officer
  • Clare Lawson, chief customer officer
  • Jon Tapper, head of advertising
  • Louise Whitcombe, customer engagement & commerce
  • Jai Kotecha, social & content
  • Dickon Laws, experience design
  • Herdeep Natt, data strategy
  • Gen Kobayashi, strategy, communications
  • Dan Hocking, programme management

One newcomer to the agency is Louise Whitcombe, previously global operations director at MRM McCann, who will lead customer engagement and commerce. A new creative leader and head of PR are also said to be imminent, while a chief strategy officer to succeed Kevin Chesters, who left last week, will follow in the coming months.

In an interview with The Drum to mark the new leadership team, which is being announced to staff at Sea Containers today, Frohlich admitted the “huge change” at Ogilvy in recent months had been “tough” to implement but insisted the agency was emerging better-equipped to serve clients.

He said: “We've got thousands of people at Ogilvy in the UK and yes, there have been a couple of departures, but those departures are because we have re-engineered the whole business. And going from multiple siloed operating companies to one fully functioning matrix has been a real challenge but actually one that has been fantastically energising and totally relevant for today's world and the way clients want to buy us.

“As you can imagine, the move from what we were to what we are has been a huge change. For some people, they didn't want to operate in that way. And that's fine [but] we needed to move forward. In looking at this whole model, it's allowed us to look inside the business and see some really bright shining stars. We're going to give them real empowerment, give them authority.”

On a day-to-day level for staff that means Ogilvy’s new structure will be less hierarchical than it has been previously, according to Frohlich, who ran Ogilvy PR before stepping up to CEO.

“One thing I found taking over the business in the UK is it was a very parental environment and culture – we told people what to do and they did it. What we're moving to now is a more peer-to-peer environment.

“Traditional agencies were built by the one, two or three people at the top of the organisation and then moulded around those personalities, the capabilities of those individuals. Ogilvy is just too big for that. The world moves so quickly now and client needs expand and grow so quickly that we have to have lots of voices, lots of opinions, lots of thought to help us keep on track and keep moving forward. This structure is all about having a much broader voice.”

Ogilvy’s simplification strategy – which is being carried out across all its territories under a plan devised by global chief John Seifert – is not merely about internal infrastructure, however, but how that plays out for clients. Where previously the silos would get in the way of collaboration within Ogilvy, according to Frohlich, now “we’re much better able to bring people together to solve a client’s problems quickly and easily”.

He told The Drum that this new setup was already bearing fruit on some of Ogilvy UK’s existing clients, including the retailer TK Maxx, with whom it has expanded its European PR account to include customer engagement and customer experience responsibilities.

“Rather than having two separate teams with two separate leaders and two separate account structures, it is one seamless team that sits together. That means it's more efficient, more cost-effective… the timings of work… it's all just far more linked up.

“In the old school, an opportunity would come in and even if we had [the client] somewhere in the business, a different operating company would go off and pitch it. They may not even have spoken to the existing account team, which is crazy.”

A key figure in the new management team will be chief customer officer Lawson, who takes on a title that is becoming increasingly common in client companies but is seldom seen within agencies.

It will be Lawson's responsibility to ensure the remodelled agency’s capabilities are fit to service clients’ ever-changing demands.

“You need a senior executive who is representing the needs of your clients and the needs of your customer and making sure the capabilities they're asking for are the capabilities we're building,” Lawson said of the role.

“[I’ll be] always looking to the outside and bringing it into the agency, making sure that any moves that we make and changes that we make are maniacally focused on [clients’] best interests.”

After a year in which the Ogilvy restructure has been a fixture of trade headlines, time will tell as to whether the formation of the new leadership is viewed as the watershed moment in the agency’s reinvention.

But Frohlich is unwavering in his belief that he and his new team are on the right track.

“It's been tough. Change is hard. But it's been inspiring along the way because of the people we’re discovering and the new processes we’ve developed, and it's just the beginning, we’re only seven months in. I feel the new way of operating is starting to work.”

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