Is Ogilvy ditching B2B?

Earlier this month, WPP agency Ogilvy announced a rebrand which rationalised its structure and architecture, but did away with various sub-brands... including OgilvyOne Business. Joel Harrison asked head of B2B Sam Williams-Thomas to explain the thinking behind the changes

B2B arm OgilvyOne Business was created four years ago via the merger of its existing B2B business and Surrey-based DNX, which it acquired in a multi-million pound transaction in 2014. The founders of DNX formally left last year, before the end of their earn out. So is this the end of the dream of building world-class B2B agency, with globally renowned clients?

Q. It’s been announced that Ogilvy has undertaken a global rebrand of its businesses and is dropping the various related sub-brands, including OgilvyOne Business, its B2B operation. Can you explain the rationale for this decision?

A: Our business transformation and rebrand is as much a response to client needs, as it is a growth strategy for the Ogilvy Group. In a world where every aspect of client business is getting more complex, fragmented and disintermediated, clients want greater clarity, simplicity and ever more joined up solutions. We received feedback from many clients who were buying more than one service from Ogilvy, who said they wanted one team, one lead, access to a broad range of the best talent and ideally one invoice!

At Ogilvy, we're all about solving client problems with less ordinary solutions. And where creativity is at the heart of all we do. It's a global decision to all align under one brand 'Ogilvy' in order to simplify, and clarify our service offering for our clients. We may be dropping the branding (in the UK Ogilvy & Mather, OgilvyOne, OgilvyPR as well as OgilvyOne Business) but the capabilities behind these brands remain, stronger than ever. We have one front door into our services and by breaking down the silos between our capabilities, the leaders can bring together the best talent and solutions to answer client problems.

Indeed we already worked with many of our B2B clients in this way, creating integrated teams from the very start, bringing together advertising, social content, demand gen and channel expertise as required. (e.g. Inmarsat, Vodafone, EY, Samsung).

Q. WPP spent a lot of money acquiring DNX almost five years ago in a bid to build a specialist globally recognised B2B operation – does this mean that this dream is over?

A. Far from it – the dream is very much alive. B2B has spearheaded much of the growth in the past few years with both local and global client growth (Vodafone Enterprise, Inmarsat, EY, Samsung, American Express B2B, QuickBooks). It is still very much seen as the growth engine in the group, with new client business growing by more than 5% in 2017. B2B now represents roughly 20% of UK group revenue and we have over 150 B2B specialists across Sea Containers and Shere, focused on solving B2B client problems, global and local. While the branding has changed, the focus on B2B as a specialist practice within Ogilvy remains. 

Q. Should we assume that this means Ogilvy is only going after ‘tier one’ B2B clients in future, probably those with a large B2C presence as well?

A. It depends on your definition of tier one, but for us it's less about size or budget and more about ambition. B2B is not a homogenous sector, we work as a global brand agency, outsourced marketing department, demand gen agency and everything in between. Some of our clients operate multi-market and multi-sector, supplying enterprise and SME businesses, some have a defined audience of just a few 100 sector specific businesses, some have B2C arms but most don't. We work best with brands that have a long term ambition, who engage us across more than one service or capability and where we are jointly responsible for their growth.

Q. Why should B2B clients now choose non-B2B identifying Ogilvy over other agencies that more overtly express a preference for, and an expertise in, B2B?

A. We have the same people, the same B2B experts that we had before. We'll continue to be a force in the B2B industry through the thought leadership and events we are known for, through membership of the BMC and by winning B2B specific awards (18 in the past two years). We were always part of Ogilvy and now by removing the barriers and silos within our organisation, clients will have greater access to B2B talent and services, whether creative, strategy, production, martech or account, from across the UK group and indeed world. So in many ways, we have the best of both worlds. It just isn’t a stand alone agency in the traditional sense.

Q. Is there any connection between this announcement and the recent much-publicised departure of Sir Martin Sorrell from WPP?

A. No. None. The Ogilvy global transformation has been two years in the planning in the US, with the UK market developing this new business strategy over the past year. Sir Martin and the interim WPP leadership were all very aware and fully supportive of the Ogilvy business strategy plans before Sir Martin departed.

Q. Sir Martin has sometimes been a controversial character, and the reasons for his departure weren’t completely transparent – what’s his legacy at Ogilvy? Is he an asset, or someone that Ogilvy will be seeking to distance itself from?

A. Sir Martin Sorrell, during his time at the helm of WPP, was a huge proponent of 'horizontality' – both across agency teams and across WPP agencies. WPP are now distancing themselves from this 'horizontality'  word but the sentiment to drive integration across and within strong Operating Companies remains. His focus on growth and client development benefitted us all. It led to Ogilvy (& WPP) teams winning Vodafone, IAG (British Airways) Walgreens Boots Alliance and BP.

"The dream is very much alive. B2B has spearheaded much of the growth in the past few years, and is still very much seen as the growth engine in the group"

Sam Williams-Thomas, CEO, OgilvyOne Business

Q. Is this announcement a sign of hatches being battened down ahead of stormy seas? Is the plan to emphasis strength and size in an environment where the advantage of nimble newcomers can be increasingly apparent? 

A. No, it's less about battening down for stormy seas and more about transforming our business and structure to better respond to todays market and clients needs. All clients are looking for agencies to be more nimble, agile, flexible and efficient. Many are also looking for efficiencies from rationalising their roster from hundreds, down to a few.  So it's less about us emphasising our strength and size and more about us making our breadth and depth of B2B expertise more accessible to clients.

Q. Since acquiring DNX, you’ve maintained two centres of operation – in London (now at Sea Containers House on the South Bank) and in Shere, Surrey, the former home of DNX. Will you be retaining this setup? What advantages does it offer?

A. Yes, we will be maintaining these two sites, and we increasingly share talent across the two. The two locations provide us with two different centres of excellence, tech expertise and craft skills where some client tasks are more suited to Shere and others to Sea Containers. The separate locations also allow us to manage conflict business effectively.

Q. What does the future look like for the kind of B2B marketing that Ogilvy will be doing for its clients? How are you embracing changing client needs and a greater reliance on technology?

A. I'd say the future for B2B at Ogilvy looks brighter than ever. We're a growing group of B2B specialists, now with access to a wider range of expertise. And we feel better equipped than ever to support our clients with their ever changing Tech needs. Our one Ogilvy business strategy has seen us bring together all our martech services and capabilities into one centre of excellence – the Ogilvy Technology Studio. It employs almost 900 people from around the world who are trained in all the leading platforms including Adobe, Salesforce, Oracle, Sitecore, Acquia/Drupal, Marketo, IBM, iOS, Android and others. They support our local and global teams in building, running, and maintaining digital experiences and managing marketing automation environments for many of our top clients.

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