Laying down a challenge to create agency 2.0

Omnicom Media Group’s Colin Gottlieb tells Richard Abbott why Middle East agencies must leapfrog traditional markets

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By  Richard Abbott Published  April 9, 2006

Laying down a challenge to create agency 2.0|~|Gottlieb-Colin200.jpg|~|Gottlieb... ‘We are the most creative holding company anywhere. WPP? You are not even close’|~|Colin Gottlieb has just been on a helicopter tour of the Dubai skyline. As he flew over the Burj Al Arab and Emirates Towers, he received a bird’s eye view of the city’s dramatic development. He couldn’t help but be impressed. “Maybe it’s the sunshine, but there must be more enterprising people per square metre than anywhere else on the planet,” he says. Gottlieb is the no-nonsense Londoner who heads up Omnicom Media Group in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. This means he is responsible for the business performance of media agency OMD and the region’s newest agency PHD. After his sky-high experience, Gottlieb takes up residence in the Media City office of Omnicom’s regional head, Elie Khouri. OMD is the biggest media agency in the Middle East, after overtaking its nearest rival Starcom last year. But Khouri, who is sat on the other side of the table from Gottlieb during our meeting, will not be allowed to rest on his laurels. Gottlieb wants to see this region leapfrog traditional markets rather than simply catch up with them. “The worst thing for this place would be that all the enterprise energy translates and morphs into the existing agency structures,” he says. “What Dubai should be doing in particular, given the quality of the people here, is asking how we can leapfrog the traditional markets. You have got the chance to do stuff that the folks in Madison Avenue, London and Paris will notice. “We should be asking ‘how can you create Agency 2.0’.” It is for this reason that Omnicom chose the Middle East as the next region in which to expand UK agency PHD, which also has offices in the US and Canada. PHD recently turned itself around after a dismal run of account losses, claiming every single agency of the year award worth its salt in the UK’s trade press. Gottlieb believes PHD Middle East has every chance of replicating that success, describing general manager Samar Salman as “unbelievable”. But will clients recognise the difference between the two Omnicom agencies, and can they survive alongside each other when issues of client conflict will no doubt abound? “Great question. An incredibly fair question, but it really fucking irritates me,” says Gottlieb. Now, it is easy to think that you have offended Colin Gottlieb, but this is not necessarily the case. He just passionately believes in what he does for a living. And he calls a spade a fucking spade. The answer to the question, he says, lies in the DNA. “My view is that we come from a certain DNA. There is an Omnicom DNA,” he explains. “I genuinely passionately believe that we are different from the likes of WPP. “WPP have decided that their route to market is to go out and spend hundreds of millions, and that’s fine. I don’t knock it. Sir Martin is smarter asleep than I am awake. But I think Mr Wren (John Wren, Omnicom CEO) is incredibly smart because we will expand PHD and it will cost him a cup of tea by comparison.” So what are the ingredients of the Omnicom DNA that link Wren, Gottlieb, Khouri and Salman? “The DNA is creativity, it is about the power of ideas,” he says. “We are the most creative holding company anywhere. WPP? You are not even close. “For me, PHD and OMD, and if we created another 10 networks under Omnicom Media Group, will all be charged to do one bloody thing — produce outstanding work. And I am not differentiating between planning, buying, digital, metrics, or any other adjective. They are there to produce outstanding work.” Born and educated in London, Gottlieb has more than a quarter of a century of experience in media. In 1990 he set up Manning Gottlieb Media with business partner Nick Manning, earning a reputation as one of the UK’s leading creative ideas led media operations. After selling the company to Omnicom in 1997, Gottlieb became CEO of OMD Europe in 2000 and last year was appointed to his current position. Media legend has Gottlieb down as a bruiser — a tough negotiator with fire in his belly, someone not to be crossed. The reality is slightly different. When Campaign asks him about the future relationship between media and creative agencies, he sighs: “How long have you got?” During the course of our interview, it’s unusual for Gottlieb to deliver a concise answer. You get the impression that his mind is racing ahead, drilling deeper into the subject matter for the definitive response. This particular answer takes almost 15 minutes to deliver and genuinely warrants an essay rather than a few quoted highlights. “What will happen is that the whole relationship between clients and agencies will change,” he says. “An advertising agency is the same design as it was 100 years ago. Is it any wonder that as things are stripped away, such as media, you are left with this thing called the creative idea, which I have found incredibly depressing on behalf of my creative cousins because the client can’t really evaluate it.” While the creative agency is under pressure, he says, media agencies have gone from strength to strength, adding extra services for clients, using data to work out what works for clients and why. Gottlieb believes clients will see the benefit of a communications plan that starts with data, becomes information, and finally ends with a strategy. “The bulk of the market will be clients going to an agency for a total integrated solution,” he says. “They will not even consider the separation of services. They need the aggregation of the data; the interpretation of that aggregation; and they will need the creative solution. Media agencies will get stronger and will get into creative adaptation.” He says that today’s creative agencies will eventually “get it” through a new generation of managers who use data and think in terms of communication channels rather than just the idea. A more immediate challenge for the Middle East, he says, is research. Or rather the lack of it. “When you compare it with developed markets, when it comes to research, it is almost laughable,” he says. “Robust audience and product usage research is rule 101. But this is a rapidly emerging market and it will get to a common currency.” As the market leader, OMD will be expected to drive media agency involvement in this push towards better research. And with Gottlieb at the helm, nothing short of that will be acceptable.||**||

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