Omnicom's Alex Hesz on Holdco's strategy: "Customers want a kick in the butt" | Advertising | asian campaign (2023)

Alex Hesz recently took a speed awareness course after being caught speeding and described the experience as "one of the most helpful things I've had in years".

It was "a four-hour group, totally out of the ordinary, with people from all over the country talking about what motivates them, what makes them angry, what makes them sad, what distracts them, what makes them believe in themselves". ".it's worth it and you think it's worth its weight in gold," said the former chief account officer turned global head of strategy.

"Every planner in the world should take a speed awareness course without going 24 [mph] in a 20 [mph] zone, which I did."

Hesz may be happiest with her rapid rise in the agency space.

He worked for Adam & Eve / DDB at Omnicom in London for a decade, rising to become DDB's Director of Global Strategy before stepping down in December 2021 to join his former boss Wendy Clark in a holdingCSO global da Dentsu International.

But he never officially started at Dentsu. Clark lost his role in a global reorganization in September 2022 and Hesz, who turned 40 in August and was still on leave from gardening, has turned heel.

In a very unusual move, it wasWelcome back to Omnicomin a larger, newly created role as Executive Vice President, Chief Strategy Officer, reporting directly to former CEO John Wren.

A key draw for Hesz is that it operates at a higher "altitude" for the US branch group of 72,000 people, Omnicom said.campaign, giving his first interview since taking over as global CSO in November.

It is one of a series of new appointments Omnicom has made to extend its leadership position at the Holdco level. This is in response to the growing number of clients who want integrated work across multiple agency disciplines and a single point of contact. Or as Hesz says: "Ass to kick".

According to Hesz, strategy plays a critical role because it is a "horizontal" discipline and a "connective tissue" that can unify Omnicom's federated collection of agencies for clients.

"Part of my job is to network with the different agencies and 'make connections where in the past they were a bit informal and ad hoc' - so that they work better together and 'act like Omnicom'."

However, Hesz rejected suggestions that Omnicom should be more like its main competitors WPP and Publicis Groupe, which are promoting a single "global marketing partner" or "power of one" solution for some customers, with less focus on agency brands.

“It's about finding the right balance that allows us to do what WPP and Publicis haven't done, which is really honoring the brands and being an association, but also having professionals between and above them. " he said.

Hesz also expressed optimism about the agency sector in general, given strategic competition from consulting giants like Accenture and McKinsey.

"A brilliant intervention by a holding company like Omnicom" can produce an outcome for clients "on the same scale" as an intervention by a management consultancy, he said.

Hesz, who is British, is reputed to be intelligent. At the time of his appointment, Wren described him as "one of the brightest minds in our business", and Hesz himself lists his first-class English double degree from the University of Oxford on his LinkedIn profile.

He joins an extensive Holdco team that includes Daryl Simm, the chief operating officer, who stepped down from Omnicom Media Group (OMG) in 2021, Andrea Lennon, the chief customer officer who was promoted in October, and Kathleen Saxton, the Director of Global Marketing, who joined from MediaLink in January.

Omnicom has more than 5,000 customers with a roughly 50:50 revenue split between the US and the rest of the world, but has made it clear in job ads for Hesz, Lennon and Saxton that one key area is the highest. Enterprise-level customers”.

The most recent annual report shows that the company's largest customer has annual sales of over $450 million (approx. Combined, this represents about 22% of the company's $14.3 billion in worldwide sales.

No customers have been identified, but the biggest creditors are likely to be Apple, PepsiCo and the Volkswagen Group.

In this in-depth interview, Hesz spoke about changing client needs, why agency life is a "team sports competition," and how advertising can attract the brightest talent.

Operation as a "migratory bird around Omnicom"

In the first few months on the job, Hesz was learning, acting as "a kind of migrating bird around Omnicom," he said, sitting at a long table in a sparse meeting room with only whiteboards on the walls for decoration. . Bankside, the London headquarters of the American group.

He wants to be "an enrichment" for the holding's various agencies and talks about "trying to 'discover' muscle memory, of having been in a creative network".

Hesz doesn't have a desk at Bankside and has been introduced to other disciplines such as media, CRM, data, public relations, buyers and technology, as well as BBDO and TBWA, the creative networks that reside alongside DDB. He also regularly travels to the US.

Like most of its competitors, Omnicom is something of an alphabet soup of brands and agency acronyms. A presentation of last year's annual results shows that there are almost 50 specialized agencies:

Omnicom's Alex Hesz on Holdco's strategy: "Customers want a kick in the butt" | Advertising | asian campaign (1)

Hesz noted that Omnicom's agencies are already very collaborative: "It was wrongly assumed that because of Omnicom's respect for agency brands, because of Omnicom's respect for giving specialists the opportunity to work in specialist agencies, because of this federated structure [holdco]: that omnicom does not appear as omnicom".

Sometimes an agency or discipline takes the lead, so an account is "operated by OMG, or BBDO, or OPMG [Omnicom Precision Marketing Group]". But more and more customers are looking for the ultimate parent company because "sometimes they want someone to kick them out, they want a brilliantly orchestrated, centralized specialist business," he explained.

“What if we act like Omnicom. It requires that we have certain things that are connective tissue and I believe the strategy is horizontal. The strategy can connect with the customer experience, accurately, with the buyer [marketing], with creativity.”

At least for now, Hesz doesn't have a team that reports directly to him. He describes working with "a group of cross-functional strategists" from Omnicom's diverse disciplines who "can cluster around the most exciting, valuable, persistent, and exciting problems, opportunities, and new business opportunities, whatever they may be."

Some of that work can be done "pro bono" or "incrementally," or in collaboration with Omnicom's account managers, he said.

“The opportunity to internally hire and borrow these resources [to drive growth and integration] is really exciting. Over time, I would like to transition to less borrowed resources and more part ownership resources.

“But it's up to me to test this, test this model and scale it up. It's a new role at Omnicom – to have a practical/strategic role at an enterprise level.”

"Think several moves ahead"

Industry watchers say Hesz's ability to bring the various parts of Omnicom together, and in particular to get agency leaders across the group to collaborate, will be a test.

Hesz started off with a lot of advantages because he has a job at Wren, knows how the company works from his time at DDB, and many of Omnicom's agency heads are "familiar faces."

Former colleagues say Hesz is good at thinking ahead and adapting to different customers.

David Golding, co-founder of New Commercial Arts and formerly of Adam & Eve/DDB, said, “Alex is almost unique among the strategists I've worked with. He is able to speak to the highest powers of Silicon Valley and the category manager of a local FMCG brand with equal enthusiasm and inspiration.”

Golding went on to use a chess analogy for Hesz's new role as a holding company, saying "his ability to see the whole board while thinking several steps ahead" will help "attract large, complex global accounts and grow".

Xavier Rees, CEO of Havas UK, who was previously managing director of the Adam & Eve/DDB group when working with Hesz, also highlighted Omnicom's chief strategist's ability to work with a wide range of clients.

"Alex is a sharp thinker who is as confident working with a startup as he is with the biggest brands in the world," said Rees. "Plus, he's a great storyteller, which made him very persuasive in front of clients, especially in a presentation room."

Others who worked with Hesz described him as "extremely fast", in contrast to "many heavy planners", and as a "punch" that thinks the big picture for clients.

Some have mentioned that he can also be a "lone wolf". Hesz said, "I like to work." When some people move into management, they are expected to become 'delegators'. But he likes to contribute: "Write the deck and then come back to the team and say, 'So I've put some ideas together,'" even "if that means I'm sometimes seen as a lone wolf."

Holdco x Agenturmarken

Hesz says Omnicom will talk more about its offering in the coming weeks and months. There's a sense this is just beginning to articulate Omnicom's evolving strategy, even though Wren has been CEO since 1997.

"We want more information," said an Omnicom agency executive.campaignin particular when asked what they think of the parent company's new hires.

Wren is keeping a low profile, but the appointment of Saxton, who started as CMO in January, was a sign that Omnicom wants to speak up and better tell its story publicly.

The market perception is that Omnicom is becoming more like WPP and Publicis, which have refreshed the holdco brand in recent years.

Lucinda Peniston-Baines, co-founder of The Observatory International, which advises clients on agency selection and sales proposals, said, “Omnicom has historically been fiercely protective of its agency brands, and in many ways rightly so.

“However, other portfolio companies have recognized customer demands to drive integration by bringing together talent teams from multiple agencies across their portfolios, and this inevitably puts pressure on Omnicom to do the same.

"They actually wanted to demonstrate this in two global launches, which The Observatory held [and Omnicom won], which led to Team O.P.E.N. for Peugeot in 2020 and Team X for Mercedes-Benz in 2021.

“These recent high profile signings [such as Hesz and Saxton] suggest a doubling down on that strategy. It will be interesting to see how this compares to the competition, which have a longer track record in this space.”

Hesz argues that moving to a more holding-type solution for Omnicom "is not a departure from an existing strategy."

"This is the distillation of an existing strategy into a sharper value proposition that reflects what customers need now, which is performance, growth and results," he said.

“They don't necessarily care what logo got them those results, but we do because we have to respect these companies [agencies] and their ability to recruit the best talent in the world.

"We know that the world's best talent responds to the world's top agency brands, not homogeneity, not big corporate brands."

The counterpoint to this agency brand "reverence" narrative is that Omnicom has moved its branches into shared buildings.

Omnicom's Alex Hesz on Holdco's strategy: "Customers want a kick in the butt" | Advertising | asian campaign (2)

"What I love about this place is its scalability," Hesz said of Bankside (in the photo above), home to virtually all of Omnicom's London branches, with the exception of Adam & Eve/DDB.

The various agencies are "respected" and have their own physical spaces with "radically different cultures and work practices", but they also have areas to "connect with each other" and use "random coincidences to stimulate creativity".

No Unirse a Dentsu

One of the reasons industry watchers are interested in Hesz's new role at Omnicom is the dramatic way he retired from his job at Dentsu and what that says about the fate of both companies.or elseNew things that have been revealedits October twist was one of the most read of the year.

Hesz says "it's very easy to sensationalize my decision" in response to Dentsu's merger of its Japanese and international operations that led to Clark's departure, but he found it "relatively easy" to turn the job down.

When he originally agreed to join Dentsu, he wanted to "embark on a new adventure", but while he waited, "Dentsu's corporate strategy changed" and "the nature of that adventure changed".

Dentsu's reorganization would mean a move to Japan, and he didn't want to move from London with his wife and children. "There are certain things in life that are more important than a paycheck and a college degree," he said.

He won't criticize Dentsu, saying "respect for people is very important" and "the last thing people need is negativity".

How long in advance did you know that Clark would leave, before youThe campaign broke the newsSeptember 1st? There was discussion during "the second half of my wait for the release date", as Dentsu talked about bringing Japan and the international world closer together.

"It was clear" that a change in corporate strategy was imminent: "Wendy was very open about it, Dentsu was very open about it, there was no boldness," he said.

However, Hesz admitted that he only found out about Clark's departure "relatively before it became public". He added, "It was by no means the driving factor in my decision" not to join Dentsu.

Hesz started talking to other companies and Omnicom wanted him back. Importantly, he felt the US agency pool would allow him to "do the kind of work I want to do" and move "in the direction I think the industry is going".

One source suggests Omnicom first put the role of global CSO on the table in 2021 when the company objected to talk him out of joining Dentsu. Hesz declined to comment directly, only saying he is committed to Dentsu and doesn't want to get involved in a "direct deal."

Why not a startup?

Hesz is interested in the world beyond advertising. He worked for the Tony Blair Institute and his family opened their doors to two young Ukrainian women, Victoria and Olha, who came to live with them after fleeing the war last year.

However, he has remained loyal to the agency industry and describes it as a "competitive team sport". Now you're working with $100 million clients, but why not try a different path as a founder?

Omnicom's Alex Hesz on Holdco's strategy: "Customers want a kick in the butt" | Advertising | asian campaign (3)

Hypothetically, he had ideal partners at Adam & Eve/DDB in Tammy Einav, now CEO, and Rick Brim, now creative director (pictured, sitting in the center and standing in the upper left corner, next to his then-colleagues Anthony Falco and Mat Goff, with Hesz on the far right, in 2016).

They came together in the 2010s and replaced the founders after their liquidation.

"Theoretically," Hesz could have tried the startup route as well, and "obviously there were times when I talked to different people about a potential startup," Hesz admitted, adding that he couldn't be a better creative account manager — Dupla knows. that Einav and Brim.

But he recalled the advice of James Murphy, another founder of Adam & Eve, who told him at the time of the sale to DDB that it was good to be "very small" and "dark horse" or "very big", if "there are no problems." you can't legally research, there's no customer you can't sit with."

Hesz, who dabbled in small things from the early days of Adam & Eve, reflected, "What I'd never done before was operate at that scale, operate at that height, so to speak, from the top of a publicly traded company." for another let's talk [holdco customer agency].

"And this is a different kind of relationship, a different kind of strategic partnership, and I'm at the right time in my career to try that."

attract talent

Hesz has a background in planning, citing Golding at Adam & Eve/DDB and a generation of planners at Bartle Bogle Hearty, where he worked in the early 2000s, as influences.

When asked if he had a guiding philosophy or an ethos, he said: “The philosophy of planning is basically a reductionist practice. It's about taking a ton of data from as many sources as possible, from customer summaries, but also from the world and your experiences of how you see the world.”

So the speed awareness course turned out to be a useful experience, he explained.

And using the information to develop a strategy is what customers want, according to Hesz.

"I still believe agencies are only as strong as the ideas they give their clients," he said. “Executing these ideas is first and foremost what you do for consumers. Customers respond to execution, customers respond to strategy."

Coming up with the best ideas depends on accessing talent, but many advertising executives fear the industry is struggling to attract the brightest minds. Does Hez agree? "We don't have a divine right to attract smart people," he replied.

One factor is that "we live in a world of purpose now," and that's "a big driver, especially for first-time jobs," he suggests. "Smart graduates want to work in environments where they make an immediate and measurable positive difference in the world."

The advertising industry needs to sell itself better. “We have an opportunity and a need to show the world the positive impact of creative communication. It is in everyone's interest to show that growing economies, growing businesses, honestly and in a way that contribute to culture and make a positive contribution to the world. Not just in the interest of our customers, but in the interest of the world.”

However, Hesz and his peers at the Holdco level are mostly judged on Omnicom's performance.

The company had a rough patch at the start of the pandemic, but has had a decent 2022 with annual revenue growth forecast at 8.5% on an organic basis. Omnicom had the best performing share price in the branch industry,up to 11% in the 12 months to December.

"2023 is going to be a really interesting year," said Hesz. “We must be confident that we can help our customers get through a very difficult year for them as individuals, for their businesses and for the economies in which they work. And we have to prove ourselves.”


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