Barry Jones of Hogarth: riding the production revolution

Barry Jones (below) is the CEO and co-founder (with Kevan Thorn) of Hogarth, one of the giants of the production world. Now 64 per cent owned by WPP, Hogarth began in an attic on London’s Carnaby Street in 2008 with a coffee shop as a borrowed meeting room. It now spans the world with 1700 staff working out of 30 offices, generating a turnover of £130m. It works for over 50 multinational brands.

1. Hogarth began as a production agency with a particular skill in ‘transcreation,’ adapting copy for various international markets. If you were starting up now, what would your emphasis be?

The challenge to advertisers in getting their campaigns implemented efficiently across international markets is – at least – as great today as when we started Hogarth. That’s because of the increasing volume of digital content that needs localising.

In those early days in 2008, it was all print and TV transcreation. Now our work is led by the localisation of assets for ‘digital media.’ This new emphasis on digital has also spawned demand for large-scale, low-cost digital production (typically handled in off-shore facilities) and for large-scale, low-cost production of the related video content.

If we started today we would need to have a much greater range of capabilities in place from day one. We wouldn’t get far without offshore digital and content production skills.

2. Prior to starting Hogarth you were a senior suit on international accounts, most notably Philips. What were agencies not doing that created opportunities for Hogarth and its rivals?

What agencies were not doing was looking for options to implement international campaigns in ways that would dramatically reduce the cost. What we brought to the market – centralised campaign implementation – is a textbook example of a disruptive innovation – the sort described by Christensen in his book The Innovator’s Dilemma.

Our centralised implementation business started with simple, low-cost adaptations; the least profitable work for agencies and work they did not want to compete for. With this we gained a foothold in the market and client relationships with major multinational advertisers. To build our business and gain higher margins we then moved up the adaptation complexity scale. We now provide a service offering all types of print, moving image and digital adaptation up to the point that a new idea is required.

3. Is it more important these days for clients to find the right production partner than creative agency? Do agencies still have a monopoly on creativity?

We would have nothing to work with unless creative agencies continue to develop great ideas! Creativity will always be the true heart of the advertising industry. It’s much more important for clients to find the right creative agency but having the right production partner can free up the choice of creative partner. Creativity doesn’t end at the storyboard.

As communications multiply and the downstream production work increases exponentially it is crucial that all parties involved in producing and adapting work must be able to deliver it as creatively as possible. No client wants all the quality in the initial concept but none in the execution that the consumer actually sees in their home market.

4. Hogarth is 36 per cent owned by you and your partners and 64 per cent by WPP, an unusual shareholding model for WPP. What benefits and disadvantages does this bring? Does the WPP holding prevent you from working for or alongside other agency groups?

We’ve found WPP extraordinarily supportive as we develop our business. They have always supported us as if they owned 100 per cent of Hogarth, and have never discriminated against us because of relative shareholdings. WPP’s majority shareholding does mean we’re not the chosen partner of the other major holding companies but we’re the frequent choice of ‘independents’ and agency groups that do not have a full international network but need to implement campaigns for global clients. In addition, as the production partner for many multinationals, we work with whichever creative agencies the client has chosen, whether they are from WPP or not.
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5. What will be the next big technology issue or challenge to transform advertising?

The next big challenge to advertising will be the coming together of data and content allowing the effectiveness of an advertising communication to be driven by its personalisation. Cute ideas will give way to highly targeted concepts as programmatic content is fused to programmatic media.

Responding to this challenge will require much greater width of content – not the mass broadcast ‘hero’ commercial, but multiple aspects of the overall campaign that can be assembled in real-time to respond to everything that is known about customer preferences. Each brand conversation with each customer will be different and the advertising industry will need to work out how to deliver creativity at this level.

6. What will the industry look like in the next 5-10 years?

Ten years is a long, long, way ahead when we remember that in 2005 Twitter had not been launched and Facebook had not been opened to the general public. New devices will also change the way we consume media. Smartphones have already changed the way people behave and communicate, even though the first ever iPhone was unveiled as recently as January 2007.

There’s no evidence that we’ve reached anywhere near the end of the revolution that has been started by putting a mobile, interactive computer in the palm of everyone’s hand. Advertising will need to follow the opportunities that technology creates. The ever-increasing ability to generate and handle more information about each customer and the ability to reach each customer with a unique message will challenge all industry models that grew to prominence in the age of broadcast.

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