Former Grey boss David Patton: my plans for Y&R

David Patton is the new global president of Y&R, overseeing all the WPP agency’s operations outside the US. Prior to joining Y&R he was president and CEO EMEA of WPP sibling Grey.

1/You joined Grey ten years ago and now it’s one of WPP’s strongest assets. How does Grey then and now compare with Y&R?

No huge surprises, though I am pleased to see just how strong we are in the fast-growth markets of Asia and Latam. I didn’t know that before I joined.

At a macro level, there are similarities between the networks in terms of size and scale. Both are highly creative – Y&R was the third-most-awarded network at Cannes last year, winning 99 Lions. And both have open cultures that make them compelling places to work.

Right now, one of my key priorities at Y&R will be to drive the growth of the London office – we’ve had a strong start to 2017 and there’s a good vibe in the agency so I feel very confident about where we’re heading. We’re making some key investments in creative and strategic talent that will give us extra fire power. We’ve introduced new cultural and social planning tools and we’ve overhauled the creative development process to make it more agile and diverse.

There’s always more to do of course, but if we can make all this click together quickly, I think we’ll be well on our way to making London a real strength in our network.

2/Does Sir Martin’s Sorrell’s “horizontality” manifesto – bespoke teams or even separate agencies for certain big clients – undermine the status of agency networks?

No. Horizontality is not new to WPP and has been very much part of Y&R’s DNA for a number of years.
There’s broad industry recognition that clients are seeking simpler solutions from their agencies in an ever more complex world. Horizontality encourages cross-agency collaboration and ensures clients get immediate access to the best talent and the best brains across WPP.

Horizontality allows individual Y&R agencies to quickly build new capabilities, broaden their skill sets and upgrade talent – and that’s exactly what clients expect from us – if anything horizontality gives us significant rocket fuel rather than undermining status or performance.

3/There seems to be a turf war between media agencies and creative agencies over who’s in charge of strategy. Can this be resolved? Is Havas’s newly-minted return to full service the answer?

This is a side-show. First and foremost the client is in charge of strategy and by strategy, I mean business strategy.

Too many agencies bury themselves so deeply into comms and media planning that they lose sight of the fact that this is just one part of the marketing strategy which, in turn, is just one part of the total business strategy.

I don’t think Havas being in one house addresses this particular issue. Clients want to work with smart strategists who get the broader commercial context, who understand all the fundamentals of their business and who use this knowledge to deliver powerful business relevant consumer-centric solutions.

4/As a client, at PlayStation and then Sony Europe, you commissioned a number of award-winning campaigns including Sony Bravia’s ‘Balls’ from Fallon. Are such campaigns a thing of the past in the digital age when there are so many channels to service?

Perhaps in the case of ‘Balls’, the challenge is less about digital channels and more about whether such an obscure creative idea would ever make it through today’s complex and intricate world of data-driven research.

We didn’t conduct any consumer research or pre-testing around ‘Balls’ – absolutely nothing. We went from a concept we all loved straight into production – simply crossed our fingers and hoped for the best!

I’m not sure in today’s research heavy, dare I say risk averse world, I’d get away with that again. But what I am sure about is that if we had conducted early focus groups on ‘Balls’ it would have been kicked out at concept stage – it didn’t have any product in it for a start!

5/What would your definition of success at Y&R be?

Winning the highly-coveted More About Advertising ‘Agency of the Year’ trophy would be right up there..

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