Managing growth in an agency is a nice problem to have, says Nick Baughan, managing director of WPP's Maxus, who finds surprising salvation in data.
Anybody in a similar position knows the challenge – how do you grow a business but retain whatever it was that got you to growth in the first place? How do you maintain a sense of cohesion?
Last September we all got on a plane and went to Portugal for a couple of days. Jamie Venerus who leads our Fiat business and has a military background dropped us all in various spots in the mountains outside Lisbon in 90-degree heat and 16 kms later we all found ourselves a bit closer together.
That's one end of the spectrum. An intervention if you like, something designed to keep us together and remind us what it is we want to be like as a business (sweaty and tired…).
Data brings us closer
At the other end is something more gradual and less tangible, but perhaps more important in keeping us close together as a business. Poor "data" has been sound-bitten to death, but most of it misses the creeping internal benefits of data as a huge cultural positive in a media agency and a real force for cohesion.
Ten years ago, when the internet was moving into the mainstream commercial space, agencies were structured on reasonably similar lines. A traditional hub and spoke based on a centralised account management and planning function and the specialisms round the sides.
It would be down to the people in the middle to make sense of what the specialists produced and provide the glue. It worked but clearly the model doesn't allow for the spokes to talk and you ended up with counter-cultural agency tribes (these are scary).
The shift from the media owner model operating in a single channel to multi-platform offerings, the exponential increase in measurability and most of all, the ensuing torrent of data, has given us an opportunity to improve. For our clients we can improve the quality of our planning, the effectiveness and efficiency of our investment decisions and our accountability.
Activation working as one
We're all on a journey, but over here in Lacon House we've made a good start by putting all our activation teams together so we have search people sat next to AV people sat next to affiliate people. This gives us an automatic advantage in output with initiatives like the leveraging of SEO opportunities in paid-for deals, the bringing together of social and TV and a real handle on content partnerships.
These aren't unique benefits to Maxus and the industry has expounded on data integration ad nauseam, but there are some lovely cultural benefits too that can get overlooked.
Think a search algorithm that picks a team Christmas lunch or a multi-discipline team that has to pile round to someone’s flat on a Saturday evening to relay a twitter feed back to a creative agency to get a campaign live. Think of an agency talent competition where the entries are submitted on Vine or a tech enabled European Championship sweepstake.
And it's not just internal; some media owners are brilliant at using their own data and tech to engage. The Twitter Christmas riddle competition is now an annual fixture that creates a quite unfathomable amount of excitement here.
Of course we know the practical aim is to make all our people as "T-shaped" as possible through exposing everyone to the benefits of data and technology. The work improves, becomes more effective and more efficient. We want T-shaped people, we want data geeks, we want the new model planner, but in the meantime, it's nice that we can use data to make us Maxus people too.
Nick Baughan is managing director of WPP's Maxus
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