Dodds: With agencies, big isn’t always that beautiful

Mike Dodds2When it comes to knowing the machinations of major marketing agencies, there are few who have more experience than Mike Dodds. After all, this is a man who has spent his entire career agency-side, rising from account executive at Ogilvy in the early 1990s to become chief executive of OgilvyOne.

By 2008, Dodds had switched to Proximity London as CEO before being promoted to MD of Europe, global president and then global CEO. During his 30-year career he has also played a key role in many of those agencies’ significant relationships with brands including the BBC, Lloyds Banking Group, BT and VW.

However, by January 2021, he had left to travel the well-trodden path from big agency boss to the life of a consultant, offering growth consulting, advisory and mentoring services to businesses large and small.

So, when serial entrepreneur Nick Dixon set up his next venture, The Salocin Group, to build a data powered marketing services group, focused on marketing technology, CRM, analytics, content development, and media optimisation, he was soon on the blower to Dodds.

And, within weeks, he had joined the business as an advisory board director to help Salocin embark on its ambitious buy-and-build plan.

Dodds’ remit also includes working closely with the leadership team at Edit, the company’s first acquisition, with a core focus on building and increasing the value of the agency through new business, new capabilities, and new talent.

But having spent most of his career in big agencies, will he be able to transfer that experience and skill-set to an agile, independent operation?

Perhaps unsurprisingly Dodds is unfazed, saying he has followed the mantra of “make best practice common practice”, throughout his career.

He adds: “From my experience there is nothing to suggest that big is automatically better. In fact, I’ve spent a lot of the past 12 years trying to get my ‘big’ agency to behave more like a small agency.

“I also think I have a lot to learn from the private equity world I am now working in. Specifically, positioning for long-term growth, rather than a myopic focus on monthly revenue.”

One area where Dodds does see a marked difference, however, is in access to world-class training.

He explains: “I was the fortunate beneficiary of Ogilvy’s Leadership Programme, Omnicom University, and lucky enough to be put through Harvard’s Senior Management Programme. These enabled me to not only perform better as a leader, but also to mentor and support the leaders of the agencies I was responsible for.

“That mentoring role continues, and I have packaged up several sessions focused on different topics that I use extensively with leaders throughout organisations I work with today.”

But does the old maxim that no one ever got fired for hiring IBM still ring true in the agency sector? Don’t the bigger agencies always pick up the big accounts?

Dodds concedes that big clients do look to big agencies for security and protection especially in the event that things go wrong, in particular the liability clauses directed at the holding companies he has had to sign over the years.

To that extent bigger agencies regularly pick up the big accounts, Dodds admits but adds: “This isn’t an issue for The Salocin Group who are predominately focused on mid-market clients. This is a sector of the UK economy worth over £2.2 trillion, with the top 50 companies growing revenues by 179% over the last three years, so it’s going to keep us busy.”

He maintains that focus is important: “I always remember being interviewed by (the late) Paul Simons at the time he founded Simons Palmer, when he explained that they were only interested in clients who valued creativity as a business driver and were only looking to win 5% of this market, which would equate to £80m in revenue. They achieved this and more, which demonstrates the value of being clear who you are targeting and developing your proposition accordingly.

“At The Salocin Group our focus is to provide agile, integrated, and market leading capabilities that enable ambitious brands to deliver connected customer experiences. Experiences that deliver enhanced business returns. In doing so, we have several potential advantages over our bigger so-called rivals.”

Firstly, Dodds says the group is not aiming to match existing capabilities in the marketplace but to use the opportunity as a recent entrant to “double jump” what is out there, insisting data and technology solutions within Edit have been engineered to capitalise on what it calls the “privacy dividend”.

In Edit, the group claims to have one of only a handful of organisations in the UK (Wunderman being one of the notable others) with the necessary skills to deploy Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 Marketing Platform with a full integration to their customer data platforms. This, Dodds maintains, gives the group a unique pipeline into enterprise-level clients and a partner with impressive growth ambitions.

Finally, Dodds reckons the group’s size is actually an advantage as it comes with inherent flexibility and agility.
“These are qualities we have codified within our project delivery system Orbit. Orbit is based on agile methodology but has been tailored to reflect the specific needs of marketing deployments. Specialist resources that run deep, built in future proofing, agility, and world-class partnerships – that sounds like a pretty good place to be starting from.”

And with data and technology now sitting at the heart of the marketing industry Dodds reckons there is a major role for agencies to play in helping clients with their data privacy strategies.

He explains: “This has been a topic of much debate over the past few years, but I suspect few clients have seriously grappled with its implications. That’s because most clients are currently engaged in a data collection arms race, where the main metric is the volume of customer data collected and therefore owned.

“However, very soon, instead of treating data as a resource that can be freely harvested, organisations will have to quickly accept that personal data is an asset owned by individuals and held in trust by firms. As a result, any company with substantial troves of customer data will have to make sweeping changes to its practices, particularly large firms such as financial institutions, healthcare firms, utilities and retailers.”

Dodds maintains that this change will be further complicated by existing tensions within client organisations harvesting data, where the role of the chief information officer is to collect, encrypt, and secure it, and the role of the chief digital officer is to mine, model, and push it out to entice users.

Ultimately, data collected with meaningful consent will soon become the most valuable data of all, he adds, because that is the only data companies will be permitted to act on: “As a result, the ‘privacy dividend”, as we refer to it at Edit, is central to every solution we develop for clients.”

Another major issue every business has faced has been the fall-out from the Covid pandemic, does Dodds believe it has been a force for good in agencies or a disaster?

Dodds says: “On the plus side, it has accelerated change, roles and responsibilities have been rethought, new technology has been adopted, and working patterns have become more flexible, which has been especially beneficial for our work/life balance, and meetings have been streamlined.

“On the minus side – there has been a lack of investment in new talent which is shortening employee tenures, and a lack of training both formal and informal. Here, I think of how much I learnt by observing role models in real-time and in person.

“We have also focused on output, not process. In other words, Zoom culture has prevented managers from checking and guiding the methodologies people are using to get to a proposal or a recommendation, something that our industry will be all the poorer for in a few years’ time.

“Finally, I believe the best ideas come from ‘in person’ collaboration of diverse disciplines and talents, and this has suffered and still does in our new flexible working culture. In short, ‘me time’ has been enhanced and ‘we time’ has suffered.”

So, having rubbed shoulders with many of the leading figures in the marketing and advertising industry – Dodds cites John Hegarty, Rory Sutherland, Shelly Lazarus and Cilla Snowball to mention a few – who is inspiring him in his new career?

“The person who has inspired me the most over the past 12 months has been Mo Gawdat, the former head of Google’s pioneering wing, Google X.

“Over the past couple of years, he has become an academic, activist, and author of two ground-breaking books. The first, Solve for Happiness, dramatically sets out the ‘happiness equation’ which he developed following the tragic death of his son. It contains many life-affirming lessons as well as vital insights for anyone who is leading a people oriented business.

“His second book, Scary Smart, suggests that a machine will be the smartest thing on the planet by 2029, and within our lifetime AI is going to be a billion times smarter than us. A billion times!

“He likens AI’s development to the development of a teenager, who over the next few years could learn from the best or the worst of humanity. This will ultimately determine whether AI becomes a force for good or evil over the coming decades.

“It’s mind-blowing stuff and he argues it should be the most important topic we are discussing today – but of course we’re not.”

Whether “machine time” will be joining “we time” on the agenda for the next Salocin Group board meeting, however, remains to be seen…

Related stories
Edit joins the ‘green giants’ with B Corp certification
Dixon brings in Cromack for top Edit and Salocin role
Salocin spins off Edit unit for Join the Dots media shop
Shining a light on The Salocin Group’s new ‘hidden gem’
Dixon turns to Dodds for marketing services offensive
Nick Dixon marks return with £15m acquisition of Edit

Print Friendly