Interview by Brian Pittman
Anthony Viceroy, what keeps your agency CEO up at night? Where are your agency’s next best new business opportunities and greatest challenges? Whether you’re an agency client, exec or employee—the answers should interest you. After all, they may well hold the keys to your continued success.
That’s why we decided to launch our “Agency Management Spotlight” interview series with Anthony Viceroy. As president and CFO of Porter Novelli, he heads the firm’s financial and operational groups. Here, he talks about the agency business from both sides—and reveals some hot new practice sectors, key insights and management tips along the way:
What are Porter Novelli’s plans for growth in the next few years?
AV: It’s probably no different here than it is with others. But we’re looking at emerging markets like the “Next 11” countries (Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Turkey and Vietnam—as identified by Goldman Sachs). Of course, there’s also China, India and Brazil.
That said, there is tremendous growth opportunity in the U.S. and Europe, if you can innovate and have creative teams that capitalize on opportunities. So we’re looking at it all holistically.
The “Next 11” will be slower, because of infrastructure, geo-political issues, etc. But it’s safe to say that these will be the hot areas over the 5-10 years. All of these countries come with risk and reward—it all depends on your appetite for risk. There is a wealth of consumers in these markets. As an agency, you must balance that against the financial imperatives that exist in these countries and the instability.
What are the most promising areas of growth you’re seeing, practice wise?
AV: We are seeing growth across board—especially in food and nutrition, technology and corporate services, which includes CSR, reputation management and crisis. Digital is embedded within all of that. In terms of “consumer” practice, I think it depends on who you speak to. My opinion is that “consumer” is built into all our other sectors. It’s a practice area within Porter Novelli, sure, but there will always be growth there.
Beyond these growth areas, another nice thing we are seeing is more CMOs incorporating PR services into their overall marketing mix.
What about healthcare as a hot sector?
AV: Well, the age of the blockbusters has been diminished. There are niche busters. There are smaller acquisitions of little biotech companies with good patents …so there is some work there. But if you compare it to 10 years ago, it’s very different.
We’re also seeing more consolidation of services within healthcare. So you will see growth, sure—but bigger spikes will become less frequent as more consolidation occurs and as the healthcare industry cuts the number of partners they’re using on the agency side.
What is the agency’s biggest challenge—from a CFO’s perspective?
AV: It depends on who you talk to. When I came here, it was 2009 in the middle of the worst economic downturn we have ever seen. We had a choice: live in fear or take hold of those challenges and turn them into opportunities. We chose to do that. I believe that because of these economic conditions—and we aren’t out of woods yet—we were able to become more core-focused on the business fundamentals of delivering growth and profit.
It helped us to create a stronger value proposition—the whole “one-firm firm” idea—and it drove us to focus on our top 20 accounts.
That’s the nice thing about the economy: You knew that if you stood still, you’d be damaged. So it gave us the air cover to be creative, open-minded … and to look for more creative solutions.
So where does that leave the firm now?
AV: It’s getting better, client spending is increasing, and the focus is back a little bit to what it was before the downturn. By focus, I mean our renewed focus on business outcomes. Clients want agencies that will be strategic, but that can execute quickly around the strategy. They must have great people and products. It’s always this way. The only difference now is that you have to take a look at controlling risk, capturing more efficiencies, and so on.
Sounds good in theory—but how did you make that happen? What tools or technologies helped?
AV: It’s less about technology than it is about mindset. You have to get buy-in versus people saying, “How does this impact my control over this account or P&L?” That can’t be managed through technology. It only comes through time. You must see success, and track greater than expected client satisfaction through surveys, for example. You need touch-points and proof points to embrace those changes. Then, of course, you use technology for things like staffing mixes—that’s a faster, cheaper model. But without buy-in, you set yourself up for failure.
Any tangible results?
AV: Year over year for the top accounts doing this, we are up in revenue growth. Client satisfaction scores have been higher. And there is more unity within the firm. It lends itself to becoming more of a “one-firm firm.”
We do this for our top 20 accounts. I would say that 80 percent have had substantial growth year over year because we’ve been able to bring better talent and fresh ideas to clients through this model. Clients today want to feel loved, they want to know what the next big thing is and so on—so the more resources you can bring to table, the more likely it is that you will produce better outcomes.
The agency has won some “best places to work” kudos … how do you create that environment? How has this benefitted the firm as a competitive advantage—and in hiring a younger generation of talent?
AV: Our Belgium and Atlanta offices were recognized as best places to work. First, the credit goes to the leadership in those offices. This is not like a corporate mandate. This is rolling up your sleeves and making our values come to life. We have great leaders across the board. At the end of the day, our leaders and our staff really understand the values here, and that’s what makes it special.
The competitive advantage comes out in terms of low turnover and improved morale.
As for young talent coming in, I heard a lot of comments about millennials ten years ago. But the truth is they’re looking for the same things as the rest of us—like feedback, opportunities, acknowledgement of whether they’re doing a good job, guidance and so on. To me, having these awards is an honor and goes to the credit of the leaders in those offices, but for younger generations coming up, this in and of itself won’t matter much—unless you can show them individual love as well as collective love. We are a strong army at this firm, but individual attention must be given. That’s the secret. These managers have given that and the rest of us feel part of it.
How do you align the “creative organization” that is the agency with financial imperatives? Any examples and tips?
AV: Isn’t this the key of all agency success? In old-school finance, they are looking to cut costs. Similarly, old-school creative wants to spend, spend and spend. My view is that without the client, both parties aren’t needed. So the solution is to find common ground—and that’s the client. Put the client first—at the center of the organization—so everybody in the firm is aligned and client-centric. That’s the only way.
Then how do you put the client first at Porter Novelli?
AV: Well, the first thing is that it has to be believed, repeated and lived by senior management. If leadership isn’t ahead in the charge, others won’t follow. There has to be zero tolerance of anything beyond a “client first” mindset.
Then we show success—small or otherwise. This shows our philosophy is working and provides a reason to believe. If you put out corporate mandates and PPT decks on “client first,” you don’t get buy-in. Success lives and breathes on the ground. So, identify champions in the global organization who are doing this and show what they’re doing right. You don’t do this at your annual meeting. Instead, put it into the agency DNA and live it every day. You must monitor, evolve and course-correct when needed. But it must start with a common understanding that the client comes first.
How is the agency reinventing itself? Is the label of “tech agency” still relevant?
AV: That has long been the perception. Porter Novelli has been here since 1972. It was founded for social marketing. In the 1990s with the advent of acquisitions and clients like HP, that’s where the tech label came into play.
But we spent the last few years repositioning ourselves from traditional PR to being more of a digitally integrated firm: Social media and analytics are embedded into our work. That is taking a different approach. We don’t’ keep a separate P&L for digital, and we don’t have a chief digital officer. It’s all part of the business. It’s just another media and communications channel. So, we live our integration values rather than just talk about it.
We are also taking a more client-centric approach around how we align the best talent globally in order for our clients to achieve greater success. Years ago, we had an office-centric model. That leads to misalignment and turf wars. Who pays for that? The client. So last year, we did a whole realignment focusing on how we can more effectively put the client at the center—regardless of where they are geographically.
Do you have some management tips for smaller shops … what lessons can you share for sole practitioners and boutiques?
AV: You have to play to your strengths, not weaknesses. Agility and the ability to move quickly is a certain advantage for a smaller shop—that’s who they are. Clients want results fast. We are even trying to model Porter-Novelli after smaller shops, in that sense. We need a global mindset, but local responsiveness.
The great equalizers for smaller firms are:
- Recognition that technology and digital levels the playing field (for example, there are great, small creative shops in Brooklyn that can do big-agency level work).
- Great ideas (clients today don’t mind where they come from, as long as they’re getting them—whether it’s one person or a giant firm).
Sure, a global footprint is important in this age of scale. But you can be extremely competitive if you can do these three things well.
What drives you in your daily work? What do you do in your free time?
AV: I have a great appreciation of what we do here and this is where I get my energy. When I’m not working, I’m thinking about work. My free time is limited. I am blessed in that I enjoy my work. It’s usually something around work—and being part of latest developments here … When I have a few extra hours, I give every hour to my family. I travel, work, eat and am back on computer until 1 in the morning.
Fair enough—but let’s pretend that you had free time. What pastime would you turn to and what might it have to do with the way you manage an agency?
AV: I have to say that it would be baseball—playing it and watching it. I’m a huge Yankees fan and always have been.
What do you love about it?
AV: It’s such a great team sport. Sure, great pitching usually wins at the end of the day. But you need contributions from everybody—whether it’s your leadoff hitter or your number nine hitter. Baseball is a great analogy for agency work. That’s what we do here: It’s a team effort. It has to be these days. No one person has all the answers. The market changes too fast and better, cheaper, faster still exists out there somewhere. Teamwork and faith in the team is critical to set you apart.
This interview first appeared in “thought leaders,” a Commpro.biz blog: http://blog.commpro.biz/?p=2337