Turn of the tide for DDB London?

DDB London’s chairman and chief executive Stephen Woodford says retaining the 12m Teacher and Development Agency (TDA) business (MW last week) was a “huge” result for the agency, which has been conspicuously quiet since Woodford took over at the start of the year.

DDB London’s chairman and chief executive Stephen Woodford says retaining the £12m Teacher and Development Agency (TDA) business (MW last week) was a “huge” result for the agency, which has been conspicuously quiet since Woodford took over at the start of the year.

The news ends a bleak run for DDB, which, in recent months, has failed to convert Yakult, the Learning and Skills Council, the Post Office and Nokia’s creative and strategic account at a time when observers say it was crying out for a new business win.

Woodford, who was previously chief executive of WCRS owner Engine, is tasked with turning around the fortunes of a much-loved agency that many believe has lost its lustre in recent years.

Prominent accounts, such as The Guardian, PG Tips and Weetabix, all followed previous chief executive Paul Hammersley out the door, and critics say the agency’s creative output has become sterile and too wedded to key accounts such as Volkswagen.

Time limit
Others believe that the clock is ticking for Woodford to bring in high-spending clients and transform DDB from old-fashioned agency to slick, modern creative offering.

“He has a year to bring in some big wins before questions will start being asked,” says one industry source. Leo Burnett managing director Paul Lawson adds that Woodford “has a massive turnaround job to do”.

Woodford, however, says he has a “medium-term strategy” in place, built around boosting margins from existing clients, adding new digital relationships through Tribal DDB and strengthening the agency with new appointments.

He adds: “There’s a tendency in our industry for new chief executives to attempt quick fixes through a few high-profile hirings and firings. That’s not what I think is needed here.” 

Digital solutions
It seems certain that digital specialist Tribal DDB, which Woodford says is “often overlooked”, will play an increasingly important role. Woodford has already brought Tribal closer to the main agency with the respective creative departments being moved into one working space.

He has also set out a different approach to pitching than his predecessor, who pitched for 22 accounts in 2005, a number some thought destabilising.

Woodford adds: “We’re primarily focused on existing clients and, therefore, are taking on fewer, bigger pitches, and aiming to do them better. So we’ve already had to turn down five or six opportunities this year and my ambition is that we achieve a success rate of 50% when we do pitch.” 

While DDB may be some way off achieving this goal, many believe Woodford’s strategy is correct and, moreover, that his unassuming but inclusive style will yield results. Another source adds: “He is underrated. He is taking stock and that is the right thing to do.” 

Further details about Woodford’s plans for the Omnicom-owned agency will be announced in September, when he will implement a major relaunch.

He has already set about freeing the agency from its BMP DDB past, and the relaunch will include a fresh positioning for the DDB brand and a “new story for the agency”.

Further reorganisation of staff, including aligning DDB’s highly respected planning unit more closely with its creative department, is also likely to take place as Woodford looks to weed out the “silo culture” at the agency.

DDB is awaiting results on the network portion of Nokia’s business, as well as the £20m pan-European Monster account, and a positive result on either – or both – would certainly help Woodford’s cause.

But others believe Woodford needs to win a big retail client and oversee some high-quality new creative work to prove that the agency is back on track and to secure his own future.

As one industry source says: “DDB used to have a great raft of ‘I wish I’d done that’ ads in its portfolio. And that is what it could do with now.”

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