O2 brings separate agency partners together in move to foster creativity

O2 is trying to break down the siloes in its business, both internally and with agency partners, in a move aimed at inspiring innovation and creativity.

O2 has created a ‘planning hub’ among its agencies as part of a strategy that aims to break down the siloes in its marketing team, both internally and externally, and foster collaboration and creativity.

The hub involves planners from across its media, PR, advertising and CRM agencies co-locating for three days a week in a space at one of its agencies dedicated to the brand. All the different ideas and campaigns the brand is working on are put on the walls, with people able to work across different teams and go from team to team to ensure they are coming up with the best creative ideas for the brand.

Cross-agency groups are increasingly common for brands, including British Airways, Ford and Walmart. What makes O2’s planning hub different to those at other brands is that it runs across agency groups, from Havas in media to VCCP (owned by Chime) in creative, Lida in CRM and Hope & Glory for consumer PR.

The addition of media in the hub also marks it out from other brands. When Procter & Gamble revealed earlier this week that it was asking creatives from across agency holding groups to work together, that was in creative rather than media.

READ MORE: P&G shakes up agency models as it puts the focus back on creativity

“I am trying to break down siloes because I really do believe that integration breeds ideas, and collaboration breeds creativity. What we’re trying to do is get rid of those siloes, not just internally but also with our agency partners,” O2 CMO Nina Bibby tells Marketing Week.

“We have really great relationships [with all our agencies], but boy when we get the power of the brains behind those different disciplines together, that’s when the magic happens.”

Bibby says the approach, which was put in place towards the back end of last year, has already resulted in campaigns such as ‘Oooops’, which aims to communicate the benefits of screen replacement, and ‘Yoyo’, its flexible tariffs.

O2 Follow the Rabbit
O2’s new Follow The Rabbit campaign was created using the planning hub

It has also been used for this year’s ‘Follow the Rabbit’ campaign, which built on the launch last year and this time focuses on the power of live music. It tests a number of new creative ideas for the brand, including a specially-designed Snapchat world lens that allows users to follow an AR rabbit that appears in front of them, as well as a partnership with Spotify. 

“It’s great, because what it means is I’m seeing the creativity living, the thinking to inspire the creatives is right there. And we can do it in a very dynamic way. Often, if you’re not together, it takes just that bit longer because you’ll have a discussion with one agency and then go to a different agency, whereas now we can bash them together,” she adds.

“Whenever you start a brief you bring together the agencies and brief them together. The difference here is that it’s a regular, ongoing, consistent co-location. Not everyone is open to that immediately, and at the beginning there were questions over what this would be like, including for us, because we had never done it. But we can already see the impact and benefits.”

One of the reasons O2 has been able to bring its agencies together is because it sees them as partners. VCCP, for example, has been working with O2 since 2002, while the brand also has 20-year relationships with AEG (which owns the O2), Live Nation and the RFU (through its sponsorship of the England rugby team).

“There is absolutely a feeling of joint ownership of the success of this business with VCCP, but also with AEG, with Live Nation, with the RFU. We’re very focused through those partnerships because we know that is where we see the most success and when you’ve got that partnership and trust you then do experiment because you’re willing to take a risk as you know you are both in it together,” says Bibby.

I am trying to break down siloes because I really do believe that integration breeds ideas, and collaboration breeds creativity.

Nina Bibby, O2

That willingness to take risks extends into both its creative and media. Bibby believes that while sitting down with agency partners and determining what success should look like is important, experimentation is also key. And having a marketing effectiveness team enables her to do that.

“What breeds creativity and innovation? Having purpose does, knowing where you want to go. Experimentation does, we have to be willing to. One of the risks in a world where everything can be measured is that you don’t break out and experiment. And by the way, these [new tools] can be measured, you just might not know where the benchmarks are yet, so experiment,” she advises.

“We invest in our brand, our communications, and I want to be able to have the commercial conversation that says this is the return we get. That also gives me the ability to experiment. I know what I’m achieving, I know this is driving value and therefore experiment on the edge and put it back into the machine.”

Removing internal siloes

O2 is also looking to remove siloes internally. Bibby, who took over as CMO four and a half years ago, says one of the big changes has been integrating teams so they work better together.

For example, O2 used to have separate digital and social marketing functions, but last year it got rid of those siloes and instead created a performance marketing function that includes digital, CRM, ad tech and marketing operations. It has also brought customer experience into the marketing function and Bibby now has a direct report in charge of this area of the business.

“What we’ve done at O2 is more integration,” she explains. “We have brought all this together because frankly everything we do is digital, there’s no differentiation there. We’re constantly looking to innovate in that space so bringing those together has been one big change.

“That’s how we’re changing, depending on what’s happening externally and then [looking to be] more dynamic.”

O2 has also recently hired a head of data and analytics as it becomes an increasingly important function, both for its core service but also for the marketing division. And that change, she believes, is opening marketing up to a new, more diverse workforce.

READ MORE: Marketing’s looming crisis – Why the industry must work harder to attract the next generation

“What marketing is is becoming more diverse in terms of the science, the data, the creative, the effectiveness, the measurement – all of that is marketing now. There are lots of routes in and that should give us hope that actually we can bring in more diversity and appeal to graduates,” she concludes.

“My hope is that will widen the pool for us again. For marketing it’s really important we get young people [interested] because the world is changing quickly, how we reach people is changing quickly. Creative thinking, not asking the obvious questions, being disruptive – getting in young people really helps to spark some of that.”

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