will hodge zoe eagle

Accenture Song’s co-chiefs on Tearing up the rulebook

As Will Hodge and Zoe Eagle approach the end of their first year at the helm of Song, the pair reflect and lay out their ambitions for the future

By conor nichols

Will Hodge and Zoe Eagle describe Accenture Song’s 2023 as “gutsy, pivotal and unwavering”. The co-chiefs first year of leading Accenture’s creative shop meant that Eagle, previously serving as managing director of Song, and Hodge as chief strategy officer, had to hit the ground running and make the new offering both interesting and relevant while growing their clients' businesses. The duo started with a shared ambition to fully tilt towards technology that's shaping and shifting our world as we know it, and look at what it means to be creative through this new lens. And that comes easy. As Eagle says: "We've got more to play with than anybody else, and we get to lack the imposter syndrome around technology and commerciality because that's the bread and butter of the Accenture business that we’re a part of."

Two years ago, consulting behemoth Accenture made the move to unite all but one (Droga5) of its advertising and marketing offerings under one house. Most notably, Karmarama merged and has since been successfully jettisoned as an agency brand- but all for a more modern and future-facing cause - accessing Accenture’s market-leading capabilities and practices for clients obsessing about their brands' place in the future. Not only has Song inspired growth and ambition by peering through a new technology-informed creative lens, but the agency also has the former Publicis Groupe UK chief Dame Annette King on side to lead its global marketing practice - making it that much more exciting. To usher in a new chapter for the UK agency's creative department, Hodge and Eagle have promoted ECDs Vix Jagger and Pablo Gonzalez De La Pena Bermejo to lead the intersection of creative technology and culture.

Hodge and Eagle have been busy helping Accenture Song in the UK to find its voice and hit all the right notes for its breadth of client brands such as Lidl, Plusnet, the British Army and Arla - the latter of which Song won the European creative remit to late last year. In November, Plusnet also selected the agency to lead its social account.

Co-chiefs are admittedly few and far between in the agency landscape, but the mix of Hodge and Eagle’s backgrounds arguably make up for a fitting leadership pair. Hodge, having worked in planning departments at AMV BBDO and Glue Isobar, was a strategy leader at Karmarama for ten years and CSO of Song prior to the co-chief appointment. Eagle, a consummate suit, has held managing director and business lead positions at BBH, Creature and Song.

So how have the pair fared with their first year as co-CEOs? How have they strived to create an agency that sets itself apart from the rest of the roost? What makes Song’s culture so unique? We caught up with Hodge and Eagle to find out.

Creative Salon: How have you distinguished Accenture Song from the ‘traditional’ agency?

Will Hodge: We recognised early on that we have an opportunity to shape and lead a new type of agency. One that has been created for a completely different market, at the beginning of a completely new era for advertising.

We’ve felt energised by the new model that has emerged since becoming Song, and by the opportunity to work with people and technology that we would never have access to in a traditional agency.

Zoe Eagle: It really has felt like a blank sheet of paper from the outset. One of the best parts has been the dual nature of what we’re leading in that it feels part start-up and part established organisation, with access to an incredible toolbox. We knew how unique this was and it’s been hugely influential for how we have shaped our culture.

CS: How would you describe the culture that you're aiming for?

Hodge: A phrase that we now increasingly use is ‘tough on our creativity, nice to our people’. We've made sure that we can get together around the work and I don’t mean staring at TV scripts, but rather, thinking about the big problems and coming up with answers that regularly surprise us.

We have learnt to intensely scrutinise what it is we’re solving; you can now feel this in the rooms and see it in the product. We knew we wanted a culture that never asked for permission to think outside of old parameters, and we’ve absolutely got that now.

We’ve pushed our people to challenge the status-quo when it comes to what they think they know about creativity. A key part of this is how we bring together people from across Song – people who have the type of knowledge and experience that can elevate what we are doing in ways that go beyond what might be expected.

Eagle: Since becoming Song, we’ve created a very curious and open-minded culture. We're in an environment where there is more intelligence than you could ever usually conceive of, and to grasp the breadth of what we can do for our clients, our talent had to be hungry for it.

We've got more to play with than anybody else, and we get to lack the imposter syndrome around technology and commerciality because that's the bread and butter of the Accenture business that we’re a part of. To thrive, our culture has to be driven by curiosity, open mindedness and questioning.

CS: What’s the relationship between you, Accenture and your ‘creative sibling’ Droga5?

Eagle: Like Droga5 we’re a creative business that solves client problems with the currency of ideas, but we each have different competitive sets. And we leverage what we both have access to in quite different ways.

Song is aligned more with the business of brands; what we’re best at is understanding the fundamental issues clients are facing on a business and brand level. What is the brand going to be in the future? Why is the brand relevant in their marketplace and the wider world?

What’s interesting about our relationship with Droga5 is how close and positive it is. Having worked in networks, other agencies can feel like cousins whereas we feel like siblings. It’s very easy and natural as a lot of us come from the same agencies.

Hodge: We seek out clients that are looking for or experiencing, change. It might be a start-up that needs to scale, or a business that needs to redirect itself due to a challenging legacy.

Our work with Arla is a great example of this. We have worked with the brand at both a Song and big Accenture level and recently helped establish its sustainability model so that the brand could deliver a coherent sustainability and responsibility strategy. We have since been appointed to lead the Creative transformation of the brand across Europe which will see us integrate all the moving parts of the wider transformation.

CS: How is your new creative guard executing your creative mission?

Hodge: Some of the changes that we've experienced this year have opened up fresh ways of thinking about creative leadership. Our new ECD team have incredibly interesting backgrounds and the fact they aren’t bound by traditional legacies has made them an incredible partnership for Zoe and I.

Vix Jagger, who came from Anomaly, is as obsessed with brand design and product thinking, as she is with communications. The way that Vix comes at creativity has helped the department understand the full range of where a brand should live, and the myriad of creative ways that can be explored to deliver this.

Pablo González de la Peña is BBH by background but has come with a very global view of creativity, that isn't constrained to just communications. He’s driven by the limitless nature of technology, understanding how it can co-exist with creativity – and getting the department excited about what the unknown.

Eagle: We have always been surrounded by really impressive creative talent; over the last year we’ve realised just how much people are capable of doing things differently when you give them the right opportunities to do so.

Song has a different shape of creativity; a broader canvas and a fascination with how brands manifest. With regards to innovation, we really look to the creative department for this because we’re in the business of delivering solutions that look wildly different to what clients are used to.

We are challenging the model of what a creative leader now looks like. We were happy to break the mould and promote from within because we knew that nobody could understand the creative model of our business in the way that Vix and Pabs do.

Diversity is also inherent in our business; we have such a breadth of tools and problems to solve that it’s not possible for one human being to represent everything.

We’re having to break the idea that one person has the point of view and that they're the ultimate quality control. We're getting to solutions by really talking and engaging different brain types and different skill sets.

CS: What work have you done since you’ve both been at the helm that is most symptomatic of this new Accenture song?

Hodge: The Arla work is a great example of exactly what we can deliver across both business and brand for our clients.

Arla and the wider dairy industry have a serious problem when it comes to sustainability, so we saw from the outset there was an opportunity to do something transformational, that let creativity and sustainability shape where the company goes next.

When we presented the initial idea, we were invited to share it in Copenhagen at the company’s AGM alongside the CEO who decided that it needed to become the company’s north-star moving forward. This was a huge turning point for us because it showed that our work was capable of touching every corner of a business and worthy of being given a seat at the top table.

Zoe Eagle: With Plusnet, we transformed a challenger brand in the broadband category which meant we had to fundamentally reinvent the whole brand - and the brand strategy.

Essentially, what we've done is go from a marketing strategy that was being executed via an advertising vehicle, to a complete redefinition of the brand from a narrative and visual identity perspective. Every touchpoint is a consistent, coherent and aesthetically engaging brand experience.

We took something that was an old model in marketing and made it fit for purpose in the modern world. The business and brand strategy and visual identity of the Plusnet work speaks to what Accenture Song embodies – that we can take an old marketing model and make it fit for purpose in the modern world.

Hodge: Now, through this transformation Plusnet will be taken more seriously from a commercial perspective. With this work you can see how the transformation affects the commercial success with a range of impact.

Eagle: Lidl is a long-standing client and our relationship with them has gone from strength to strength. Obviously, the reality of retail in ad agencies is that there's so much in the detail that you must get right. You need for the machine to consistently work well and that's something of an operation in itself, which has put our large-scale production arm to very good use.

What we're doing with Lidl now is using our intelligence and sustainability arm to really get under the skin of how it can be differentiated. How is Lidl going to show up in a way that's vital? We deal with the commercial leads at Lidl now because they are fundamental to the type of work we are leading.

When it comes to the Army, we have both a CEO level and marketing team relationship as we’re trying to build a model of business that is fit for future. From reframing how a younger generation feels about institutions, to improving the process of applying to becoming a soldier, it’s never been more important for the Army to understand how the public want to engage with them. Having Accenture behind us has given us the tools to make the entire experience of recruitment smoother.

CS: What does Accenture Song stand for in the UK? How are you going to find your own path and point of differentiation?

Hodge: We’ve been asked a lot: ‘Why does Accenture need Song to succeed? The truth is, Accenture has invested in Song because it realises the value of creativity across the board. It wants and needs a creative front door that can lean into the biggest challenges our clients face and find genuinely different solutions.

The intersection of creativity and technology is where we know Song can confidently exist; 12 months ago, the offering was probably too advanced for the market, but fast forward to today and the all-access approach we can give to clients has never felt more fitting for what brands now need to evolve.


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