FCB London Katy_Owen_Ben

FCB London on why it feels positive about the year ahead

The newly-rebranded agency is aspiring for creative thinking that goes beyond 'traditional' advertising

By Creative Salon

You might think this is a story about an agency rebrand. Far from it. Instead this is a story about ambition and a sense of joy.

In May this year, IPG-owned FCB network rebranded its London office from FCB Inferno to FCB London. An agency rebrand is often an attempt to reinvent itself - but that wasn't quite the case here, but more a reset moment for CEO Katy Wright, who was promoted to the role of the network’s London agency 13 months ago.

The same is also true for CCO Owen Lee and CSO Ben Jaffé - a team that had been put in place two years ago. The trio weren't exactly waiting to transition to a new name to realise the agency's new-business growth and creative ambitions. After all they've been working together for more than a decade at the London agency. Months before the announcement of the agency rebrand, the team had already brought in new big global clients including Škoda and Unilever. Last year, the agency was awarded a Titanium at Cannes Lions for its campaign for Made by Dyslexia, making it the second-most awarded agency in the UK that year.

We sat down with the new invigorated leadership team to discuss how it is cementing its creative reputation and winning new business, and whether the timing of the agency rebrand signals a change of direction for the London agency.

For Wright, the agency was already witnessing a sense of renewal quietly, but the rebrand sends a "signal" of change to the market. "The FCB brand has really grown over the last few years, being voted creative network of year 2020/21 at Cannes and second most creative in 2022, we were proud to have played a central role in that. The name change very much recognised that we were part of the global transformation of FCB back to being a creative powerhouse," she adds.

The timing of the office’s rebranding came during FCB’s celebrations of the company’s 150th Anniversary. FCB London became the agency’s first international office when it was established in 1928, and its creative legacy includes the Dulux dog, British Airways’ promise that “We’ll take more care of you,” and Sure’s iconic “tick”.

A year (and a bit) since Wright's promotion to CEO

Wright was somewhat reluctant to do the interview when it was first suggested that it was time to mark her anniversary. Instead she wanted to make enough room for both her creative and strategic partners - Lee and Jaffé - to be part of the story of the agency's growth and its ambitions. "It [the first year as the CEO] has been the challenge I needed and made all the easier to have Owen and Ben by my side," she says.

And the duo couldn't be more effusive in how the agency has been growing its swagger since she took over as CEO and why they seem so self-assured and upbeat about the year ahead, despite it expected to be another challenging one. Heck, the trio took it upon themselves to create a bespoke FCB London-branded gin to announce its new name to its clients.

"It’s pretty hard to be in a meeting with Katy where there is no laughter. I think, in the beginning, her refreshing style confounded our global team from across the pond, but they have come to love it and bounce off of it," says Lee of Wright's impact on the agency since she was first promoted to the CEO role. "Katy’s boundless energy and charm" is also echoed by Jaffé who adds that "everything and nothing" has changed in the last 13 months but "this feels like a logical progression from all that’s gone before. But we’ve got into our new groove with renewed positivity and joy in what we do." And this is the reason why this team says that 2024 will be very much about continued momentum and about strengthening its breadth and depth across disciplines.

"We’ve created a position that offers the agility and spirit of a boutique agency, with the clout and data capabilities of the most creatively-awarded network. As a cultural and business offer this has gained real traction," says Wright. It's an approach that is shared by all three who agree that being part of FCB, and in turn IPG, has given the London agency access to better tech, better data, better tools and better talent than is possible for an independent agency. The agency has launched new capabilities like FCB/SIX - the network agency's creative data and CRM capability, which it brought to the UK last year with its first client, Unite Students.

For Lee it also the time that the agency is refocusing on the power of creative impact. "We’ve seen how powerful it can be to harness the power of creativity with our global data and technology expertise. We know there is so much more we can do in this area, as evidenced with several global clients.

"For us it’s about not being limited; we’re lucky we’ve the capabilities to solve our clients’ challenges/problems without defaulting to just doing a TV campaign," he adds. "Having a combination of award-winning work on commercial clients and ideas that do good in the world is why we get out of bed in the morning. It’s why we’re still very proud of the work we do with Sport England on ‘This Girl Can’. It’s a brand we created and put into the world, which continues to have incredibly high social engagement and a powerful movement of its own."

They talk about the concept of creativity as an economic multiplier that leads to significant growth across its clients. "For us it's about timeless brand building working together with timely sales/tactical activations. Too often agencies and marketers see brand building and sales activation as separate things when they should be in lock-step with one another," explains Jaffé.

So what does the future hold? It's all about the 'win' for Wright and her management team - from new business to creative credentials that solve business challenges. "We’re proud of how the Skoda global pitch demonstrated how we can win against the best agencies in the world. The commitment from RFI to final pitch was phenomenal. Next year won’t be easy, but we’re building now on a strong foundation and with that anything is possible."

From winning the Titanium for at Cannes last year for 'Dyslexic thinking'. to scooping a Grand Prix for eCommerce with The Big Issue ‘Raising profiles’ the year before. to netting a D&AD pencil for its work on Kleenex this year - it is a fitting ambition. Anything is possible.

Creative Salon: in your first year as CEO, give us a prognosis of how it’s been?

Wright: It’s gone very quickly. It’s been great and of course challenging but invigorating at the same time. I’m not as exhausted as I thought I might be, mostly because the highs outweigh the lows and I’ve loved it. It’s been the challenge I needed and made all the easier to have Owen and Ben by my side.

It did give me time to reflect, I think you have to; having a reality check is always important. As much as the last two years have been tough, we’ve not only worked bloody hard, but we’ve also learnt invaluable things about ourselves as a business and a team.

Tell us about some of the leadership decisions that you’ve taken that have changed the shape and the direction of the agency?

Wright: We’ve had to make changes based on where we wanted to be as a business. We needed focus because we had previously spread our energies too thinly and paid the price.

Ultimately it boiled down to us being true to ourselves and enjoying what we do.

It sounds so simple, but often as an industry we over complicate, and we found ourselves in situations that weren’t right for us. We’ve got our mojo back (I’ve aged myself saying mojo!) I’ll be saying cool and awesome next!

Tell us about your personal style as leader. How do you see yourself in this leadership role at a time when the ad industry has more women working in the advertising industry than men (54 per cent according to the latest stats) but still has its challenges like recruiting and retaining the best talent?

Wright: It’s great to see more female leaders across the industry but, ultimately, it’s where we take the industry next. Irrespective of our gender that’s what we will all be judged on.

Every leader faces the same challenges when it comes to talent, so that’s why it’s critical we create the right environment for our people.

I’ve reached out to lots of leaders for advice, inside and outside the industry and that’s really helped me. I’ve always believed you should never stop learning. As my dad, who was an airline pilot would say, “Keep it simple. Pull up and the houses get smaller, push down and the houses get bigger!”

I love what I do, and I always try to bring a lot of energy as a leader. If that’s infectious then great. After all, we spend so much time at work, and as Noel Coward said, “Work Is much more fun than fun”. I wholeheartedly agree.

And finally, the year’s not over but I hope to land the plane safely.

What was the biggest learning for you in stepping up from being an MD to a CEO?

Wright: The step up to MD in 2021 didn’t feel very big at the time, but to CEO it’s different, it’s so much bigger. Every day brings a new challenge – you need to just very quickly move to a new pace. But then I love a challenge.

So what’s the nicest thing about working at FCB London?

Wright: My primary school teacher, Mrs Jordan, always told me to never use the word nice!

However, the things we love about working here is the people, the energy, the chemistry and the amount our people care about what we’re working on. We also laugh a lot, no matter what we’re faced with, to name but a few.

One of the most important things for us is that you feel energy and warmth when you work with us.

A year since Katy Wright's been the agency CEO, what has changed?

Lee: The energy. Katy brings an unparalleled sense of positivity and passion. The dynamic between Katy, Ben and I is one of mutual respect and genuine friendship and I think that shows. Katy has only been CEO for a year, but the three of us have worked together for over 10 years and that’s a pretty rare combination. I think more and more clients want to feel the chemistry amongst the agency team, as much as they do between agency and client.

Ben Jaffé: We’ve been working together for a long time now, so our set up feels like a logical progression from all that’s gone before. But we’ve got into our new groove with renewed positivity and joy in what we do. As Owen has mentioned a lot of that stems from Katy’s boundless energy and charm.

Last year, you were awarded a Titanium at Cannes Lions for your 'Dyslexic Thinking' campaign, making you the second most awarded agency in the UK - how have you built on this success this year?

Lee: We have had a good track record at Cannes over the last few years winning 40 Lions, including three Grands Prix and a Titanium, and much of that work has been for purpose-driven or behaviour-change work. We like finding creative solutions to our clients’ business problems whatever that looks like. Sometimes it’s traditional advertising, sometimes it’s something we have never done before like building a piece of technology, creating a new activation or starting initiative that enriches the brand’s positioning. We are starting to see more and more of our commercial clients wanting thinking beyond just paid for advertising. They want creativity that delivers growth for their business and our focus is on delivering that kind of thinking on our biggest clients.

Set against the continued economic uncertainty and global political instability what are your insightful takes on consumer behaviour in 2024? Also as an industry, should we be revisiting the debate where we are asked to make a choice between purpose and selling?

Jaffé: With the deepening swirl of global instability, we’re all in for a bumpy ride. Irrespective of the better-than-expected inflation figures, our purse strings will continue to tighten. Behaviours and spending patterns will further focus on necessities and what matters. The little things we do for our loved ones will become ever more important. So, the brands that’ll succeed will be those that crack the value equation, price plus a combination of care, charm, utility, warmth and levity. But, of course there’s no one set strategy we can assert for a year of certain uncertainty. The one thing we would recommend is remaining agile.

Advertising always has and always will be about selling, whether that is simplistically flogging a product or selling a philosophy. Purpose remains a powerful strategy for brands, but they’ll get found out if they try to be something they are not. I will leave you with the words of Victor Hugo: "Change your opinions, keep your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots."


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