GPY&R boss: ‘Time to shake out old school advertising’

Hero imageFollowing yesterday’s sudden departure of GPY&R Melbourne’s managing director Steve Doherty, Ben Coulson and Jason Buckley explain to Alex Hayes why change ‘had to come’,  and why staff ‘cheered’ it.

The mood around the Collins Street offices of GPY&R today was upbeat, with staff laughing and joking together, despite the announcement at 5pm yesterday that Steve Doherty, who had been with the agency for more than 20 years and led it for the last two, had exited.

His exit came after the December announcement the agency had lost its biggest client, Defence Force Recruiting, which it has won numerous awards over a 13-year association, to Havas.

With the news of Doherty’s departure came the announcement Matt Farrugia and Julian Bell had been made joint managing partners in Melbourne.

Ben Coulson, the group executive creative director, told Mumbrella: “It’s pretty good when you make a management announcement and there’s cheering and whooping and then the fridge opens and everyone has a good time.

“We got in the elevator after that and said ‘I think that one’s going to go alright’.”

Chief operating officer Jason Buckley added: “The agency has been wanting it to happen for a long time, it now feels like this agency is owned by the talent that works here.”

News of the Defence Force loss to Havas Worldwide reached the agency first via the trade press, with news alerts dropping during the “80s themed long lunch” Christmas party, before the client had contacted them.

The Monday after the agency ran an ad in the Australian Financial Review advertising a “vacancy” and saying its doors were open for new business opportunities, which Buckley says have been coming in since, hinting at at least one major client signing to be announced in the coming weeks, with high hopes of more to follow.

“Some of the actions we took soon after was to let people know we rated them. The ad we ran wasn’t for the market, it was for the people who work here”, Buckley added.

He insists the exit of Doherty was not solely prompted by the loss.

“Right now making the necessary changes in leadership to modernise the agency had to happen, it was always going to happen and Defence Force was only one of the reasons why we made the change,” he said.

“Changing the leadership structure was part of modernising, and it’s a natural evolution for the agency. These guys understand that business growth is something they need to do.”

Coulson added: “The agency is a meritocracy and we really try hard to hang onto that. If you do the hard work and bring the business in and impress, we make sure you’re here and don’t have to go somewhere else for the next job.

“For Julian and for Matt they are the heart and soul of the agency. The staff love them, the clients love them, they’re entrepreneurial and they’re modern in their approach and they deserve the gig and if we didn’t give it to them they’d go somewhere else to have it.”

As part of that change Evan Roberts has been promoted to creative director to take day-to-day lead on the output from the office, with Coulson touting him as a future ECD for the agency.

Coulson also talked of the need to shake off the shackles of “old school advertising” which he says has: “a way of creeping back into your business and management processes, and it’s a thing you’ve always got to be vigilant of.”

“Old School advertising always likes to creep back in and present the old way of doing things because it’s comfortable,” he added. “You’ve got to be vigilant and on the case and make sure you’re doing what it takes for today and tomorrow.

“We’re not just doing what managers were doing in the past in advertising, clients certainly aren’t old fashioned any more, and advertising has a unique way of going back there if you don’t keep an eye on it.”

Coulson admits “the red pen was out” after the Defence Force news came through, but said the agency had taken some unusual steps ahead of the contract expiring in March to minimise redundancies.

“We asked everybody at Christmas to think about the next chapter,” he said. “How long have you been here, how motivated are you, is there another job someone’s been pestering you for that you were wondering whether you should have taken it?

“If you’re thinking any of those things now’s the time to go. We’re going to go really hard next year it’s going to be a really hard push, really busy and you will be at work a lot.”

So far around a dozen people have exited the agency for other positions, he added.

Buckley added: “Asking our people to fight to rebuild this agency is exactly what needs to be done. The old management knows best and implementing change from the top down is absolute bullshit.”

So what do the pair see in the future for the agency as it looks to rebuild?

“We’ll be adding another floor in 12 months time,” quipped Buckley. Coulson was more circumspect, saying whilst he did not envisage the numbers of people changing hugely, the methods of working and ways of engaging with clients will have changed.

Buckley added: “In Melbourne what’s fantastic is there are a lot of Australian businesses and they have so many new business models and brands that can go into new categories in new ways and they have real business challenges. It’s what the communications industry should be focussing on for the next three to five years.

“There’s no-one in the Australian communications industry delivering new business solutions for their clients really well. That’s where the smart agencies are looking.”

Both ruled out any kind of move to a full-service model, bringing media back in house, with Coulson signalling a drive for more collaboration with media agencies it works with, adding: “It’s just dumb having these agencies sat in a room and being frenemies, but we’re talking to our partners about how we can genuinely collaborate.”

Buckley said: “We’re not going to be a media agency. We’ll go to market together and work together. If you want to get fit you don’t go for a run yourself you find a mate to run with and then you can’t stop.”

Since publication Jason Buckley has stressed the “joy” felt in the agency was for the appointment of Matt Farrugia and Julian Bell.

He added: “We were sorry to see Steve go. He’s a wonderful bloke who has contributed to our business over many years. I wish him well, but I’m very bet excited to be able to announce Matt and Julian as the new leaders of the agency.”


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