New Y&R management aims to build on retail, push creative as McDonald takes charge

New Y&R ANZ CEO Phil McDonald

New Y&R ANZ CEO Phil McDonald

Incoming CEO of Y&R Group, Phil McDonald, has pledged to build on the group’s retail credentials and continue to ride the creative success that has come out of GPY&R’s Brisbane and Melbourne agencies.

McDonald took the helm of the agency two weeks ago after the departure Jason Buckley and in his first interview since taking charge, admitted he is not sure how much longer the George Patterson name will remain on the shingle.

He has also been cautious about commenting on the futures of Y&R Group and STW after the takeover of STW by parent WPP last year, in a move that has been billed as a “merger”.

McDonald’s DNA runs thick through the company and he has a personal attachment to George Patterson – once Australia’s largest agency – where his father began his career in advertising working in the mail room.

But that history is not a reason to necessarily continue trading under the Patts’ name, he said.

“All the pieces of DNA that make up GPY&R and Y&R Group are important,” McDonald said.

“(But) Our business is not a history lesson. Our business is offering world class creativity: If it’s George Patterson and we do, great; if it’s VML and we do it, awesome; if it’s Y&R Group and we do it, brilliant.

“So it’s not about killing the George Patterson brand, it’s not about saying ‘it doesn’t have relevance’, it’s about saying ‘we do what out clients need’.”

McDonald said that the growing influence of full-service digital marketing business VML was beginning to pay dividends and that the company will play an increasing role in the success of Y&R Group in Australia and New Zealand.

McDonald said the ability of the group to offer solutions across channels was being capitalised on across the client base, from government to private enterprise.

“Together, the VML/Y&R offering is quite powerful and we are just starting to push that to market,” he said.

However, he admits he sees gaps in the current business, particularly in retail – the stock-in-trade of Y&R’s global offering – that he wants to focus on building.

“Where we could do more for clients is in the retail category,” he said.

“We have really good retail expertise across the network – Melbourne has Australia Post retail, we’ve got good retail thinkers here and we’re doing really good shopper work. And in Brisbane we have a great retail business.”

Last year, the group brought together the creative departments of GPY&R and Ideaworks to work in unison, although the group denied that it was a merger of the two agency brands.

The agency is also working to trade on propriety products it is developing in-house, with one retail optimisation product now being looked at by Y&R globally.

“(The product) tracks how retail environments, online environments and retail catalogues, and other retail promotions, how they are being used across customers and shoppers.”

With Y&R having been through a creative resurgence under the guidance of Ben Coulson, McDonald said it was vital that the group continue to be driven creatively.

While he said it was early days regarding the WPP merger with STW Group, he was looking forward to the potential the new allegiance it might bring to all WPP operations in Australia.

“We work extremely well within the WPP world – we partner well within the WPP network – and that is not going to change.”

Simon Canning


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