Three holding groups in three years, 40% growth, and energy beating everything: Pete Bosilkovski on Clems Sydney coming into its own

Pete Bosilkovski had limited time at Clemenger BBDO Sydney before COVID-19 hit, and when it did, he had the choice to either hunker down and ride out the storm, or transform. Here, he tells Mumbrella's Zoe Wilkinson about how the agency has achieved its most successful run during the pandemic, and the agency's new culture of 'energy beats everything'.

“If you think about it, I joined, and then four months later COVID hit… And part of me was like ‘do you throw out the rule book or do you double down on things that really matter the most?’.”

Externally, it’s been a tumultuous 15 months since Pete Bosilkovski became CEO of Clemenger BBDO Sydney. But internally, he says the agency has been full steam ahead transforming into a more powerful partner for its clients.

“If I can sum it up, energy beats everything,” he says. “That is how I would sum up our 12 months to today, but it’s only just starting.”

‘The most success during COVID than we’ve had in the last 24 months’: Bosilkovski

‘Energy beats everything’ is the new mantra at Clems Sydney. Much like Clemenger BBDO Melbourne boasts that ‘Creativity is always the answer’, Sydney’s new motto has driven a mindset shift amongst the team that has helped them push through the challenges of COVID-19.

“I’ve faced many a challenge in the past running companies, but COVID-19 made any challenge prior feel tame in comparison,” Bosilkovski remarks.

“Our focus turned to our people and client partners like never before. These unprecedented times could have broken us. But we learnt that our values really were the guiding light that galvanised us together, making us stronger I believe.

“‘Energy beats everything’ was a value that we embraced. Our energy and will to forge forward not only kept us going, but enabled us to add tremendous value to our client partners in these very challenging times.”

Bosilkovski tells me, “we’ve had the most success during COVID than we’ve had in the last 24 months in the company”.

Throughout the pandemic, the agency has brought in 26 pieces of new business, including the Seafood Industry of Australia, Stake, Brookvale Union and two of Streets’ brands, Weiss and Blue Ribbon. Over the past 12 months, he says the agency has achieved 40% growth.

He credits this success to the mindset shift, and the momentum it has created.

“Embracing this sort of mindset shift and energy driving everything that we do, it’s led to momentum, and momentum for us was absolutely critical because we could have gone two ways as we hit COVID: One where you’re embracing, two is you let the fear get into your DNA.

“Where actually, momentum has allowed us to instil greater confidence in doing things that we’d normally wouldn’t have done.”

Bosilkovski cut his teeth as a leader at Leo Burnett Sydney, stepping up from managing director to CEO after Todd Sampson stepped away from the day-to-day of the agency in 2015. He then moved to Y&R, which soon merged with VML, leading him to become co-CEO with Aden Hepburn.

His tenure with WPP AUNZ was short-lived. He left in May last year and started up with Clems three months later to fill the Sydney chief executive role vacated by Nick Garrett.

As I point out to him, that is not just three agencies, but three holding groups, in three years.

“This feels like home for me,” he says confidently, slightly evading my admittedly ambitious question about evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of each.

Speaking of the Omnicom-owned Clemenger Group, which encompasses Clems Sydney and Melbourne, as well as CHE Proximity, he says: “This is a family-led business where the founder of this company still comes into the office in Melbourne, Peter Clemenger, I mean, it’s extraordinary.

“Robert Morgan is our chairman, [and], he runs this place like it’s a family. 28% or 26% of the people that work for the Clemenger group own the company. I mean you can’t do that at any other holding company.”

Bosilkovski is referring to the Clemenger Group’s staff share scheme, which enables all employees within the group in Australia and New Zealand to apply for shares. As of 31 December 2019, 344 of the group’s 1,960 employees are shareholders.

“Automatically once that’s the case, you’ve got very different vested interests in how to breed success, very similar to the mindset that if you had an independent company, you’re working there and you owned it, because it’s beneficial for you more so than just the salary,” Bosilkovski says.

“We are really driven creatively in the matter of who we are, what you do in the Clemenger group. Creativity is the heart of what this organisation does. Other holding groups will also argue the same, but I think the big difference between us all is that it is family-led and you do own a part of the company.”

However, Bosilkovski does tell me that his experiences across the three agencies and holding groups has influenced his outlook on agency leadership.

“It builds you and grooms you to the person that you are today,” he reflects. “And you are a leader that has an absolute backbone in creativity, but is very commercially minded.

“I have a saying that we aren’t an art school, and we’re not the crayons people. We’re a business that is founded and guided and inspired by our commercial creativity.

“I think that’s a key thing that you learn when you work in amazing organisations underpinned by great brands. And that’s how I view the business, because ultimately what matters when you take all brands aside, your client partners sit in the centre and it’s: How do you help your business grow? How do you help their business grow in value? And how do you ensure that their business keeps expanding and growing and diversifying? And then you can play a massive role.”

Bosilkovski’s determination to work with brands across their entire customer journey has led to the expansion of the agency’s services, namely digital experience, customer experience (CX), user experience (UX), data, and solving problems with technology.

“The agency always had a rich creative history, but what surprised me the most was the kind of creative solutions the agency had been starting to make. It was far from the traditional advertising agency I suspected it [to] be,” he says.

“What we’ve done since I’ve joined is to accelerate this kind of thinking, and formalised the service offering. Over the past 12 months, we have been focused on expanding our capabilities, and this approach has enabled us to unlock problems we previously couldn’t see and increase brand value through the intersection of design, communication, experience and technology.”

On the left of the stairs is Clemenger BBDO Sydney, to the right is CHE Proximity

The shift of traditional agencies becoming creative consultancies which offer solutions beyond a stunning TVC and integrated campaign is also gaining momentum.

The success of CHE Proximity’s model, and its CEO Chris Howatson becoming head of agencies across the whole group, made the introduction of these services into Clems Sydney inevitable. They even share an office. But Clems Sydney is developing its own identity.

“What Chris and CHEP are doing in their business is phenomenal, but they’re very different. Their DNA is different to ours and what they do is different. We all operate independently and we’ve got different DNAs and I think that’s how we can successfully operate within a holding company model,” Bosilkovski says.

That DNA is driving an aggressive pursuit of new business and new ideas. Bosilkovski points towards MasterFoods’ Dinner Hack recipe catalogue, and an automatic point-of-sale reminder to buy chewing gum when purchasing products that cause bad breath for Mars Wrigley, as examples of new work that considers the customer journey in a different way.

“We hustled like crazy to ensure we found new and useful creative solutions to help engage our clients’ consumers in these crazy times. I do think through crisis some of the best thinking is released into the world,” he muses.

But it’s just the beginning, and Bosilkovski says there’s still a way to go.

“I kind of look at it like you’re a Jedi and you’ve been given a new sort of weapon and it’s how do you master that weaponry? And I think we’re starting to play a lot, and we’re starting to apply that thinking across the customer journey for various different clients, but we are learning that craft.

“And, like we’ve been doing for 73 years where we’re very confident in building brands and doing that through above the line communication… we’re starting off in other areas and I think that’s the goal for the next two to three years.”


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