Creative services step change: Interview with Andrew O’Sullivan
T: Welcome Andrew. You’ve had a career in creative services, advertising and marketing for the best part of a decade and a half, holding senior positions in recent years, the latest of which being at Ogilvy. By way of introduction could you talk to us about your career highlights to date.
AO’S: It’s an interesting question to retrospect on. I suppose the obvious answer would be to mention some awards but really they are nice to have’s more than anything else. If I was to pick one however, having B2B work shortlisted at the DMAs for Best Art Direction for Rolls-Royce (aviation, not the cars) was a fantastic proof of concept for me. In my view there is no reason why B2B creative can’t stand up and be counted with best in the industry, B2B or B2C, and that project proved that theory to be right. I’m hugely proud of that.
I will say though that what I learnt most from that experience is that you don’t win creative awards just by making great creative work alone. There are so many elements in a project’s journey that have to have equal – if not more – attention. Only when every part of the process shares the same ambition, client and agency, and that all of those moving parts stay focused can we then create something that all parties are proud to be involved in.
When it comes to awards, however, I like how the quarter back, Tom Brady put it, “You wanna know which super bowl ring is my favourite? The next one.”
T: You have just been appointed Creative Director at Transmission in the UK, congratulations on your appointment. Can you tell us what excited you about the role and prompted you to make the move?
AO’S: Well, for starters, the world of B2B agencies is a relatively small one. As an advocate of the B2B creative industry I always keep an eye on who’s doing what, who’s doing the best work, where clients are going and so on. Transmission’s meteoric rise was certainly on that watch list.
After opening up discussions with Transmission, the main thing that excited me was how complete the agency offering is. We hear the term ‘full service agency’ a lot these days, so much so that I don’t think clients really understand and therefore seek that in their agencies. I think Transmission is the closest I have personally seen to the true definition of a full service.
For me, the idea of being able to truly connect class-leading client services with media, strategy, planning, social, content and creative is a potent formula. As a creative, that’s hugely exciting, it creates the perfect platform for us to be able to make the very best work.
T: What is your vision and what are your goals for creative services at Transmission?
AO’S: Something I really believe in wholeheartedly is there is a huge amount of potential yet to be unleashed in the world of B2B creativity and creative work. I also believe that the time for the realisation of that potential is finally arriving.
However, there is a lot of ground to cover. As I alluded to earlier it will be the combination of all B2B marketing disciplines, from client services to data, martech, strategy, planning, media, content and creative that allows that to happen.
So, in answer to the question, the vision is to connect all of the class-leading services we provide and bake them in creativity. In turn, this will enable us to use our creative talent to its full.
T: B2B creatively has sometimes been referred to as B2Boring, what do you see as the future for creative services and brand within B2B marketing?
AO’S: Wow, how long have you got? Firstly, that term B2Boring is a pet peev of mine. Somehow, no other term manages to summarise everything that is wrong in B2B creativity.
I suppose the question to answer here is ‘why?’ Why is it seen that way? Or, perhaps more importantly, why hasn’t that changed?
Something that really resonated with me, when trying to get to the bottom of this question was from a conversation, I was lucky enough to have with the renowned behavioural economist, Rory Sutherland. Essentially, it comes down to the emotional difference in how we buy something as consumer compared with how we buy something as a businessperson.
As a consumer, we choose brands or products mainly in an attempt to avoid regretting our purchase. In B2B it’s quite different, what we’re trying to avoid as a businessperson is invariably blame. We are ourselves as agencies B2B sellers, and our clients B2B buyers. Therefore, creative work we could characterise it as ‘risky’ or ‘brave’, has to be approached with the upmost rigor.
To allow creativity to spread its wings in B2B, we must first do a job on helping our clients to not see bravery as a risk, but an opportunity. When all disciplines in a truly full-service agency connect, we can provide that rigor, and then enable ourselves and our clients to create work that is not only brilliant, but that really works too.
There is also a job to be done here about how we speak in B2B. In a world where three letter acronyms, business buzzwords and tech jargon are commonplace, how brands actually benefit their customers becomes harder and harder to decipher. B2B is often told it now needs to be ‘Business to Human’, which is right, but I still don’t think we’re actually doing that.
The issue here is context. As an example, I see the term ‘greater intelligence’ used a fair bit – especially in the tech world. Yes, this is a more human way of explaining what a clever piece of CRM software gives you, but it is still open to much interpretation. What greater intelligence means to me could mean something completely different to someone else, even in the same sector. As a result, it doesn’t really mean anything, it just sounds good.
B2B brands need to work harder on really contextualising what it is they offer. We need to be constantly asking ‘yes but what does that really mean?’ There is a general rule of thumb in B2C that says you should imagine your target audience has the mental ability of a 10 year old, yet in B2B we are expecting every customer to be a tech genius. This is in no way undermining the intelligence of B2B buyers, it is simply forcing us as marketers to make sure our benefits are clear and obvious.
Furthermore, I think that when you can simplify and contextualise a complex product or service into something a 10 year old can understand, does that not perfectly demonstrate your expertise? I think it does.
T: What can B2B learn from other sectors?
AO’S: Quite simply the importance of brand. Never before has the brand personality of B2B companies been so important. Consumer brands went through this shift many years ago, business brands are inevitably by their nature a little behind that curve, but still on that curve, nonetheless.
The businesses that allocate resource to enhance their brand personality over just simply selling product will win.
T: There were anxieties within the industry at the start of the pandemic that working from home could negatively impact the more collaborative agency services such as creative. Do you feel that this has been the case? What lessons has the WFH period taught us when it comes to creative services and do you see any of these learnings changing how we work once we are back to a ‘normal’ agency office environment?
AO’S: I think it is commonly accepted that there are two sides to this story. Firstly, I think WFH home is a positive thing on many levels, and has been for a long time, way before the pandemic forced us into it, flexible working is not a new term. The issue pre-pandemic was that WFH was seen as a luxury, a benefit granted to employees and as a result came with its own stigma. It has taken the pandemic to break that stigma, which in my eyes is one of the best things this terrible time has given to us as agencies.
From a creative stand-point I think we haven’t quite mastered remote collaboration but we’re certainly getting there. One thing that creative departments thrive and develop on is culture. Whilst making great work is absolutely possible remotely, it’s the culture of sharing, learning and growing as a group that has taken a bit of a hit.
If we look at the day-to-day of what we do as a creative team it would be hard to spot much difference between remote and pre-pandemic work output. It’s when you look at the longer impact that things start to become a little different. Without those in-between conversations, the impromptu sharing of seemingly irrelevant things or the accidental moments, it is hard to maintain a culture of ambition and collective achievement.
That’s not to say it can’t be done, of course it can, I just think it’s going to take time for us to master it. When we finally go back to some sort of normal it stands to reason that we simply cannot ignore the plethora of benefits home/flexible working environments bring, but we can’t ignore the importance that working in the same place has on overall culture. Creating the perfect balance of both to make sure our culture thrives even more than pre-pandemic is going to be the number one priority. Leveraging the inherent benefits of both to create an even stronger culture of collective creative ambition will certainly be the goal.