Mike Connaghan denies 'boy's club' mentality at WPP

Lindsay Bennett
By Lindsay Bennett | 24 April 2018
Mike Connaghan

WPP AUNZ is on a mission to regain some of the culture that was lost when it merged with STW in 2016.

It’s not a small task, with around 80 agencies sitting under the WPP AUNZ umbrella and the holding company undergoing structural changes that have often been a point of contention for employees.

It’s also challenging years of embedded “Mad Men” advertising culture, which sources close to the group says still exists at many networks, including WPP AUNZ.

The notion of a boy’s club existing within WPP AUNZ is something that CEO Mike Connaghan refutes.

“I don’t subscribe to the belief there is a boy’s club. I see every single complaint that comes into the business and there’s not a lot of that,” he says.

“Clearly that’s a worldwide issue with workplace and representation but I think as a business we’re actually pretty good with that.”

“Pretty good” but could be better, Connaghan reveals, which is why the holding group is spending “millions” on new initiatives to drive the business forward and attract top talent.

At the beginning of April it announced it was giving staff shares in the business, a new wellbeing program, launched a range of courses for employees and most recently, it has ditched the Friday drinks trolley and introduced a new work alcohol policy.

“At STW we were very good at culture. The merger probably stopped us for a while because it was such a big task to bring these two things together,” Connaghan says.

“It’s a big investment but that is what creates the commerce around the group because people get to know each other.”

Read more: Mike Connaghan explains what's going on at WPP AUNZ

It is also in the process of exploring a staff-share scheme, which will see employees tapped from across the network for projects.

Connaghan calls it a “capacity brokerage” system and it’s currently underway within the PR division of WPP, encouraging each person to be 100% optimised instead of over or underworked.

“If you look at any one of our businesses and take production as an example, no one business can say that their resources are 100% optimised. They are either too busy or not busy enough,” he says.

“Too busy means that we are giving margin away to freelancers, not busy enough means people are bored.”

With a cut down on freelancers, Connaghan says this model will help meet shrinking retainers from clients.

The idea is give people the feeling they are working for WPP, rather than just one singular agency, like Y&R. This ethos fits into ex-WPP global boss Martin Sorrell’s horizontality scheme – giving clients access to skills from anywhere in the portfolio rather than one agency brand.

For example, Connaghan explains, if someone is being underutilised at JWT but Ogilvy has a number of projects on, they are able to migrate easily into that team.

The move aligns with the campus strategy WPP is rolling out globally, moving its agencies into one central location on 1 Kent St, Millers Point. This is underway in Australia with Ogilvy moving from its St Leonards office in Sydney to the campus this year.

ogilvy 17Ogilvy moved its offices to Millers Point in 2017 after more than 10 years in St Leonards

Connaghan revealed GroupM will eventually move from its North Sydney offices into the campus too.

“What we are trying to do is give the WPP name more meaning because right now, people don’t work for WPP. They work for Ogilvy or JWT, but we want them to feel that WPP is actually adding some value,” Connaghan says.

Connaghan is aware that there’s some risk with a staff-share scheme and acknowledges that some employees may not be on board with being pulled into another team.

He also adds that it’s not a scheme that is designed for the senior strategy and leadership team, but one that has been welcomed by more mid-level and junior staff.

“Creating one culture and a proud WPP culture at that, is really important to me. I think we’ve got a really great opportunity here in Australia and New Zealand to do that because of our set up.

“I think we are probably at the cutting edge of creating that as a WPP way of being, but we’ve got a long way to go. We’d be at the start of the beginning."

Connaghan also spoke to AdNews about the state of WPP AUNZ, admitted fault in the WhiteGrey merger and outlined plans for more consolidation in 2018. Read more here.

Have something to say on this? Share your views in the comments section below. Or if you have a news story or tip-off, drop us a line at adnews@yaffa.com.au

Sign up to the AdNews newsletter, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for breaking stories and campaigns throughout the day.

Read more about these related brands, agencies and people

comments powered by Disqus