AdNews Hotseat: ZenithOptimedia's CEO, Ian Perrin

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 30 October 2014
Ian Perrin.

From Nestle and wider industry failings, to 'aggressive' new business plans in 2015, Qantas, and how to stay ahead in such a competitive space, we put ZenithOptimedia's CEO Ian Perrin in the AdNews Hotseat.

AdNews: So Ian, in your opinion what's the best thing about working in this industry and what edge does Australia have over other major creative ad/media regions, such as the UK and the US?
Ian Perrin: We are working through perhaps the most exciting time in communications that I have experienced in my 20-year career. Technology, data and more open forms of distribution mean that our roles are more complex and more creative than ever. Because our industry here is relatively small, our people get to work across multiple areas of specialism which they would not get access to in the UK or the US.

AdNews: You have worked at Ogilvy, Mindshare and Naked Communications. What one key learning from each company has helped you get to where you are today?
Perrin: At Ogilvy I learnt the importance of a central philosophy or world view that can drive a business forward. My Mindshare role was a regional one, so was wonderfully helpful in understanding how to deal with diverse and different people. Naked taught me to challenge everything I believe, no matter how difficult. It also introduced me to one of the modern wonders of the advertising world, Adam Ferrier.

AdNews: What are your top three tips for staying ahead in such a competitive media agency industry?
Perrin: Listen, give a shit and laugh.

AdNews: So what are the failings of agencies in the market?
Perrin: Agencies have become very specialist and siloed, which certainly has its advantages. But it also means too many are providing advice that is in their own best interest, and not the best interest of the client. So clients spend too much time managing agencies and not enough focused on their business problems. We need to collectively fix this.

AdNews: ZenithOptimedia has taken a few big hits lately, such as losing Nestle. How do you think such losses are perceived by the market?
Perrin: We did lose Nestle and Lion after over a decade of service on each, but according to R3 we won more new business in 2013 than any other agency. In addition in 2014 we have had some important new wins for RaboDirect, Honda Dealers, AppliancesOnline, FitBit, HP, SBS etc. So there has been more than enough new business to replace the old. I think the industry is smart enough to understand that every agency wins and loses a lot more often than they ever used to.

AdNews: Why did you lose Nestle?
Perrin: We had a wonderfully productive and deeply respectful partnership, but it was time for them to get some fresh and different perspectives. MEC obviously provided these in a more compelling way than we did.

AdNews: Regarding your open letter to MEC's CEO Peter Vogel congratulating him. Do you think such positive reactions to client/pitch ups and downs should/will become more common between rival agencies?
Perrin: I was overwhelmed by the response I received both publicly and privately. What I would like to see is a better understanding of the fact that one win doesn’t make an agency brilliant or one loss make them shit. We should acknowledge that ups and downs are part of our industry and focus on how we can make it better collectively in the long term, not tear each other down for short term gain.

AdNews: What changes have you made since to try and shore up ZenithOptimedia?
Perrin: We are clear on where we are headed as a business and have a specific action plan to deliver it, so no need to shore up anything. What we do need to do is become better at articulating how our open proposition can drive relevant and interesting solutions for clients.

AdNews: If more clients jump ship and leave ZenithOptimedia do you have a get out plan?
Perrin: No, I am loving doing what I do.

AdNews: How does the news of such client losses go down with ZenithOptimedia's parent company, the Publicis Groupe?
Perrin: The Groupe is disappointed that we have lost two clients in two years, but overall it is more than happy with the new business performance over the same time period.

AdNews: On top of this there is the recent news regarding Qantas pitching its $20million media account. How hopeful are you on retaining this?
Perrin: Out of respect to the confidentiality arrangements we have in place, I unfortunately can’t talk about Qantas.

AdNews: How is ZenithOptimedia's bottom line looking?
Perrin: We are currently delivering above our expectations for the year based on some strong growth in our specialist divisions. Specifically in data, content strategy and digital performance. We will have to be more aggressive around new business next year though to ensure we cover the Nestle loss.

AdNews: What areas or verticals is ZenithOptimedia keen to branch into over the next 12-24 months? Where do you anticipate key client growth?
Perrin: We expect to see growth in all sectors where we can prove performance. Most noticeably insurance, finance and retail.

AdNews: The market is rife with price-led reviews and agencies constantly undercutting each other. How and should the industry stop this?
Perrin: This does happen and there are some serial culprits on both sides of the fence. We can’t impact others, but what we can do is be open and transparent in our dealings with clients. It’s up to us to demonstrate the value we deliver, and hence ensure we get remunerated accordingly.

AdNews: As CEO, looking ahead to 2015, what are you main goals for the business?
Perrin: Develop our people better, push our clients harder and deliver greater innovation in our product.

Would you like see someone in the AdNews Hotseat? Email

For more news see below:

Ad watchdog rejects “deceptive” TAB advert complaint

Starcom and Zenith to benefit from Publicis' first programmatic venture

Aldi shows Coles and Woolies how to do great ads that sell

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