Abandoning legacy models: Simon Williams on Carat's new era

Josh McDonnell
By Josh McDonnell | 21 November 2018
Carat national MD Simon Williams

It's been a transformative 12 months for Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN) with the development of a new agency model and the sudden departure of CEO Simon Ryan.

One of DAN's leading media agencies, Carat, is not immune to this change marred by global account losses and the exit of long-time leader Paul Brooks.

Enter Simon Williams, the self-described "agent of change" and new national MD who is bullish in his plans to "steady the ship".

The former chief client solution officer for DAN, who said he "bleeds Carat blue" having previously worked at the agency in England, also plans to reintroduce a "winning culture".

"It's a challenging time for both client and for agencies alike but change is the only constant in our industry, the difference is, these changes bring about a need for new thinking and more advanced client solutions," Williams told AdNews.

"I see myself as well having quite an eclectic background that is moving away from the legacy ways of running agencies into true innovation, building a burning platform for our clients to absolutely propel their business forward."

While confident in the business left behind by his predecessor Brooks, Williams believes Carat needs to rebuild for the "new media economy".

A new direction at Carat

Three of the key focus areas for Carat in 2019 will be centred around further growth, internal transformation and media effectiveness, which Williams said will see the business lean heavily on the new operating model being developed at DAN.

As part of an overhaul of its portfolio, DAN centralised the roles of investment specialists within new business Amplifi. It also has invested heavily in its entertainment and sports marketing agencies, such as MKTG.

"The shift in the media landscape and the changing needs of our business has led to a lot of change internally and some people need to be brought back on a journey. We have some culture that we need to go away and work on," Williams said.

"We need to make sure that our clients are really understanding and benefitting from the full value of Carat and our network and those key challenges facing Carat are still the same ones I knew were there when I took the role but they're exciting ones."

In 2019, Carat and the broader DAN network will continue to invest in its "diversified services" capabilities, giving clients further access to areas of their business "when and where" the opportunities arise.

Williams said Carat is best placed to offer these services, which are being used more frequently to solve business challenges that fall outside the traditional media agency remit.

"We want to look at the business challenge overall and understand whether media can ultimately achieve the goal clients are looking for - whether it be sales growth or shifting consumer perception," Williams said.

"If we find a need to invest in another strategy or find an alternative solution for a client that sits outside of our business, then we'll engage with the diversified service rather than losing that business."

Collaboration and cut through

As more agencies start to feel the sting of global account loses, Williams believes there needs to be a renewed focus on local accounts. He argued it's less about securing the win, but ensuring clients are developing in-line with global trends and challenges.

"Our focus is on local and global clients, a focus that is never likely to change. However, what we are making sure we're doing is keeping a 'fit to win and retain' mentality, which is ultimately going to be built around growing those accounts," Williams said.

"Conversely, the biggest challenges are ultimately going to be around complexity and cut through. We know there are a lot of players in the game now, which means clients aren't going to be just looking at who best services the account but which agency opens the most doors for continued development."

Williams said when it comes to how Carat is going to achieve this goal, a big part of the answer is in collaboration.

With a shrinking media owner market, following a year of massive mergers across, print, TV and out of home, Williams said it's time for agencies to recognise that the battle for effective cut-through can't be won alone.

"In order for media agencies and our clients to be successful, to win, to grow, they're going to need to have collaborative leadership, which is not afraid, not shy to partner or to collaborate with media, publishers or whether it be with other agencies, we need to absolutely drive the interest of our clients and that means a different approach," he said.

"It's utilitarian and for the greater good. We need to not abide by legacy agency models. We need to absolutely drive the best outcomes for our clients. That's what I plan to do put Carat in a better position."

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