What Carter Mr Murray has in store for FCB?

04 Apr,2014


By Ravi Balakrishnan


Halfway through this interview, while talking about how various branches of his agency can help each other get better, Carter Murray, worldwide CEO of FCB, pauses after mentioning the words “cross fertilize.” “Don’t use that,” he says.


“It’s completely wanky, corporate rubbishspeak. I can’t stand that stuff.” He launches into a gleeful account of an American agency (not his own) that runs a game of Buzzword Bingo on the flipside of their new business documents, filling them “with all the corporate garbage that people talk.”


The clients begin to cross out words that have made it to the presentations from other agencies and when they have a line or a full house, they shout Bingo. Whoever catches the largest number of buzzwords lands a bottle of champagne.


Asked how he gets by as CEO with such distaste for industry jargon, Mr Murray says, “We are in the business of understanding people and advising clients on how to connect with them. I find it strange that we hide behind corporate lingo.” Mr Murray makes for an unusual agency CEO.


At 38, he’s one of the youngest. Perhaps there is something studied or deliberate about his casual disdain for the tropes so beloved of business heads. But it still sets him apart from his contemporaries many of whom appear to find comfort and meaning in buzzwords. Besides, his approach seems to be working for the agency.


In the seven months since he joined FCB, it’s jettisoned the ‘Draft’ prefix to its name, (added after a merger eight years ago), opting instead to go with a combination of FCB and the name of a local partner, city or iconic creative leader (the New York operations are FCB Garfinkel after its creative chief Lee Garfinkel).


On the business front, it’s bagged the global account for Levi’s and according to Mr Murray won four of its five pitches in the West Coast of America. FCB’s even earned a grudging nod of approval from advertising blogs that have spent the last few years savaging the agency and its campaigns.


The job marks a significant shift for Mr Murray, formerly CEO of Y&R’s North America operations. He says, “I realised it was my last three jobs put together; one of those rare opportunities that doesn’t come along very often.”


The last few months have been “inspiring, humbling, fun, exhausting… probably every emotion you can imagine.” They’ve also been refreshingly free of the resentment newcomers at the topmost position are greeted with by old hands. He says, “Compared to others in the Top 10, we don’t have six or seven dominant global clients. Whilst similar in size to Leo Burnett or Young & Rubicam, majority of our business is intrinsically local and so I didn’t have to face the potential tensions that may exist in other networks.”


The agency had a chequered run in its years as Draft FCB. There were layoffs and severed relationships with large longstanding clients like SC Johnson. It’s tempting to think the name change is an attempt to get rid of negative karma. According to Mr Murray though, it is in consonance with the advice he’d give clients. “Both Draft and FCB have a storied heritage, but FCB’s heritage is the third oldest in the world. It wasn’t as if we invented a new name but distilled down an old one.”


Prominent on the agenda as is so often the case with a new CEO is to take the agency to “the next level.” Which in this case means a greater focus on new business. Mr Murray says, “We must do great work for existing clients but to feel part of a winning team and have positive momentum, you need new clients.” Winning Levi’s comes as quite an affirmation.


Mr Murray observes, “We built a model to the client’s needs rather than fitting their needs into our model.” It involved embracing a relationship with The House, a global network of independents put together by former Publicis COO Richard Pinder, an old associate of Mr Murray from his stints with Publicis and Leo Burnett. Tied closely to winning and keeping clients is talent. In the last six months there have been promotions from within, fresh hires and a concerted effort to encourage top performers.


He says, “The main thing is to have the most talented people feeling motivated and enthused. To set a standard whereby those not at that level either rise to the occasion or…”, he trails off ominously. New CEOs have been known to embrace the awards agenda as a quick way to get noticed. FCB scored big last year with a campaign from Auckland by the SPCA and Mini which put dogs behind the steering wheel of a car.


But while Mr Murray considers awards a proof of skill, he’s clear that clients are more important: “Winning a bronze for the Window Washers of Mumbai is nice but it’s not going to transform the agency’s destiny. If you can win an award that demonstrates real innovation in thinking and creativity for a major client, or a campaign that changes the way we think about ourselves and our culture then it’s a good thing.”


A recent instance from FCB Peru is for the UTEC college where a billboard synthesises atmospheric humidity into water. He’s also pleased with the ‘How Do You KFC’ campaign from Chicago that encourages people to share their unique experiences with the popular fast food franchise. It’s a risky business, since campaigns that invite people to write in invariably draw out competitors, trolls and the disgruntled.


Mr Murray believes, “The idea that someone can control a brand in its entirety is old fashioned. If you don’t think of the larger voice of the brand, it can only be determined through paid media. We can never control what people are going to say, but certainly try to have an idea that can get those who want to talk about you positively doing it on a more vocal and exponentially powerful stage.”


Source:The Economic Times

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