David Hughes has been managing director of WPP’s production arm Hogarth for over four years. With Headquarters in London, Hogarth Worldwide is a leading creative production company, producing advertising and marketing content for many of the world’s most famous brands, across all media around the world. Hogarth was founded 10 years ago and has grown from a start-up to over 4,000 people, across 28 cities worldwide and is now part of WPP, making it an absolute giant of advertising production.
LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with David to find out more about the man at the helm of the holding company’s production leviathan and to explore the context of the 2019 industry that it operates in.
LBB> How did you get started in ad agencies and what are your enduring memories of your first years in the industry?
David> I started back in the early ‘90s for a very dynamic business company called IMP, which was part of DMB&B. Is was great fun and bloody hard work with flat artworks, PMTs, Betamax machines and faxes to get everything approved. And everything revolved around the various pubs of the time and you knew you had been there too long when you came back from lunch to post-it notes all over your desk and phone!
LBB> You later worked at Panlogic, 'the smallest digital agency in London'. What did you learn from that experience that you still draw on today?
David> A huge amount. We built some of the UK’s first Facebook Apps, I was even a member of the Facebook developer network at one time. We built websites with a tiny number of people – front end, back end, right at the sharp end – so it gave me a very good understanding of the basics of the digital production landscape early on which stood me in good stead over the last 10 years.
LBB> I think everyone understands why clients need production capabilities from their agencies or companies linked to them like Hogarth – do you think that's the ideal model, or is there still space for a diverse market of independent production companies?
David> There will always be a place for quality storytelling, design and imagery that help brands and clients capture people’s attention and engage them. We do not feel that we as a business have to do absolutely everything and we will always work with the talent our clients and agencies want to work with. 30-second video has been the best way of doing that for 60-odd years but to my point about what modern entrepreneurs are doing now – there is more content required and different content if you want to sell something well today so you need to factor that all in to what production model a client might want.
LBB> What key trends in the industry have most impacted your business recently, and what will be most important in 2019?
David> We have been driving one of the trends which has been the growth of the direct-to-client creative production agency. However in 2019 there are many competing trends which is causing a fair bit of head scratching sometimes: price driven decoupling versus supporting local brands and economies, clients in-housing work at the same time as working with more specialists, everybody talking about AI, bots and programmatic but still wanting more authentic, real, human experiences and lastly the growth of environmental consciousness and purpose based marketing.
LBB> What role does data play in all of that? And how do you make sure you're getting accurate data to help you make decisions?
David> I used to work for a direct marketing business and data was the big driver, however nowadays the sheer amount of data produced by one individual consumer, in one day, boggles the mind. So the question I always ask is what lens, what organisational structure, are you going to put over that data to allow you to see insights clearly and in what time frame.
In the creative production world much of our data is based on cost, time, resource, workflow. The customer data tends to be managed by other parts of the ecosystem but with real-time advertising and personalisation that is changing. Getting accurate business data is sometimes hard and getting it in a digestible form is something that people struggle with. So I ask my teams for are graphic representations of data and data visualisation that allows you to see trends more easily.
LBB> How would you characterise the talent pool as you see it right now, both in London and on a more global scale – are there any problems you think need to be addressed here?
David> We do struggle to recruit the right kind of people as we do like polymaths! There is a growing trend to freelancing particularly in the digital sphere and this also has an inflationary effect and in turn then drives you to look at moving the work to lower cost locations. The world economy is changing faster than I think anyone realises so the work people do, where they do it and how, is changing.
If you look at entrepreneurs today – when they start they are all over producing their own content, writing their own social posts, configuring their own websites, managing their own PPC and media and are much more generalist in their approach. People leaving college will look at our industry and expect to do more than just manage one discipline of the media production business. We can’t put people in boxes and expect them to stay there. We have always been a diverse International bunch at Hogarth but I think we need even more diverse media backgrounds and career paths to stop us becoming institutionalised by the old agency world.
LBB> Hogarth was recently announced as part of the cross-company team that will take on the new VW business. How do you see your role in that moving forward?
David> I used to work on VW at Proximity and it’s a great brand. WPP has a unique opportunity with that client. We will be supporting the WPP team across many parts of the business but it’s early days but our engines are running.
LBB> WPP has been through a period of drastic change over the past year. How has that impacted Hogarth and your place in the business landscape?
David> We were lucky in some ways as there were not too many competing WPP businesses in our sector and we talked about ourselves as the horizontal production ‘backbone for WPP’ across agency brands so our agency partnerships are changing fast in a good way to being multimedia content production hubs – for the likes of Wunderman Thompson, VMLY&R and Ogilvy. So there is a lot of change both at WPP and closer to home but change is a constant and you have to roll with it I guess.
LBB> What do you do outside of work to keep your fires stoked? (I saw a tweet about the Beastie Boys' Licensed to Ill. Hip hop fan?)
David> I mainly like to be outdoors all the time at weekends with my family and dogs. This year I am planning on surfing more and better, more exercise, more yoga. My family are avoiding supermarket meat and associated packaging (still eating meat, but healthier, better managed animals). Music – yes as a result of listening to too much old school hip hop with my son – he now fires a whole lot of lyrics back at me, better than I ever could, which is really annoying!