The CEO of VMLY&R Italy on her first fascination with advertising, the key to good customer experience and bringing Italian talent to the world
Simona Maggini has earned a reputation as one of the country’s most accomplished advertising CEOs. In May this year this was cemented, as she was crowned the Italian advertising industry’s Manager of the Year at the NC Awards. The awards, run by Italian publishing company ADC Group, recognised her for the results she’s achieved as VMLY&R’s CEO in developing a new “agile, fast and effective” operating model for the agency as it transformed and repositioned itself from historic creative shop towards greater integration between creativity and digital.
Over the past year a series of key hires and strategic alignments led by Simona have left VMLY&R looking fighting fit, winning a whopping 21 new brand accounts, as well as increasing its profit margin by more than five percentage points on the previous year.
LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Simona to get to know the woman behind one of Italy’s most future-ready creative agencies.
LBB> Where did you grow up and what kind of kid were you?
Simona> I grew up in Milan and I was pretty quiet as a child, not eating very much until I was five years old at least, making my mother desperately worried. I was very sociable, but I could not stand kindergarden for whatever reason.
LBB> What do you remember about your early thoughts on advertising? Were you interested from an early age?
Simona> I was not consciously interested in advertising, but I remember being truly fascinated by the Levi’s commercials between end of ‘80s and early ‘90s. It all mainly started there.
LBB> When did you first consider going into advertising as a career?
Simona> During preparation for my final essay at university. The topic I chose was strategic marketing in the interior design industry. One of the main brands I investigated was [Italian furniture brand] Cassina and I ended up having an interview with their advertising agency at that time, BGS D’Arcy. I got an offer for an internship in the account department and voilà, here I am.
LBB> What lesson or piece of advice do you wish you'd had earlier in your career?
Simona> That the most difficult task is managing other people and their impact on you.
LBB> Where was Y&R Italy when you first took over as general manager there? What was the agency's reputation, its strengths and weaknesses?
Simona> The agency had a very good reputation, but was coming out from a big client loss. It was very solid in traditional advertising, but the whole digital transformation was still to be done. It was, and is sometimes, difficult to match the legacy, the tradition with the new path, the innovation. With this respect the unification with VML helped a lot.
LBB> What were your priorities when the merger came and you changed up the agency's organisational structure?
Simona> Clients first: explaining things and reassuring them. There was also very quick rebranding and internal communication to be done.
LBB> Customer experience has been one of your key focuses in the reorganisation. Why is that so important and what do you think agencies need to understand more about it?
Simona> Customer experience puts the customer at the centre and connects the brand with people. In the past, agencies tended to be more focused on the brand when advertising was more top down. Now a brand needs to have a constant, meaningful and relevant conversation with people in a sort of a peer-to-peer dynamic.
In addition to this customer experience requires a channel strategy approach which is a must to make sure the brand message is well spread and well received.
LBB> Which recent campaigns are you most proud of? And why?
Simona> Lavazza ‘More than Italian’ because it is more than Italian. It is a worldwide project celebrating Italian excellence around the globe.
Galbusera, because the client partnered with us in the challenge of an innovative 3D approach in a pretty conservative industry.
Virgin Active Italy because it grew month after month in a mutual collaboration, building a successful case.
LBB> Which aspects of your day-to-day work are most enjoyable for you?
Simona> When we win a pitch, when I can tell someone did a great job, when we talk about the future of advertising, when I see people smiling while working, when I know we have done our best… which is every day of course!
LBB> What are your main aims and ambitions for VMLY&R now?
Simona> VMLY&R Italy will be a best-in-class international agency, bringing Italian talent to the world.
LBB> What do you like to do in your spare time? Any current obsessions?
Simona> Spending time with my nine-year-old son, biking through the vineyards - and let’s not forget shopping!