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The Rise of the Chief Production Officer

Executive Search
London, UK
INFLUENCER: The CPO is agency leadership's fourth pillar, says The Talent Business' Matt Drew

Matt Drew, Partner at The Talent Business, heading Production and Operations, talks to Ogilvy's CPO Clare Donald about why agencies are creating the new senior role for production heads.   

Advertising loves a new title. Creative Technologists, Innovation Directors, even Chiefs of Mischief have all been roles introduced by creative businesses in recent years. In a constantly evolving industry, specialisms reflect the pace of change. As the emphasis on quality and affordable production becomes ever more crucial to multi-platform campaigns, agencies are increasingly finding the need for a corresponding management presence to complement their creative, strategic and operational capabilities.

The CPO champions a department which is absolutely critical to both facilitating quality in all work and in delivering a diverse and profitable output in a changing marketing landscape. A more definitive Production boardroom presence is, in my opinion, long overdue.

Ten months ago as part of their new leadership team, Ogilvy hired Clare Donald from Google as Chief Production Officer. Their CEO Charlie Rudd cited this move as a response to Client’s growing concerns around production management. adam&eveDDB recently followed suit by promoting Anthony Falco into a CPO role as part of the agency’s succession leadership team. London’s most recent member is Olivia Chalk at Grey London. Whilst a title rarely seen in the UK, it mirrored the trend set by a number of U.S agencies, to give parity alongside their creative and strategic muscle.

Perhaps it demonstrates a strong response from agencies to a changing landscape. Previously, outsourcing production to external vendors was convenient and provided the necessary craft to create campaigns. However, with procurement streamlining budgets, despite the breadth, diversity and volume of marketing content increasing, the need for in-agency production capabilities has become acute.

The focus at most agencies is still very much about solutions to the more tactical work, but the potential to diversify is definitely there.

Meanwhile instances of clients developing in-house creative and production capabilities increase, whilst some production companies are successfully forming more strategic, creative relationships directly with brand/product-owners, and bypassing their creative agency relationships. 

It’s therefore imperative that agencies have a leader with a robust plan to maintain their competitive place in the new world.

Ogilvy’s CPO Clare Donald feels that the agency’s recent success has been about empowering a department, now more relevant and needed than it’s ever been.

“I’m proud that the role is much more than just allowing production a voice. It’s about putting the makers onto an equal footing. Getting us involved from the outset and hearing our contribution throughout the process enables the whole agency to be braver and to find more creative solutions.”

Clare agrees that there’s no doubt that while Ogilvy, Grey and A&E DDB are larger scale operations, a CPO is not only a trapping for agencies of size. “For me the role is not about agency head count, it’s about the breadth of the campaigns which we are now delivering. Long gone are the traditional routes that touch only on two or three different media. Timing plans have never been more complicated, with multiple touch points required across social, content, and experiential alongside those traditional channels. Any agency delivering this work needs visibility and opinion and expertise at the top table, no matter what their size”.

As production becomes increasingly complex, as technology and connectivity improve, agencies must make the impossible, possible.  From a talent perspective this revolution smashes the glass-ceiling created at Head of Production level. Often the best talent is filtered away from live client work and consequently the creative process. The bottle-neck this creates causes an oversubscribed freelance market, where many day rates no longer reflect seniority. Others are pushed into pure business operations, unprepared, untrained and lost in a role that was never their intention. Clare concludes, “I think the CPO title gives senior producers aspiration and should be a tool to help retain the best talent across the industry.”

The Chief Production Officer has been long overdue to champion a crucial department often overlooked and under-enfranchised in the boardroom. By creating a c-suite presence, forward thinking agencies gain a progressive edge over their competitors. The connection to future business strategy and commercial, compelling creative output is very clear.

Creating a CPO role will empower and motivate a production department with a clear pathway to the leadership team. Producers must leverage their ambition and aspiration, and maybe one day a creative agency will have their first producer CEO. 

Matt Drew is a Partner at The Talent Business, the world leader in executive search for creative businesses, heading Production and Operations.

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