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Why Beta Is Better in Order to Get to Alpha

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TBWA\\Worldwide president & CEO Troy Ruhanen tells LBB’s Esther Faith Lew why disruption and innovation investment provide the rocket fuel for growth

Why Beta Is Better in Order to Get to Alpha


“We operate with a mindset that is perpetually in beta mode,” says TBWA Global CEO Troy Ruhanen, adding that they are obsessed with innovation. “I really feel that if we're not innovating, we will begin to stagnate.”

Operating in such a state of constant flux sharpens a growth mindset that is used to shifting parameters and uncertainty. When the world threw a massive curve ball that came in the form of Covid and disrupted global economies, it sparked the spirit of disruption that defines their DNA. 

Despite the pandemic in the past two years, it provided TBWA – The Disruption Company the conditions for an instantaneous combustion of ideas and innovation. With it came the process of renewal and growth that lent themselves well with the culture of entrepreneurship among the TBWA Collective.

“When you apply disruption, you're really looking at the marketplace and saying, ‘where's the opportunity?’ ‘Where can we go that no one else has gone before?’ ‘How do we sort of break it apart or challenge it and take it on?’ And you know, founders and entrepreneurs love to do that,” says Troy. 

Why A Disruptive Culture Thrives in Adversity

TBWA’s founder culture of entrepreneurs were able to lead the Collective’s top clients to significant growth during a period of turmoil. “In 2021, we grew 60% of our top 15 clients, and they ranged in industries from automotive, technology and finance to CPG and hospitality,” says Troy. “It’s amazing to see that if you are concentrating on your clients and really building up trust, you are also able to build a holistic brand experience that generates tremendous organic growth.”

Troy adds, “When we look at the solutions we have to deliver now, it's totally different from how it used to be, where advertising was just about reading, watching or listening to a campaign… now, it’s about a lot more variables that exist within that total customer experience for a brand.” 

A business partner mindset that helps brands to connect the dots across the customer engagement journey is key. “We're making sure that we're disrupting in terms of how the brand appears, how it looks and how it differentiates from others,” says Troy, sharing that TBWA continues to deepen its relationships with long-time clients such as Apple, Nissan and McDonald’s by driving their brand differentiation strategies. 

TBWA has been able to sail its client relationships smoothly across the pandemic waves by allowing its entrepreneurial spirit to take flight across its global offices. Troy shares that TBWA is country agnostic in its innovation excellence, and each market is able to share and scale quickly across the Collective to facilitate best-in-class initiatives for clients globally.  

Working alongside that disruptor modus operandi, however, is a system to harness the madness of the genius. Management meetings bring together people from varying geographies, skills and levels to share initiatives and to talk through the best ways to implement and scale with input from the relevant local markets. “Our job is to make sure that we don't slow down the process,” says Troy. 

Speed and agility are two twin boosters that have resulted from TBWA’s entrepreneurial culture, and as Troy emphasises, “We don’t operate under a traditional structure; we don’t have a board. We are operating in an era where it's all about community… and about creating a bond and a connection. Our whole goal is to create as many strong personal connections as possible without having to go through the typical organisation chart. For that reason, we call ourselves a Collective… we dislike the word ‘network’… it conjures up notions of an old-fashioned operating system, and for us, we are all about people.” 

Adding grease to the momentum is TBWA’s innovation platform 10X, which highlights case studies for everyone to learn from and to apply to their own markets. To further enhance a future-forward mindset, TBWA launched NEXT, its global innovation practice designed to disrupt future brand experiences with its own global group to fly the flag for creative-led innovation. “It is a huge platform for us, and a tremendous amount of rigour has gone into it. It gives us an advantage because it’s an innovation investment that gives us a lot of depth and subject expertise,” says Troy.

TBWA stands strong in its innovation investment strategy, underscored by a conviction that subject expertise must be built at the core of the Collective. Troy adds, “A lot of companies have reduced their R&D budgets dramatically over the last 20 years. And I think that's why a lot of companies are not growing, because they’re not prioritising where the future is; they’re not prioritising what the new NPD (new product development) strategy can be. For us, we invest a ton in terms of what we're doing.”

Orchestrating Future Excellence

Simplification and orchestrations are the two biggest things that clients want right now, says Troy. “The briefs that are coming to us are all about concerns such as ‘can you simplify things for me?’ ‘Can you make sense of it all?’ That's the number one goal right now. There are clients who have too many siloed departments, for instance, socials and e-commerce, and they all want to push their own viewpoints. And invariably, that's where fragmentation happens, where messages get diluted. Or a brand may hire different agencies to do different things, and then it boils down to the CMO trying to have to pull all this together.”

For an agency, it presents the opportunity to orchestrate things for clients by ensuring alignment across functions and requirements that focus on the customer journey and experience. Simplification often requires sacrifice, Troy shares, “What are you really giving up to provide clarity about what you stand for? What are you really focusing on to deliver that consistency?”

He elaborates that another obvious trend that has arisen from post-pandemic briefs is that of employee communications. “Clients are facing challenges with their workforce as well with work-from-home and hybrid arrangements. How can they get employees to be aligned on what they're trying to achieve? We have seen an increase of up to 48% of budget in going to address employee communications, and we are helping clients to make an impact on that front.”

In beta mode, testing is always being done, and with TBWA, the disruption is the fuel that feeds the drive for continual improvements. As Troy sums up, “We're really restless. We are doing very well, but there's a lot more potential in us and a lot more things that we need to accelerate and do better at. We still want to do much better work than what we're currently doing.”


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TBWA\Sydney, Wed, 16 Nov 2022 06:09:33 GMT