On January 1st 2019, a completely new agency launched in Amsterdam. DDB Unlimited called itself the first ‘performance agency’ in Holland. The announcement claimed its new way of working will offer the client the opportunity to pay for their campaigns based on guaranteed results.
Three Omnicom agencies - DDB & Tribal, Etcetera and Databay - merged to create the new entity that will prioritise data and effectiveness, and claims to be the first creative agency to offer a compelling alternative to the hours-based payment system by billing clients based on mutually agreed upon KPIs.
To find out more about how the new agency will function, LBB’s Alex Reeves spoke to managing director Lawrence Du Pre.
LBB> What was the original idea for creating a whole new agency?
Lawrence> The idea was to consider clients like understandably nervous potential investors. By offering them an agency with a broader bandwidth and deeper marketing intelligence, we could instill confidence and give them a firmer grip on the outcome.
This idea emerged from interviews with senior clients. We were questioning why our industry’s output was suddenly being seen as less critical to our client’s success, although brilliant marketing and communications remain their most powerful weapon. The answers made us conclude that only a whole new operating system would solve their needs and enable their organisations to get the full value of what we could deliver.
If we’d simply pressed the ‘refresh’ button it would have been like going from 2G to Edge. To jump right to 5G we decided that our existing brand heritages could burden us, so it would be far healthier to reinvent ourselves in a new agency model.
The DDB Unlimited team
LBB> What did you know that you wanted to achieve from the start?
Lawrence> We knew that we wanted to start our conversations with clients from a totally different place. They should understand that if they were to trust us, we would become fully invested in their business success and able to deliver truly exceptional results.
We aim to re-create the positive dynamics that come from this spirit of complete mutual dependence and shared objectives. The honesty and sense of ambition that a true ‘commercial partnership’ can create is a powerful dynamic. And we believe that is something that should also feel creatively liberating.
(For our CEO and CMO clients we wanted them to relax in the knowledge that DDB Unlimited was helping them get a much firmer grip on all aspects of their marketing and communications. Only an agency with the deep capabilities needed to manage the whole communications funnel and to forecast ROI would be able to instill such confidence. So those are the capabilities we’ve set about putting in place).
LBB> What were first steps?
Lawrence> We devoted our first efforts, spanning a couple of months, to ensuring that the leadership of our ‘component parts’ were aligned on a detailed vision for the future and believed that it would benefit their existing clients.
This was a process we could all have walked away from, but the conversations we had quickly showed that we had similar observations about what our clients really needed. And we knew that we were very well placed to deliver exactly that.
LBB> How did you build the team? It's an impressive line-up! What was the main factor that convinced people to come on board?
Lawrence> Three factors convinced this unusual mix of skilled people to become a part of this journey. Firstly, the gut feeling that the idea was ambitious and right for its time. It’s a proposition that genuinely matches what clients need, now.
Secondly, the fact that this was in no way a cost-cutting or holding company dictated merger. We’re an agency that can define and direct our future course, on our own terms.
Thirdly, the positive people chemistry. Turning into a vision into a smoothly functioning operation needs that.
LBB> How will DDB Unlimited fit into the broader DDB network?
Lawrence> We operate as part of the DDB and Tribal networks, but we think it’s safe to say that we’re also being closely observed as a new kind of agency model - an interesting test-bed for what the future may look like.
Making data our starting point, and treating it as a true friend to creativity, is seen as a very bold move for an agency with our awards track record.
Also our ambition to deliver across the communications funnel, is seen as potentially being a lean and compact response to what some holding companies have been trying to achieve, across diverse and distant units and with mixed results. Everyone appreciates that for clients who are trying to escape the complexity of stitching together an integrated solution from agencies with massively different business perspectives and cultures, our approach sounds like an intuitive, faster and more manageable solution.
LBB> Traditional agencies would all argue that they make effective work for their clients. What makes you different?
Lawrence> We’re stacking the odds much more heavily in favour of success by building the system to deliver it. That delivery will be “systematic” in every sense of the word. Getting to effective won’t feel like it’s by guesswork and accident.
Ours is a very different kind of roadmap, which defines success and then takes clients to that destination utilising a broad array of inputs. This also allows us to be more precise in directing the creative team towards where to find the magic, as well as planning the other pieces of the puzzle.
Clients working with the best traditional agencies mostly feel like they’re “narrowing the odds” against failure, but not really ensuring success. That was true even for us as the number one and number two ranked agencies in Holland for the Effies. We instil confidence that success can and should be repeatable.
LBB> How will the new remuneration system work, compared to the old hours-based model?
Lawrence> The ‘Guaranteed Results’ model is a system which fully links agency rewards to client’s own KPIs plus some other indicators we agree together, case by case. Because we define and share the same KPIs, as a single team, we can take the decisions that deliver success.
Looking at the component parts of our performance agreements, the logic is to remunerate the agency both for short-term sales results and longer-term health (brand image dimensions, NPS scores etc.). We risk zero profit in return for an incentivised up-side.
LBB> Creatively, what is work from DDB Unlimited likely to look like?
Lawrence> Like all truly great creative work, it won’t look like other creative solutions.
And the work of DDB Unlimited won’t resemble itself either – there will be no particular house style, because there is no creative straitjacket around solutions that have embraced data,or that set themselves sharp performance objectives.