Virgin Media's CMO Jeff Dodds Talks About Oystercatchers

Virgin Media's CMO Jeff Dodds Talks About Oystercatchers

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Jeff Dodds Virgin MediaJeff Dodds: So I’ve worked with Oystercatchers, since they formed really in 2008, prior to that, I worked with Suki at Haystack. One thing I would say is, I never really tried any alternatives. And the reason I haven’t tried alternatives is because right from the first time, which was when I was with Honda back in probably 2006/2007, and subsequently with Virgin Media Television and Callaway and Virgin Media, I’ve always got exactly the service I was looking for. So I have acquired new agencies on that journey – all of which have become long-term partners and friends and delivered brilliant work. I’ve never had to look any further than Oystercatchers.

Jeff Dodds: I think the things that impressed me most about Oystercatchers is their knowledge of the marketplace, they understand the marketing industry brilliantly, they understand who is doing great work. And Peter who I worked with on the last couple of projects is all over that. So there isn’t anything going on in the industry that he doesn’t know about. And I would also say that in terms of putting together a list of people for pitch and helping on that journey, often we’ve ended up with agencies that we wouldn’t expect to end up with at the end of the journey. So knowing the market really well, knowing us really well; and of course working with someone for a long time, they do get to know you very well and Peter and Suki know our business brilliantly. They have a good sense of who we would work well with and who is delivering great work and they have kind of match made us brilliantly, certainly on the last couple of locations. I think for me that is the key – it’s working with people who last well, and actually, who the agencies really like and respect because often I found going into agencies that that can be quite a confrontational process around pitch. But actually Oystercatchers work as that wonderful interface, the agencies like and respect them, the client likes them, they make it a very easy process, it’s very conciliatory. So I’ve had a brilliant time working with them.

Jeff Dodds: So in terms of using the optimised product, around a year ago, we decided that Virgin Media, we had some internal changes at Virgin Media in terms of people, but also in terms of our priorities and focus. And we decided that we were going to look at our own internal operating structure. And as a result of that, how it was being impacted by our agency relationships. So we went about an internal evaluation – so we looked at our own team, we looked at our own structure and whether that was delivering efficiency against our objectives. But at the same time, we decided to evaluate our agency relationships using an optimised product. That was fascinating, it was a fascinating process because we thought we knew the answers and we thought we need the impacts of changing our internal structure. But as we went through the process, we talked to your staff, we talked to the DDB staff, the DDB staff were our advertising agency at the time we talked to an awful lot of other stakeholders in the organisation. And what we learned was that we definitely had to change our internal structure – our operating model – to better focus on our objectives, and that actually it would be better served with a different agency structure as well. So the outcome of that process was we learned a lot more about our team and how they felt, we learned and lot more about the operating model within our own business, but we also learned that having a different agency structure would probably be more efficient. So as a result of going through the evaluation we actually went into a pitch process. And yes, the information we got was invaluable.

Jeff Dodds: So I think in terms of what makes the best client agency relationship, I would say that it is actually a partnership. A lot of people talk about it, but it is not paid for relationship. So the first thing I always talk about is the fact that advertising agencies are businesses in their own right. They are going through the same challenges as we are at a different scale probably, but they are trying to make money, they are trying to deliver great work for their clients, they are trying to keep their employees happy, all the same challenges that we face. So I think that recognition at the top of the organisation that actually we are both businesses, we are trying to run businesses, and this is a partnership. So as much as they help us we try and help them to meet their business better. And I also talk about the ability to have your in mobile phone; one or two numbers of people that you can phone when you’ve got a problem that you want to talk through. And I could be a problem with the market, it could be a problem with the work, it could be some problem with some people issues, certainly for me, the two people that lead our agency relationships that would be, within BBH there’s Ben Fennell, within 56 Line Comms media agency that would be Andrew Stevens, or if we were in direct marketing and one-to-one marketing it would be Marko. They are the people that I have the numbers in my phone and we talk regularly, we chat about problems all the time and we have a partnership relationship. If we are successful, it’s partly because of them. And we want to make sure that they share in that success and hopefully that works vice versa.

Jeff Dodds: Working with the Oystercatchers in terms of strategy, I would say there is a formal value and there is an informal value. The formal value is when we were in the middle of the process. So whether that was doing some training with our team, whether it is going through a pitch process, whether it is going to be an evaluation, there is a formal part of our relationship where we get the value and the sum in terms of what we are paying for. And then there is the informal value and that is very much that we have a partnership with the Oystercatchers and it means when we need them formally we go through that process and we contract them. But actually, we talk probably every week on an informal basis and get that sense of what is going on, who is delivering great work, which people are impressing you. So we have an informal relationship. So rarely a week goes by when I won’t pick up the phone – whether it’s Suki or Peter – and ask them a question about something happening in the industry or try and get better clarity about something happening in the industry. I guess I extract more value than I pay for but feels like the wrong way round.

Victoria Sinclair