Cannes Podcast: PHD’s Philippa Brown on transforming the media agency to serve clients more effectively

Digiday covers the latest from marketing and media at the annual Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. More from the series →

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Welcome to the Cannes Lions, which is meeting in-person for the first time since 2019. This week is going to be equal parts exhausting and exhilirating. Although the Lions celebrate all of advertising, the media agency world has taken more of a center-stage position in recent years.

“Rather than just talking about servicing our clients and understanding our clients’ business, what we’re really doing more about and talking more about now is how we can help them in their journey of transformation, and I think that has been the thing that I’ve really seen the language shift over the years,” said Philippa Brown, global CEO of PHD and a 15-year veteran of Omnicom.

Brown addressed the realities of dealing with scope creep from clients, citing the need to be straightforward and honest when having those discussions. “We need to be paid fairly … More and more clients today realize they’re asking a lot of us, and realize that we’re not a charity — that we do need to pay our people fairly and also have a return for our shareholders like they have to have a return for their shareholders.”

Brown has had to adjust to a new boss in Florian Adamski, who took over less than a year ago from Daryl Simm as global CEO of Omnicom Media Group. Flo, as he’s known in the company, “is very much in the detail .. and very much a roll-up-sleeves executive, which I appreciate,” said Brown. “He’s also incredibly future facing, which again is really important, and sets a very clear vision for us moving forward.”

The digital industry’s focus on performance marketing that comes so easily with a lot of newer innovations can be a dangerous path to go down if one overlooks the importance of brand, Brown explained.

“A couple of the watch-outs are that you move too far into performance marketing and you forget about the brand, the strength of the brand,” she said. “And that’s what you’ll see coming through in Cannes, I hope. The brand hasn’t gone anywhere — it still needs to have great ideas behind it, [and] it needs to capture the imagination of consumers and cut through. Sometimes I do worry that over the years we’ve gone too lower-funnel, performance, and we’ve forgotten about the brand.”

What does she hope to get out of Cannes Lions most of all? Connecting with people in-person again. “The number one thing for me is to see people,” Brown explained. “There are some clients who are going to be there that I’ve only seen ever on a screen because they started their jobs during the pandemic … so for me, that’s one of the most exciting parts of the festival.”

Check out our daily podcasts from Cannes with agency leaders and analysts this week.

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