If anyone can say they’ve been there, done that and got the T-shirt, it’s Simon Derungs. Our new Client Services Director has explored every corner of the industry: agencies, consultancies and client-side. He’s worked on iconic ad campaigns, masterminded Olympic sponsorship and been sought out by industry titans for his expert advice. As you’d imagine, Simon is privy to a view of planet advertising that few others have ever seen.
Please welcome an exciting new addition to the marvellous Maverick team…
Over the last ten years, you’ve been Head of Marketing for BT and also a highly successful consultant. What tempted you back to agency life?
One of the advantages of getting older is that you’ve covered a lot of ground. I started in agencies and then worked client-side for several years, focusing on Olympic sponsorship for BT and the launch of BT Sport. Although I learned a lot, client-side wasn’t really for me – the culture was just too slow and corporate. I then tried consultancy – the middle ground – but I missed agency life. In agencies, it’s all about taking on a client’s objectives and using break-through ideas, insight and creativity to crack a problem. When I was working client-side, I used to envy the agency types when they walked off with a brief. I adore agencies’ creativity and big ideas and want great creative work to be at the heart of what we do. I feel my experience client-side can definitely be helpful; a lot of agencies think they know more about the client mindset than they actually do.
Another thing that drew me back was agency culture. Although clients’ organisations can be positive and professional, I missed that can-do agency attitude. I was warned of the culture shock when I went client-side, but you don’t always appreciate the difference until you try what I call ‘the stapler challenge’. Basically, you think the culture’s fine until you attempt to do something simple – like order a stapler through the company’s corporate online portal! I found myself missing agencies’ more casual, dynamic approach.
The final reason I decided to return to agency life is the people. I love the mix… they’re hard-working, can-do and crucially, inquisitive. I’m a big fan of Ask Why. There are definitely no stupid questions in my book!
Why The Maverick Group?
When I applied, I hadn’t heard of The Maverick Group, even though I had worked as a pitch consultant. I thought that was remarkable. I was frequently told that the agency was “one of the industry’s best kept secrets”, which I found very appealing because so many agencies are obsessed with self-publicity. At the Group, the energy is focused on upping the client’s profile. That said, I was attracted by the prospect of building Maverick’s profile; the potential is huge.
The other thing I like about The Maverick Group is the family feel that’s been driven by Carron and Owen. There’s definitely a sense of belonging; that we’re all in it together, which I felt from the very first interview.
What are you hoping to achieve with the Group?
I’ll be focusing a lot on the Hub. These are the people who hold the business together and drive it forward; the people who connect the dots, draw together talent, build client relationships, and ensure cohesion and momentum. They’re essential to the growth and success of the business. I want to make sure the Hub is performing at its best, by getting everyone better connected, promoting training, encouraging everyone to share in success and ramping up the sense of ownership. I think that’s so important, especially as we’re not all in the office five days a week.
Ultimately, I want to help turn The Maverick Group from a ‘best kept secret’, to known and admired throughout the industry. That goes for candidates too. I want them to be excited about joining the Maverick team.
What changes will you be introducing?
First of all, an updated briefing process and forms. Because great creative agencies have great creative briefings. Abraham Lincoln once said “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I’ll spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Great briefs save time and help you get to a creative answer more quickly. It’s a tangible way to make a difference, but we need to train people and help them adopt a better approach.
Other changes include regular Hub meetings and training. I’ve introduced monthly pow-wows and lunch ‘n’ learns to support LinkedIn learning. Soon, there’ll be a Professor of Advertising from Westminster University coming in to talk about semiotics in advertising, which should be fascinating. I’m also aiming to start a book club, focusing on the most important marketing and advertising books.
As CSD for the agency, tell us about the Hub and why it’s different to other agency set ups?
Every agency claims that its set-up is “unique and holistic”. But most of them are just paying lip service to the idea, because each unit usually wants its own relationship with the client. At The Maverick Group, the model is different – or will be if we do it right. The purpose of the Hub is to be integrated and pull together resources, instead of referring other teams and stepping back. It’s a compelling model that can help us grow clients organically, with each unit cross-selling other services based on success.
The Hub has also been driven by 20 years of Carron and Owen building brilliant relationships with clients. We can take this integration to the next level by demonstrating understanding and empathy, for example, by being proactive and proposing solutions that save them money. I remember once going down to shoot in Brighton while working for BT. As I walked up a hill from the station, I saw the agency staff turning up in a fleet of Mercedes, all at the client’s expense of course. Being fully integrated with the client means treating every pound as if it’s your own. Show them you’re on their side. That’s something that can set Maverick apart.
What are your predictions for the industry over the next five years?
Five years is a long time in advertising… In the 20 years since The Maverick Group was started, the industry has been revolutionised by technology. Before, there was no Facebook; no TikTok, no iPhone. It’s remarkable. I think that the biggest change will be a ‘back to basics’ attitude. As media fragments and technology makes anything possible, it’ll be great ideas that will break through. Organisations will need to remember why they exist and rely less on tech gimmicks. Great ideas and great relationships will matter. I also see the ceaseless rise of consumer sovereignty. Consumers are taking over; becoming more and more powerful. Take the success of User Generated Content (UGC). Look at how bad marketers are at creating TikTok content. Word of mouth is the most powerful influencer of all.
If you could give some advice to someone starting out in client services, what would it be?
Be open-minded. The industry’s changing fast and so are the requirements of the job. Remember that the top 10 most in-demand jobs in the industry did not even exist ten years ago!
Have a fundamental belief in service – but not servility. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Celebrate creativity. Have fun and love what you do. Oh, and be thick-skinned. Nothing is personal.
Perhaps most importantly, never give up. When infrastructure engineer, Jan Koum, was turned down for a job at Facebook, he didn’t despond. Instead he poured his expertise into creating a new app. In 2014, he sold his app – called WhatsApp – to Mark Zuckerberg for $19 billion. Anything’s possible.
So there you have it: an introduction to Simon Derungs, respected industry expert. Loves: big ideas and asking why. Hates: disconnection and silos. He should feel right at home.