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Y&R's Nicky Greville on protecting local media, the pitch process and agency culture

In the wake of Y&R Media’s rebrand to Y&R Engage, we sit down with national general manager Nicky Greville to reflect on the past year, her time in the industry and where improvements can be made.

By Erin McKenzie | October 24, 2017 | news

It’s been a big year for Y&R, with the agency claiming the scalps of Goodman Fielder, Go Healthy, Countdown and TAB as well as rebranding Y&R Media to Y&R Engage.

Rolled out last month, the branding change to the media side of the business reflects the agency’s vision to be the most creative engagement specialists in New Zealand by creating campaigns that command attention, are different, explosive and brave, and that ultimately change how people think and behave towards clients’ brands.

“Quite simply, ‘media’ no longer commands the attention we need to drive business results and it’s only a portion of the work our team do every day,” national general manager Nicky Greville told StopPress at the launch of the new brand.

These are certainly bold ambitions, and there will no doubt be a few sceptical folks in the industry expecting the agency to immediately deliver awe-inspiring work. However, Greville isn't in a major rush to impress anyone except Y&R's clients.  

​“I don’t think it’s a case of proving ourselves right now, I think it’s a case of just keeping on going and producing more and more brave and exciting work, of which we’ve got a lot in the pipeline, so that’s really cool.”

Already a shining example of its potential is the recent ‘Apocalypse Steve Hansen Arnott’s’ campaign, which alongside the hugely-awarded ‘McWhopper’ campaign is one of her career highlights to date.

The full campaign is set to be released in cinemas next month with a short-film, but in August, two trailers have been released featuring the All Blacks and Steve Hansen. In both trailers, an argument breaks out between the boys and the tension sparks a global apocalypse. It’s at that point a leather-clad Hansen rides onto the screen to share the moral of the story: “Never ever lose your biscuit.”

The bold story pushes the bounds of FMCG advertising and to do that was a huge leap for the client. Greville explains the agency was given a traditional All Blacks brief but it decided to do something different with the hope of blowing the competition out of the water.

Already it’s paying off as the launch of the trailer videos saw plenty of media interest while the decision to invite members of the public to star in the short film is generating money can’t buy attention for the brand.

“[People are able to say] I’m going to be playing a body part in a film directed by Quentin Tarantino’s number one lady, Zoe Bell, alongside Steve Hansen.”

It’s work like this that demonstrates Greville’s point that despite the changes to the media landscape, one thing that hasn’t changed is the need for amazing creativity in storytelling.

With the aim being to get a share of a person’s mind, she believes “great stories will always do a better job than just repetition of something average”.

That point became evident last year while Greville was on maternity leave. While away from the agency, she noticed many ads offered little more than the repetition of a stale promotional message, leading to the realisation the audience isn’t as invested as agency folk would hope.

“One of the things that should be clear to all of us, that became even more clear when I stepped out for a year to be at home and be a mummy, was that people just don’t remember stuff,” she says.

“They just don’t care.”

But what they do care about she found is TV.

“I don’t remember any of my peers talking about any ads per se, but I do remember them talking about The Bachelor.”

It’s a good case for TV as it’s up against a perception that it’s dying but Greville believes more can be done by the media companies themselves to bust the myths.

MediaWorks, TVNZ, as well as NZME and Fairfax have reams of knowledge about the content people love but they rarely share it with agencies, Greville says. She believes if they were to go out to agencies and share their insights, that would immediately see them included in an agencies’ planning processes.

And with local media companies at the table, there’s the benefit of keeping the finance onshore, rather than them being shipped off to the likes of Google and Facebook—something she admits media agencies are in part responsible for.

But again, responsibility also lies with media companies promoting themselves as being effective so it’s team effort, Greville says.

Pitch perfect

It’s a similar statement to the one she makes about the room for improvement that lies in the pitching process.

“I certainly think if the industry is going to change, we’re going to have to do it together,” Greville says.

Among her favourite campaigns, some of Greville’s most rewarding work has been in the pitches she’s been involved in and won.

"They energise the team and everyone works their socks off, and while it’s all worth it if they win. On the flip-side there are pitch processes that can be convoluted, take a long time and be mind-numbingly expensive."

Because of that, she believes agencies should be asking for remuneration and it’s a change she believes will need to come from all so one agency doesn’t undercut the others.

Her thoughts are mirrored in the research recently conducted for NZ Marketing by insights agency TRA, with one respondent saying of the pitching process: "It's costly and a false way of working – clients should remunerate agencies they ask to contribute to pitches to ensure the best results.”

With feedback from industry folk like this, the Commercial Communications Council and Association of New Zealand Advertisers are taking steps to help by including advice for remuneration in its new Code of Best Practice for the pitching process. However, as it's simply a set of guidelines, it's not yet being enforced as widely as it should be. 

Agency culture

While Greville is positive about the way in which pitches motivate the team to work their socks off, overtime has become a norm in the industry and it’s a by-product she disagrees with.

“It’s not how things should be.”

The pace in which agencies are answering questions and briefs for clients has become so rapid, at some point there’s going to have to be a look at what works and doesn’t and again, it’s a change that needs to come from the industry as a whole.

Her fear is that fewer people will be entering the industry because younger generations are less forgiving about staying after hours. While five years ago working late was a given, a greater awareness about wellbeing and balancing life and work is emerging and agencies have to go into the universities and be actively reassuring their future staff that long hours don't have to be the norm.

But when the pressure is on and time is slim, Greville sees a great culture as one solution to getting the team through. Using Y&R as an example, she says the culture has helped to knit everyone together and as a result, everyone has the attitude that ‘we’ll all jump in and get this done’.

That great culture is aided by Greville’s leadership and when she refers to her 41 Engage team members across Auckland and Wellington, a number that’s grown from 10 since she joined the agency, as her babies, it’s easy to see why.

There’s no instruction manual to being a great leader and Greville says it’s an ongoing journey and one that’s proven to be one of the challenges of her career.

“You can be ambitious and you can strive and push yourself in terms of your work but no one ever really prepares you that well for management of lots of people and how rewarding that is at the same time as challenging.”

Avoiding conflict

Y&R’s staff culture to be in it together is reflected in the client mix and the fact there are no conflicts of interest. Under the agency’s roof, there are fully integrated clients served by all aspects, while others are only unique to Y&R Engage, Y&R Creative, Y&R Design or Y&R Digital, and none of which clash.

While she acknowledges some agencies are able to manage conflict, she says Y&R is happy with its client mix and when asked to pitch will always consider potential conflicts of interest. As a result, there have been cases they’ve turned down on occasion. 

It no doubt makes it easier for Y&R’s senior team when involving each other in discussions for a point of view outside of their own practices. Greville says there’s plenty of times that she’ll be involved in creatively-led discussions, not to do Y&R Creative’s work for them, but to simply generate a better creative thought.

That inclusiveness also helps Y&R Engage build strong relationships with the agencies its clients work with outside of Y&R because it’s very open, transparent and appreciative of the whole creative process.

Going forward

With both Y&R Engage and Y&R as a whole already achieving so much in the year, the momentum is set to continue into the future as Greville promises there's a lot more to come from it. However, she makes no predictions of what that will look like.

“The amount of change in two years alone has been crazy, I can’t even tell you what five years is going to look like, but it’s super exciting.”

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