FCB’s new managing director Fleur Head on her toughest pitch, the integration battle and why ‘generalist’ isn’t an insult

  • Advertising
  • June 14, 2016
  • Damien Venuto
FCB’s new managing director Fleur Head on her toughest pitch, the integration battle and why ‘generalist’ isn’t an insult

When Fleur Head first joined FCB nine years ago, she walked into a B-grade agency with only a fraction of the staff it has today.

“At the time, lots of my friends were saying: ‘What the hell are you doing going to FCB? It’s a second-rate agency?’ she recalls, laughing.

She was appointed head of account services, taking on her first senior management role in ad land—a daunting responsibility made all the more intimidating by the fact that she hadn’t even celebrated her 30th birthday yet.

Head explains that back in those days, FCB’s staff of around 45 had a very different definition of what constituted success.

“When I started, our big objective was to get invited to pitch for blue chip accounts. That was success for us.”

Head says that a big turning point for the agency came when it landed the Noel Leeming account, kicking off a very positive period for FCB.     

“Another pivotal moment came when I led our pitch for BMW and Mini. It was seen as a blue chip client, and we never thought that we could win that client. But we won it, started doing some award-winning work and moved into a new building.”

With this growing momentum, Head then set her sights on an even bigger account when Vodafone opened the doors to interest from agencies.

Head says it was one of the most intense pitches she’s ever been involved with, spanning over a year and involving four stages.

After FCB’s name was penned into the Vodafone ledger, Head says she was felt elation and relief in equal parts. And while she says the agency didn’t celebrate the win as hard as it could have, it was seen as a very important win for everyone involved.  

“Winning the Vodafone account was the culmination of us coming of age as an agency,” she says.

These wins, alongside others over the last few years, have seen FCB grow to now accommodate over 230 staff across the business. But in ad land there are no guarantees. And Head is well aware that even the most successful agency is always only a few account losses away from redundancies and staff shrinkage.

To ensure longevity, Head says FCB has been working over the last 18 months on ensuring that the business remains relevant to clients with diversifying needs.

“We’ve really been focused on how to build the agency of the future,” she says. “What are the different structures, the different ways of working and the different skill sets that are going to allow us to thrive as the world changes more and more around us?”

Further to this objective, Head has travelled to both the UK and the US to observe how teams within the wider agency network are evolving their approach.

“I spent a month up at RGA to learn their way of working. We’ve set up partnerships with the likes of Hacker, which is one of the best data science companies in the United States. It’s really about how we add value to our clients’ businesses.”

Head says another way FCB has maintained its relevance to the quickly evolving media landscape is by setting up specialist teams that eventually become part of the generalist whole. 

“As the landscape changes and a small specialism comes about, we hire specialist talent in that space to service the client. The idea though is to hire people that are generous enough to teach others their craft. It’s not so much the knowledge that’s important; it’s the willingness to share. We really want those specialists to raise the skillsets of our generalist teams, then eventually they get absorbed into the mainstream teams.”

This is, at least to some degree, what has happened to her previous head of integration role. What was previously considered a specialist skillset has over time simply become the norm for many campaigns, leading to the abrogation of her previous position.

The approach of developing a team of specialist generalists is proving important for the agency on a commercial level at a time when clients are becoming increasingly polygamous in the distribution of their ad spend. 

“We’ve recently been winning back parts of existing clients that might have flirted with a specialist, and have decided that having a single point of brand guardianship is important for them,” Head says.

She says that while the executive team now feels comfortable with the level of integration at the agency, this doesn’t mean the integration battle is over. The focus, she explains, has simply shifted from internal integration to working with clients to help them with their businesses. 

“That’s one of our biggest roles with clients. They often operate in silos and they often have these separate disciplines with different KPIs, and we’re the ones that connect the dots for them and make sure they’re remembering all aspects of the customer journey.”

Going by her track record over the last decade, Head has clearly become adept at helping clients connect the dots. However, as she picks up the reins at the agency, she takes control of a very different business from the one she originally joined against the best advice of her friends. And one thing that’s certain is that her executive objectives will definitely be greater than just making it onto pitch lists.    

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