Horse's Mouth: Scott Coldham, Colenso BBDO

  • Advertising
  • March 22, 2016
  • StopPress Team
Horse's Mouth: Scott Coldham, Colenso BBDO

He’s not even 40 years old, but Colenso’s recently appointed general manager Scott Coldham has already picked up the reins at one of the most successful agencies in the country. And sitting down with him, it becomes clear that he isn’t intimidated by the task ahead of him. In fact, there’s a strong sense that he’s been impatiently waiting for this opportunity for quite some time.

On the pressure  

“Being given the opportunity to be in charge of this business is humbling and exciting in equal measure. It’s my first time at the helm of an agency, and whether it was thriving or struggling my outlook wouldn’t be any different. At the core, I’m responsible for people, our clients and the quality of the work that we produce. My ambition regardless is to make it a world-class agency.” 

On being young 

“My point of view is that age is just a number. But I guess it’s valid for people to question it. I remember, when I first walked into the agency, I knew that I wanted to run it. It was the ambition I had. I just fell in love with everything about it. I’ve been here a while now, and while I am only 37, I’ve learned a lifetime of lessons from some pretty incredible people who have crossed my professional path. And I feel in a pretty good headspace.” 

On mentors  

“I look at my career in two stints. The first, with Brent Smart at the helm and the second with Nick Garrett. I think I’ve been brought up by two distinctly different leaders in that regard. Smarty was a passionate and charismatic ad man who built the agency’s culture into something resilient and focused. Nick, also a passionate ad man, brought a growth mentality to the agency that has seen strong outcomes for us as a business. Both are incredibly important and I think I’ve managed the best of both worlds.” 

On taking over from Nick Garrett 

“Nick was incredibly well travelled and he was a fantastic ad man who did a brilliant job. I learned a lot from him, and while different characters, we were fundamentally joined at the hip in terms what we believe constitutes a successful agency. Are we different? Definitely. So there will be some nuances in the way we manage people, the way we lead, our views on the world and our style. But at the end of the day, the DNA of this company has always been pretty well set. Nick’s mission was to build the business to grow capability, and that’s my ambition as well. There will only be two types of agency in future: specialist or integrated, and we want to be the latter … I’m not going to fundamentally change the DNA of this business. I’m going to tinker with the things that are important with the people around me and make a better agency as a result of that.” 

On objectives for 2016 

“This year is about looking inwards and not outwards. We’ve spent all this time trying to establish capability, which is brilliant for so many reasons and very unique for this marketplace, and now we can really focus on using that capability to build deeper, more integrated relationships with the clients we’ve got. The other key area for me is the culture of doing business – remembering that happy people do better work. We have to have fun making the stuff we make so I’ll be focussed on ensuring that’s the case.”

On the leadership transition 

“The transition was really well orchestrated and pretty well planned. You know, I was saying to Nick [Garrett] and Jim [Moser], ‘I’m ready for the job’ a year and a half ago. And they were like ‘Buddy, wait your turn’. You think you’re ready for it, but until you get into the seat, you don’t know what you’re dealing with. Extracting yourself from the day-to-day rhythm of running accounts to the rhythm of running an agency takes a bit of getting used to, and having a focus has been key. The lifeblood of our business are our clients and our people, which is where my focus has been. Building relationships with the clients I didn’t know, and re-opening lines of communication with those I do.”

On the reaction from staff 

“I’ve been here for a pretty long time, and I already had a good relationship with loads of people here. But I do believe in the notion that you can’t run a business unless the people want you there. So I’m assuming that everybody here is happy with the decision. We are changing at pace though, and it’s hard to keep up with everyone and everything that’s happening. Forums to spend time together are critical in my opinion. One of the first things I did when my appointment got announced was to set up The John Street BBQ Series—I live on John street with my wife and my son — and every Thursday for ten weeks I had a combination of 15 different people from the agency over at our house for a barbie. We had 157 people through our home over ten weeks. I’m sick of eye fillet and sausages, but it was such a brilliant and simple thing to open our home to the agency. ”

On having a purpose 

“The purpose conversation has been floating around for a while now, and this is something we talk to a lot of our clients about trying to achieve. If you think about a person with purpose, you can sense it when you’re a room with them. Somebody who has a purpose is infectious, because they’re focused and they organise everything around achieving it. I think businesses and brands are no different. A purpose gives all the staff a lens that they can look through. A way you organise the resources and the way you make decisions for the company. Ultimately, it affects the way in which your customers experience your brand. It’s a really powerful tool. But for it to be something that’s more than words on paper, the organisation has to be committed to it. They have to be comfortable making decisions that truly support the purpose, not just the short-term commercial objectives for the organisation. And that takes balls, and belief.” 

On Colenso’s purpose 

“We’re stress testing a lot of this at the moment. We started off by saying that we wanted to be a world-class agency that just happened to be located in Auckland, and over time that has evolved. We’re all about using creativity and strategic thinking to help solve clients’ problems. But our single, most important purpose is to do work that no one else in the world can do. Obviously, that doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s the inspirational piece that drives the philosophy and work ethic that causes people to ask ‘How the hell did you guys do that?’ It’s almost like a blind ambition or naiveté that we can do anything.”

On doing global work 

“Obviously, we’ve got an immediate responsibility on the ground here to grow our clients’ businesses with creative thinking. And our local clients are our lifeblood; they’re incredibly important to us. The great thing, though, is that as part of a global network, we work with clients that have a global footprint: Samsung, Mars, Visa, Pepsico. Those sorts of brands have big challenges, and over time our reputation has meant that some of the global markets are starting to look at our agency to help them solve problems that may not exist in NZ. It’s kind of cool to know that a little agency in Auckland can actually do work that impacts people on the other side of the world. The more opportunities like these we get, the better.”  

On awards shows 

“The global exposure that our agency gets through some of those awards shows and through some of the work we do fuels phone calls. And it’s great to get those calls from Levi’s in the US or startups in Silicon Valley to help them with launching their products or brands. But what we need to ensure is that the integrity of creative shows is upheld and that there is value placed in them by the commercial world. What we don’t want is for Cannes and D&AD and those big shows to be seen as an environment for agencies to be wankers. That’s where it was 20 years ago, and we’re still just trying to get rid of that baggage. Those big shows need integrity.” 

On restructuring 

“We always want to make the boat faster, so there are definitely things going on in the way we evolve our offering that will surface at some point shortly. There are some interesting hires being made right now … our strategic offering, our data and Proximity based offering, our creative services and content offering, our business and project management offering are all being consistently fuelled with innovation.” 

On being integrated 

“We want to be an integrated offering, because this allows us to deliver true solutions beyond just advertising. And it gives us the capability to develop seamless brand experiences. We made that call. My view is that fragmentation costs clients money, and if you’ve got a well-run, integrated offering then we can drive efficiencies and stronger brand experiences.”

On being flexible 

“We might have a client with a relatively small problem that needs to be solved in two weeks on a tiny budget, or we might have a client that has a much bigger problem to be solved over a much longer period. The reality is that we need to have the capability to meet the needs that exist for that client and the particular problem or opportunity they need solved or exploited. It’s just about developing the capability set and operational agility to be nimble and dynamic with our clients to create the best outcomes. Sometimes that’s a very polished piece of communication, sometimes it’s a very integrated solution that’s visible across every channel, sometimes it’s a product, and sometimes it’s 35 long-form content videos on YouTube. Having the capability to do all that stuff means we’ve been able to have loads more conversations about loads more things.” 

On clients spending less 

“Everybody wants more for less these days, don’t they? There used to be that triangle of good, fast and cheap and you could only have two of those things. But these days, you’ve got to be able to do all three. It’s just a given. Also, Nielsen’s figures show documented advertising spend. What it’s not showing is where clients are spending money in other areas, where we could still act as a creative partner. It doesn’t have to be newspaper catalogues or ads on TV. It might be brand experiences that don’t register on any media records. And what those brand experiences entail today can be so varied.”   

On collaboration 

“As an industry and definitely as an agency, we’re forging relationships with people and organisations that we formerly wouldn’t have anything in common with. It’s simply because we can’t do everything. And this is why it’s important that we do have a relationship with Google, and we do have a relationship with innovation and tech companies. At the end of the day, you have to do what’s right for your client and their business and what’s right for your mutual creative goals, and this sometimes means partnering with organisations who can do what you can’t. ” 

On heightened competition 

“Google had 400 squared metres on the beach at Cannes last year, they sent 1,000 of their people to the event, they were hosting clients all day and night, and they were winning Lions. They are here to stay. The gloves are off and they mean business. Those things are just a reality of the world we live in - ideas are the currency of business. And we just have to make sure that we have the capability to come up with the best ones.” 

On the road ahead 

“I’m feverishly passionate about what this agency stands for and what it does. I love working with the breadth of clients and the quality of the thinkers we have here. No day is the same and it’s incredibly stimulating. I’m not naïve to think it’s going to be easy, but there’s a great team of people around me. I’m only four months in, but it’s already shaping up to be an exciting year ahead. ”  

  • This story originally appeared in the March/April edition of NZ Marketing

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  • Media
  • December 2, 2016
  • Damien Venuto
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