Angela Watson looks to shake things up at Colenso BBDO

After 15 years with Colenso BBDO, Angela Watson, has risen to the top to face the challenge of leading the agency out of a Covid-19 disrupted darkness into the light of new opportunities for the award-winning advertising heavyweight. In a highly competitive environment, it will be interesting to see if Watson’s focus on ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’, is the right formula for success. As Watson told me, she is on a mission to ensure this becomes a part of the DNA driving Colenso’s culture and work.

“We’re building an environment where what’s happening in culture is an obsession, to inspire our creativity and develop ideas that are additive to culture,” she says.

Watson’s ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’ model includes a focus on women’s place in the industry in general and her agency in particular. Her choice as leader is an interesting one for an agency that has often been referred to as a ‘boys club’.

“Women are half the population so it’s only obvious that they should occupy an equal number of top positions. We’re still a way off reaching a time when women will be fairly represented in roles of leadership and power but the contributions that women make – uniquely or not – to leadership are finally being recognised in more numbers. The best thing women in top positions can bring is greater hope for the next generation of young women.”

One of the world’s leading research and advisory companies, Gartner, found that inclusive teams improve team performance by up to 30 percent in high-diversity environments. Similarly, Deloitte claim diverse companies enjoy 2.3 times higher cash flow per employee, and a BCG study showed companies with diverse management teams had a 19 percent increase in revenue compared to their less diverse counterparts. So, Watson appears to be following the science in her quest for improvement.

Colenso has always had an extraordinary energy where everyone involved in the process has elevated the work. The force of this collective energy combined with the love and trust of clients is a big part of what has made the agency successful. Watson wishes to take that further, seeking inspiration from outside the office, from the creativity of culture.

“Our world continues to shift and change at an increasing pace and the communication industry has undergone significant disruption in recent years. This change provides limitless new opportunities to connect with audiences, but it also brings with it a degree of complexity,” says Watson. “It’s my job to help our clients navigate and leverage this with audacious strategies and ideas that extend the remit of creativity in business and drive their brands into the future.”

Insight and ideas to challenge beliefs, provoke social change, and re-imagine business, will not so much be a shift in direction for Colenso BBDO, but a change in emphasis, as the new leader stamps her vision onto the agency’s approach. In this, Watson will be helped by the appointment of Rob Campbell as Chief Strategy Officer. As a believer in creativity, culture and chaos, Campbell brings a strategic substance to the party which should not be underestimated.

Campbell – a global heavyweight in strategic thinking – has led talented teams to create award-winning work for brands including Google, NIKE, Spotify, and IKEA, and is one of the world’s most well-known strategists. 

With Colenso BBDO being announced as the Agency of the Decade, Pacific, at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, in 2020, Watson takes the reins of an agency at its peak. Unlike some of the challenges being faced by other recent senior agency appointments, her job is one of maintaining success rather than achieving new heights or reviving flagging success.

Over the ten years, Colenso has been awarded a grand total of 99 Lions, including one grand prix, one Titanium, 29 Gold, 31 Silver and 31 Bronze, across 58 campaigns for 30 brands.

When you are at the top, there is only the way down to avoid. Promoting from within is a brave move in a highly competitive environment, but in this case one based on self-assurance and confidence.

At the 2021 Axis Awards Colenso took home two Golds for their work with Skinny “Friend-vertising” but appeared to have fallen behind sibling Clemenger BBDO and competitors like DDB, Saatchi & Saatchi and FCB, so the fight for the top of the next decade of New Zealand advertising will be a tough one.

There are many at Colenso hoping Watson has the toughness required to succeed. Replacing Scott Coldham, who was a very successful leader of the agency for the past six years, will be highly demanding and will be of great interest to industry watchers.

About Author

David Nothling-Demmer is Editorial Director - Business Titles at ICG Media. Titles include: StopPress, NZ Marketing magazine, Idealog and The Register.

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