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The Return of the Prodigal Son

When the alumni of the agency you have been chosen to manage includes advertising icons like Peter Cullinane, Mike Hutcheson, James Hall, Andrew Stone and Kevin Roberts, the pressure to bring Saatchi & Saatchi NZ back to its former glory must be immense.

In its heyday, in the 1990’s it was recognised by Advertising Age as one of the top 10 agencies in the world. In the past decade or more, the once king of New Zealand agencies has dropped down the pecking order, being overtaken by the likes of DDB, Colenso and FCB amongst others.

With the recent appointment of Mark Cochrane as Chief Executive Officer Saatchi & Saatchi New Zealand, owners Publicis Groupe have expectations that this high-flier can achieve what recent New Zealand leaders have failed to do, get Saatchi & Saatchi back to the top of the pack.

Cochrane is excited by the challenge: “I have walked into an agency full of great talent who are producing excellent, award winning, culturally fueled work.’

Recent wins at this year’s Axis Awards have been encouraging – especially the awards for Brand Axis and the Client of the Year for Toyota. This has given the new leader reasons for optimism for the journey ahead.

Toyota’s campaign for the 2021 Hilux.

As a start, Cochrane has introduced a ‘100 days strategic review’. “Listening to what we value, as people, as a collective. Listening to client ambitions, to the market, and the mood of the nation.” It is a transformation plan, he calls ‘Specialise, Weaponise, Connect’. 

Cochrane is no stranger to either Saatchi & Saatchi or New Zealand. Between 2008 and 2012 he held the position of Group Business Director at the same offices in Parnell where he now leads the agency. Stints as head honcho in Saatchi agencies in Thailand and Australia have honed his leadership skills, so the appointment locally is based on a solid foundation.

He is already focusing his attention on what Saatchis have always done well, and what clients value – ‘cultural creativity, connecting brands deep into New Zealand culture, for the good of the brand’s customers, its stakeholders and society. As one can imagine, pitching for new business is already front and centre.

The New Zealand role has been very appealing for Cochrane: “I have been on a bit of a global learning journey with Saatchi and the Groupe. Of course, I do miss my friends at Saatchi Melbourne,” he admits. “They are an excellent team, we were in sync, and we had fun. But with a bright future for the agency, happy clients and a cabinet exploding with trophies, the opportunity and timing was right to come home and apply my ambitions here.

“To me it’s a privilege to lead Saatchi New Zealand in its next chapter, a role I have always wanted. The appeal comes from that privilege, the opportunity to work with Steve “Cochran (the smart Cochran), the talented team in place and the connected platform of capability we can now access across the Groupe. It means nothing is impossible. I know you would expect those words from any Saatchi CEO, but this is my belief.”

Having worked here before has meant that the cultural shift from Australia has been an easy transition. “I love the cultural progress of New Zealand. It’s full of unity, kindness, creativity, and respect. It must be our secret sauce in the world.”

Cochrane believes New Zealand is at a crossroads with business confidence needing a lift, perhaps beacons of optimism and progress that telling strong stories about brands can help achieve.

“As a Groupe, Publicis agencies, including Saatchi & Saatchi, have been focused on transformation to create a connected platform – a platform full of modular talent, with the capability and services to help clients win in a platform world. This model is now complete, so, the agencies can accelerate towards client’s value, whatever the challenge.

“From a Saatchi point of view, this transformation has been liberating,” Cochrane told StopPress. “We can now be the creative company we wish to be, specialising in growth, brand strategy, brand orchestration, cultural creativity. We are now weaponising around that and connecting our ideas progressively.”

Cochrane is comfortable with where the agency is going, it has momentum in the work, great client partnerships, plenty of opportunity and a plan to move forward. That’s why he is excited to see what can be achieved, and strategy is an important part of that.

“We don’t really see strategy as linear because brands aren’t. They are ecosystems and we think brand orchestration is as important as brand strategy. That said, strategy is just a plan. Ideas are what we connect too, and ideas evolve as they touch culture, so you have to have an open mind on what the solution can become”.

He also sees growth in digital business transformation, e-commerce, and the demand for connected ideas. “In 2020 we saw five years’ worth of digital adoption in eight weeks, and five of the six most valuable companies globally are platforms, so it’s fair to say we live in a platform world. Our connected model is now designed to assist clients of all shapes and sizes achieve growth in this platform world, but in my opinion, it’s creativity that will always deliver the most unfair advantage.”

The man deserves to succeed in his ambitions, and many within Saatchi & Saatchi and the wider Publicis Groupe are depending on it.

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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