Horse’s Mouth: Megan Clark Cook of Wunderman Thompson

Wunderman Thompson is a leading creative agency specialising in building personalised connections and enduring relationships through advertising, digital and experiences. Here’s its Managing Partner on life in a rapidly evolving industry.

On lessons learned in 2020

We all discovered the beauty in simplicity and in what’s really important. We were glaringly reminded of the importance of genuine humanity and the immense value of personal connection, whether with your loved ones in your community or in your business. It united us as a nation. I felt incredibly humbled to come into this role five weeks before lockdown and see the strength in the genuine kindness shared by the team towards each other and our client partners. It was an extraordinary ride we all went on together. I’m proud of our achievements throughout it all and it’s something we’ll never forget.

On preparing for 2021

We now know we need to be prepared for anything. There’s a wonderful Maori phrase, “Taumata teitei”, which is loosely interpreted to be about acknowledging your challenges while conquering mountains. We’re constantly striving in our business to be one that focuses first on our people and their health, wellbeing and fulfilment. If you get that right, your people – and your clients – will follow you over the wall. So if 2021 is anything like 2020, at the very least we’ll be surrounded by a bunch of extraordinary, talented people who we want to be alongside.

On better servicing brands

New Zealand agencies need to speed up the journey this industry is on towards building diverse and inclusive creative environments. We’re making great headway, but we’ll better serve not just brands but also the New Zealanders they want to build a connection with by making our industry attractive to the huge number of talented people out there who currently aren’t considering creative communications and digital as an option. Right now, my business is working hard to keep building diverse voices in our team. In doing this, we make our work more relevant to the diverse country we live in and give our client partners the proven economic benefits that come with it. 

On the challenges of connecting with customers

Understanding human behaviour, the data, the relationships between these things underpinned by the brand and higher business needs takes expertise and skill – and it needs to be done at pace. But beyond this, the overriding challenge for marketers in a Covid-19 world is that we’re in an environment of huge uncertainty, unlike anything in recent history. I believe our job as an agency is to take the risk out of creative bravery at a time when clients are needing to be so risk-averse, taking clients through an expertly designed step change towards ultimate success by being creatively brilliant, while wrapped in a safe pair of hands. 

On her personal journey

My journey started 17 years ago when I founded my own creative agency – Copper, specialising in brand activation – in my lounge, with little more that blind self-belief and an understanding flatmate. In the early 2000s, the trend was towards specialists working alongside the traditional creative agencies, and one reason for Copper’s success was living the spirit of collaboration, and lead creative agencies trusting us to bring some ‘live magic’ to their own ideas. 

The challenge, of course, is that if you don’t have this trust, it can get over-complicated and cumbersome for the client. Twenty years later, there’s a mix of models out there, all with pros and cons. However, my sense is that with rationalised budgets, especially in a Covid world, clients want a strong collaborative model, with an agency team drawing the best of the best across disciplines. We’ve seen this work beautifully with our WPP Creative Collective model, with cross-discipline teams led by one hero agency in the group. Clients are loving the depth of talent on their projects and the amplified outputs, and our teams get to work on the best briefs out there. 

The other change I’ve witnessed and been part of is female leadership becoming both normalised and highly valued. I’m surrounded by incredible women and men in our leadership team. 

We have an inspirational female CEO, Kelly-Ann Maxwell; a change-making Wunderman Thompson Head of Creative, Nina East; and many other talented women who are helping bring a female voice to leadership and creative. Having this wonderful balance of gender is simply good for business.

On the agency of the future

Thriving agency businesses must be based on a foundation of healthy and fulfilled people creating a positive impact on both human and business growth. In order to help clients’ businesses thrive, I believe agencies need to start with being human first. This is my mantra as we work towards our 2025 goals. Having a culture that celebrates freedom of expression and voice in a safe way will bring courage, and courage brings creative bravery that’s thoughtful. Ultimately, a successful agency will be the enabler for brands to meaningfully engage with our communities in Aotearoa and beyond, through beautiful, relevant, creative communication.

On digital and creative design challenges

Covid-19 taught us that most clients need some form of e-commerce or strong digital presence, and that with the right partner, it can be done quickly and effectively. We saw how many brands suddenly pulled out those dusty digital briefs, put them on the top of the pile and got things happening super quick. Finding the right pathways to create deep personalised connections – and ultimately sales – through digital and beyond is now mandatory for success. And bricks and mortar alone is simply too great a risk to contemplate now. Creative design therefore needs to start with the CX journey and the human behaviour that drives our day-to-day decision-making.

On diversity and the creative process

Diversity of thought is more a mandatory need than a notion. We have a privileged position and a weighty responsibility to create ideas that better represent all people of New Zealand. More diversity in strategic and creative development will give our brands the chance to connect and be meaningful. We have a tragic lack of diversity in strategy and creative in many of New Zealand agencies, especially a lack of Maori and Pasifika talent. We’re making some good steps as an industry, but to be successful we need to first create agency cultures that are inclusive, respectful and that celebrate diversity. Only then will we attract diverse people and therefore thought, and ensure that everyone thrives. 

I love being part of this incredible movement of addressing the imbalance in diversity and inclusion, and to be helping build the foundations for a creative industry that thoughtfully serves all our people. To look back in 10 years and see that this change has really happened, it’s made a difference for our clients and our work has had a positive impact for Aotearoa will be wonderfully fulfilling.

This article was originally published in the March/April 2021 issue of NZ MarketingClick here to subscribe.

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