We get to know Ogilvy Group’s new UK CEO, Michael Frohlich, from working with Mikhail Gorbachev to leading an integrated communications group
Two weeks ago Ogilvy Group UK announced the appointment of Michael Frohlich to UK CEO. He has been chosen to lead the agency as it moves into a more integrated future - changing its model significantly to break down silos. He’s proved himself in this regard while leading the fully integrated WPP team that brought the British Airways business back into Ogilvy and WPP, in addition to keeping a firm hand on the tiller of Ogilvy’s PR capability at both a UK and EMEA level.
Michael’s held senior positions within the WPP integrated British Airways team, Ogilvy, Bell Pottinger, Resonate Communications, VCCP and Shine Communications. He has been focused on developing brand and communications strategies for some of the world’s largest brands, as well as representing former Russian President Gorbachev and his legacy projects.
Keen to understand the person who promises to lead Ogilvy UK into a new era, LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Michael.
LBB> I’ve read that working for Ogilvy was always a big ambition for you. Running the whole group in the UK must be pretty much a dream job for you, then?
MF> The story goes when I was at university I applied for one job - to be an intern at Ogilvy - and I didn’t get a reply from them.
So it’s definitely always been in my mind, but ever since being here for the last six years I am really thrilled and excited to be taking on this role for a couple of reasons: The UK had a brilliant year last year. We’ve got a great momentum behind us and we’re very proud with some of our clients of the work we’ve done.
But also London are arguably the creative leaders of the world. So to be running one of the largest agencies in one of the key markets around the world for the industry is a bit of an honour. I’m very proud to be embarking on the journey.
LBB> Your previous role was leading Ogilvy PR for the EMEA region. What skills and lessons did you learn there that will be transferable to this new job?
MF> Actually, it’s incredibly important. Having spent nearly three years in the region working across multiple offices it’s really given me a deep understanding of how different offices work, big and small across different markets, different capabilities. How to deal with those different types of people and having to assume different leadership styles across the region. And to be part of a multi-discipline, multi-geography, multi-language, multi-cultural team meant you had to learn a lot.
Going from running single-market businesses, which is one style of leadership, coming to use far more influence and soft power, if you like, working across a region - it’s given me a real insight and appreciation of different styles of leadership.
LBB> What experience do you feel is most applicable to what you’re now going to be doing?
MF> I think it’s having a good understanding of the complexities of a business of this scale. all of the different parts of the business and how they move together. As you will have read, having a mandate and a will to do business together into a much more integrated, one-silo business - how that works together.
Having seen over the last three years how Nairobi worked Accra, worked with Jo’burg and how Dubai worked with Bahrain and with Beirut. And how Paris worked with Dusseldorf, who worked with Frankfurt, who worked with Berlin. It’s looking at that ecosystem and how Ogilvy - as a very mature business - how it all worked together has really given me that much broader, stronger understanding.
So I’m coming to this role without having a very narrow, one type of Ogilvy view. There are lots of different types of Ogilvy.
LBB> It’s an interesting transition, as the new role is narrower geographically, but broader in terms of disciplines.
MF> 100%. When I was running EMEA it was for the PR capabilities - all the PR businesses. And now this is in the UK for everything - for the group.
LBB> So which part of that is the most alien to you? What are you trying to catch up the most with?
MF> For me, what I’m apt to focus on is similarities, the commonality between all the different disciplines. Because ultimately we are all trying to do the same thing - to make brands matter more and to deliver great big ideas for our clients to affect change. In order to continue doing that we just need to keep doing that more in unison.
I don’t feel disadvantaged in one region or another because the ambitions and directions are the same. Adding to that, I’ve been laying the focus for the past year or more on building [integration] - I led the team on British Airways and that was a fully integrated team with advertising, production, media, loyalty etc. all in it. So I’ve been working very much in those environments for the last 18 months anyway.
LBB> Working with British Airways - a strong brand with a good marketing heritage - must have been fascinating. What did you learn from that?
MF> One, to create a truly integrated team that’s delivering work in a seamless way. The client organisation has to be set up in the right way, has to be open and accepting of that because it’s a different way of working.
Then, irrelevant of BA, from our side it’s easier to draw charts of paper about how stuff will work together. But it’s a whole different ball game to actually create that. And understanding behaviours and cultures and how easy or not it is for people to work in a different way - that learning is going to be invaluable in taking over this job.
LBB> What do you think your appointment represents more broadly for Ogilvy and the direction the group in moving in?
MF> On the one hand it’s progressive because they haven’t had somebody with my background to lead the business in the UK. However, I think if there was someone sitting in this chair from customer engagement or from advertising you’d be asking them kind of the same question because all of the different expertise, disciplines and specialities we all bring from different areas are as important as each other in the marketing of today - and reflect what clients need. There is no one person with deep experience in all those things. So it’s progressive but also the right time and right person for the role.
LBB> And how will people at Ogilvy feel the shift from your predecessor to you? Will it be a different kind of regime?
MF> We had a great year last year so part of my role is to keep that momentum going while changing. Change will come in pushing a more integrated agenda. So there are going to be new ways of working. There will be a new operating system in how we work across the business. We will start to instill some new behaviours as well to be more open in how people approach their work. And also to start I want to tackle things like diversity and training and talent retention as well. Because I’m a strong believer in all the activity that we can bring to the business through having a much more fluid, integrated organisation. Talent can have five careers but in one job. It’s OK for people to want to try something different and if they’re starved we should give them that. So it is a different way of working and thinking but one that I think’s really exciting and so far I think everyone seems to be quite excited about that concept.
LBB> What work and trends should we watch out for as you take the lead?
MF> I think the creative craft. One thing we’ll continue to focus on is to develop creative output and by creating a more integrated business, by being able to build the opportunities for our talent. Ultimately what that does is keeps people more engaged, more excited, more motivated. And therefore they will automatically work harder, produce even better and more creative work for our clients.
I’m incredibly proud to be sitting here now having an agency that produced the Boots Christmas ad, the Vodafone Christmas campaign - work that’s actually talked about, well received and liked.
There will be great work out of British Airways over the next 12 months as well - new things. So I think it is about the creative work and sorry if that’s a bit of an obvious argument, but ultimately we’re about creating big, brilliant creative ideas.
The thing that’s really exciting about moving forward is the integration across all the different channels and the seamless ways that those campaigns will run.
LBB> And finally, I have to ask about your time working with former Russian President Gorbachev and his legacy projects. What was that like?
MF> Learning how to deal with Russians was an experience! Which is funny because it does add to having different styles of leadership and understanding how people respect you when you do things in different ways. The way that I was running them as a client - they were all Russian - to a UK client is completely the opposite. Everything is different about it. The way you talk to them, your mannerisms.
And just being around the whole ecosystem around at the time was awe-inspiring. A man who hadn’t been in power for many years, who is the last surviving leader from the superpower era of the ‘80s and so well respected. He completely went off track every time we had a press conference. Every time we messaged and wrote releases and ideas he totally ignored them and did something different. It was a great experience.
LBB> What exactly were you doing with him?
MF> It was leading up to his 80th birthday so it was all about his legacy. One of the things we did was a big birthday celebration
of the man who brought down the Berlin wall at the Albert Hall. There was this one moment before it started. I was standing there and I had Gorbachev talking to Sharon Stone, Goldie Hawn and Shimon Peres. It was just the most surreal thing. And going back stage and all these massive global celebrities walking around. The whole thing was mind blowing.