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Alex Lubar Joins DDB in Global Role as CEO Marty O'Halloran Drives 'Swagger and Confidence'

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The McCann North America president takes newly-created role of global president & chief operating officer at DDB Worldwide, signalling proactive push in a tough economy. Alex and Marty join LBB's Laura Swinton to reveal an upbeat and ambitious new phase for the network

Alex Lubar Joins DDB in Global Role as CEO Marty O'Halloran Drives 'Swagger and Confidence'
Since taking the helm as global CEO of DDB Worldwide in mid 2020, Marty O’Halloran has been on a mission to re-energise the DDB brand, bring the international network closer together and to ensure the product, positioning and capabilities are future-ready. And, as his latest major hire signals, that drive is as intense as ever.

Alex Lubar has joined the network as global president and chief operating officer. Alex joins from McCann Worldgroup, where he has worked for just over a decade, most recently as president at McCann North America. 

This position is a new one for the network, and will see Alex work with Marty to proactively pursue opportunity, strengthen the network and help clients navigate a turbulent economic environment.

“I've created a new role, someone who will work right beside me, helping us grow existing clients, but also looking for new opportunities for DDB in a world that is still going to be very challenging over the next few months,” says Marty. “ I'm going on the offensive, trying to make the most of opportunities where I think others will be a bit more conservative.”

According to Alex, the appeal of the role lay in the personal alignment with Marty and his vision, as well as the chance to work on the storied DDB brand. “There's a lot of simpatico between Marty's approach to leadership and my own,” he says. “He very much believes in building strong teams, and having strong teams around him. He puts product at the centre of everything that he supports. We get on very, very well. Then when you actually turn and look at the organisation, DDB just has a phenomenal history of creativity, over multiple decades. An opportunity like this doesn't come up very often. So when Marty presented it to me, I jumped straight in.”

Marty has been geeing up his international leadership, eager that the network sees opportunity and optimism instead of succumbing to uncertainty. The creation of a major role for a high profile hire like Alex is part of that swashbuckling attitude.

“I've been around long enough that I've been through tough economic times before, and I think you learn from that. My experience is that the agencies that are confident and hold a proactive point of view can actually really help clients navigate tough times,” says Marty, who adds that getting nervous or shrinking back can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. “So, the message to my team when I got them together in New York was, ‘I'd like DDB to be acting with confidence and swagger when we talk to clients about opportunities and challenges’.”

Bundled into that sense of ambition and gutsiness is DDB’s embrace of growth areas beyond the traditional. Marty mentions influencer marketing, expertise in emerging social platforms as the half life dwindles, data and, of course gaming. DDB FTW (For the Win), the network’s specialist gaming agency brand, has given the whole network a power up in this space. As an agency strongly associated with traditional creative media, Marty says it’s important to both look to the future and be seen to be looking to the future.

Alex is also going to be pivotal in helping strengthen ties between agencies in the network and knitting together capabilities - new and traditional - and says he is keen to enable the ‘polymaths’ who can spot opportunities for cross pollination.

Unlike the early days of the covid-19 pandemic, where markets were facing more or less the same issues, the current economic challenge is going to present a much more patchwork set of problems and opportunities. That will require even greater collaboration between markets, whether in the form of sharing talent, or sharing knowledge via platforms like DDB’s central hub ‘The Brain’.

“I think that the economic challenges we're facing right now are very idiosyncratic based on market, or industry. So, if we can take some of the learnings that we have from our different markets and apply them to other markets, that can be very valuable. In fact, if you think specifically about the kinds of industries that are highly affected by an economic downturn or economic pressures, or that are super local - so telco businesses and retail businesses - we've got a lot of best in class institutional knowledge that exists within markets which can be shared with another market. There's often not as much of that as there could be, and I think that that's how you can get a lot of value out of the global network.”

From a personnel perspective, Marty believes this approach can also help minimise headcount reduction, so busy offices can draw resources from markets going through a slow patch. It also means that the network can reduce over-reliance on freelancers and focus on building culture and a defined DDB product. 

“I personally want to reduce our reliance on freelance and actually use our network more, because again, I want DDB trained creatives that understand our culture to be supporting other agencies, rather than strangers who are hit and miss,” says Marty, who shares that he is currently running an experiment funded out of the corporate team which will see the network host roaming creative talent that can sub in as ‘freelancers’ for the network.

Talking of culture, something that both Alex and Marty are aligned on is the strength of the DDB agency brand. Over the past two years, Marty has been forging stronger relationships between DDB and the other Omnicom agencies in the holding company, in order to more flexibly respond to the needs of  particular clients and projects. However, they are keen to ensure the rich DDB brand and culture remains at the forefront.

“The way DDB works with other sister agencies, and Omnicom is really important. We've got a brilliant relationship with the wider Omnicom group, but I want to keep driving that further. The advantage of Omnicom is that we've got strong brands that come together as a holding company, whereas [with] some of our competitors, I think it's all about the holding company; they don't care as much about the brands,” says Marty, “How we work with the media agencies and the precision marketing agencies and the PR agencies and the brand consulting group is going to be the key point of difference for us going forward. That's something Alex and I will be really championing - to make sure we can deliver the best-in-class expertise from Omnicom for all clients DDB is working with. That’s a huge focus, and it opens up enormous opportunity.”

Indeed, the strength of the DDB brand is a key part of what has attracted Alex to the role. In 2021, the network launched a new positioning, ‘Unexpected Works’, which underlined the network’s creative reputation and married it with a focus on effectiveness. It also started implementing its four freedoms cultural philosophy. 

“I think the thing that's most impressive is how consistent attitudinally DDB is around the globe,” says Alex. He enthuses about the strength of the various markets around the world, noting that while some networks tend to over-focus on North America or Europe, DDB has a strong presence in markets like India, Singapore, Brazil (and across the Latin American region) and Australia. Alex suspects that the strong culture and brand have done a lot to pull the global network together, ensuring the regions are pulling in the same direction. “It is truly a joined up philosophy that everybody buys into. I think sometimes our industry doesn't appreciate how difficult it is to truly be global and also be great on the ground, in local markets. And DDB does that in spades.”

And as Alex plunges into the new role, he foresees an intense few weeks or months ahead as he gets to know that culture, and the people around the world who bring it to life.

“Listening is essential, especially when you first arrive at a job - and a job of this magnitude. I think a lot of the early stage will be spent listening to our clients, listening to our people and listening to the nuances in the different markets so that I have a real understanding of where there is great strength and where there is opportunity to do more. I think that'll be a big focus and it'll require travelling much of the world, I imagine,” he says. “But, I'm looking forward to that.”

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DDB Worldwide, Tue, 06 Sep 2022 17:28:00 GMT