Ogilvy PR's Graves adds a global perspective

Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide's new global CEO plans to use his international experience in both PR and media to build on the success of the agency.

From his desk at Ogilvy PR Worldwide's offices in New York, Christopher Graves, global CEO, can see the building where The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is filmed.

He recalls starting his career in that building as a producer for Business Times, a daily cable news show, in the early 1980s. Over the next 20 years, his career spanned both the editorial and business sides of the news industry at places such as Dow Jones and CNBC. He worked across print, online, and TV media.

In 2005, he joined Ogilvy as president and CEO of Asia-Pacific. Under his leadership, the firm doubled in size in the region. Just four years later, Ogilvy named Graves to his current post, effective January 1, 2010. He succeeds Marcia Silverman, who is now chair.

His plans are rooted in his global experience, background in content creation, and belief in developing employees as specialists.

"He understood what's happening in the world," says Miles Young, CEO of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide. "He got great insight and understanding into the world of government, politics, and economics. Ultimately, that's what strategic PR feeds off of."

Young, like Graves, worked in Asia-Pacific before being named global CEO of Ogilvy & Mather, Ogilvy's parent company. When he introduced Graves to Ogilvy's family of firms in 2005, it was a new challenge for Graves, a shift from his years with Dow Jones.

"Mine is a global experience," he explains. "I think I can add there where others would not have the same experience."

Graves is a sharp contrast to PR veteran Silverman, who has been in the industry for three decades. While he is eager to build and expand on the global network led by Silverman since 2002, he is adamant that the nature of Ogilvy will not change.

"We'll keep that sort of rebellious nature of the work," he says. "From a core values point of view, there will be no changes at all. I just have to aim to be as good on the warmth and respect side. But I think she's got 30 years experience in the business. I have five."

Investing in the staff

Graves has a handful of goals for Ogilvy, a WPP Group firm often recognized for its social marketing work in the government sector and digital influence practice, as well as it top-tier client roster. It employs around 1,700 people in 70 markets.

One of his top priorities is to change the way the firm invests in training and education for its employees, especially at the junior and mid level. It's a crucial step for Ogilvy to take and maintain, Graves notes, despite the economic uncertainties facing the industry.

"We must invest in people," he says. "Other firms do a good job, too, but I want to be the best at it."

In Asia, Graves added a regional director of training and development, who teaches employees about account servicing, situational leadership, and Emergenetics, a tool used to create a profile of an individual's behavior and thinking. He also instituted teaching workshops on creativity, storytelling, crisis training, and investigative reporting techniques.

He plans to introduce such training practices globally, as well as create a post for a global head of training and development in 2010.

Graves sees a huge payoff if Ogilvy can invest more in its people. A staff of specialists and experts can define how the firm will grow, whether globally or by practice area, and the clients they will bring in for years to come.

He also wants to bolster Ogilvy's presence in Europe, be it through acquisition or organic growth. Graves is clear that he isn't interested in buying a firm that looks like Ogilvy; he views acquisition as a way to fill a gap the firm cannot organically fill within a few years.

"He really understands the business," says Silverman. "He's just got energy coming out of his ears. His dynamic approach to everything is exhilarating."

Christophe Bezu, CEO of Adidas Asia- Pacific, worked with Graves in Hong Kong. The firm provided support for the brand in China, as well as during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, but what stands out to Bezu is the way that Graves shaped the firm in Asia-Pacific.

"He definitely turned Ogilvy into a much more proactive organization," says Bezu. "It is much more transactional and much more 'feet on the ground.'"

When Graves looks at the types of clients and work the firm wants to have, he sees the need for a truly global network that can include not just Ogilvy, but sister WPP agencies.

He points to Ford, a client that works with Ogilvy as well as other WPP firms on a global scale, and the success in sales and reputation that the automotive company had in 2009.

"That's an example of not only crossing borders with an Ogilvy, but across agencies within WPP, across disciplines," explains Graves. "I think that's part of the future for giant clients."

But, using a global network to its fullest extent is an issue many large agencies face.

During his tenure in Asia-Pacific, Graves implemented a knowledge management system that provides employees access to information about the company, pitches on a regional and global basis, and cases studies organized by client and office.

He also created a post for a knowledge manager who publishes a usage chart to provide agency leaders with information about which employees are using the system. It's something he hopes to carry over on a global level.

"You need not just the online tools to do that in traditional knowledge management, which Ogilvy is going to put a huge emphasis on," says Graves. "You also must build the cultural norms and the mindset. You've got to be the line leadership that makes sure your people know how to use it and then do use it."

But, part of his challenge will be nurturing the creative side that is synonymous with the Ogilvy name and the need for that creativity to intersect with effectiveness.

"If you have creativity alone, you might be seen as a hot shop, but may not be driving sales or reputation," he says. "Clients want you to be accountable for what they're paying you."

As the media landscape continues to change, so will the role of the PR practitioner. Content creation is very much part of the future of the industry and Graves' experience is very relevant for the task, notes Silverman.

"I think we will become a content creator," adds Graves. "We must become adept at [making] credible content for clients - content that creates conversations, that's interesting."

Despite economic challenges, Graves expects the firm's 2009 results to be only "slightly off" 2008, which was considered a record year for Ogilvy. Yet, he remains cautious.

"I think we're going to be very conservative going into 2010," he says. "We would like to be wrong on the upside. We are not planning on a giant year in 2010. We're planning on still a very slow economy, low to no growth."

This understanding of news and business, of content creation and creativity, of the importance of a global network, has shaped Graves' view on the future of Ogilvy and the industry.

"Chris has been around the world and has examined business closely during his years in journalism," says former colleague John Bussey, the Washington bureau chief for the The Wall Street Journal, by e-mail. "He's had a lot of practice figuring things out, connecting dots, and then presenting a clear explanation or solution."

Areas of growth at Ogilvy

Islamic branding

The Islamic market is a growth opportunity for Ogilvy, especially given its global nature, in part because it's a market not yet influenced by global or Western PR practices

Social marketing

Long considered a strength for Ogilvy in the US, Silverman and Graves hope to grow the practice on a global level as more markets and regions take a look at the role of marketing and PR efforts within social responsibility

Healthcare

The firm wants to expand the impact of its healthcare practice in New York to regions in Asia and Europe. It's a practice area that Graves truly "believes in"

January 2010-present

Ogilvy PR Worldwide, global CEO

January 2005-December 2009

Ogilvy, president and CEO of Asia-Pacific

August 2002-January 2005

Far Eastern Economic Review (Dow Jones), MD

August 2000-August 2002

Dow Jones Consumer Electronic Publishing, MD, business development - EMEA and Asia

September 1998-August 2000

CNBC Europe, VP, news and programming

September 1993-September 1998

CNBC Asia, VP of news and programming

May 1987-September 1993

The Wall Street Journal, executive producer and head of TV division

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