Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

The new man in charge of the TBWA advertising and communications group is an active weekend surfer and he’ll need all his longboard skills in 2017 to ride what is shaping up to be a gnarly industry year.

Sean Donovan replaces as group CEO the well-respected Derek Bouwer, who quietly left the organisation late last year.

The TBWA group includes the advertising agencies Hunt Lascaris and OpenCo, strategy and research agency Yellowwood, design agency Grid, public relations agency Magna Carta and specialist marketing agency HDI Youth Marketeers.

Donovan is a brand and strategy expert. He has worked in the financial services industry and joined TBWA six years ago, co-founding and running sister agency OpenCo, and most recently running the group’s three coastal agencies before being given the big job. He will continue to look after those operations, keeping a close eye on the Spar account, which is run out of Durban and remains one of the jewels in the group’s account line-up.

TBWA co-founder Reg Lascaris says Donovan has an “appetite for work and full-on engagement” and his promotion was a logical progression.

Speaking to the Financial Mail, Donovan says he has inherited a company with a rich history, one still seen as a creative heavyweight, and with strong section leaders.

The group was placed third in the Loeries creative rankings in 2016.

Donovan says his key focus will be adapting TBWA’s new global client-service strategy of agility and speed to the SA business, which includes big accounts such as Standard Bank and Tiger Brands. The Financial Mail’s AdFocus 2016 had TBWA SA’s annual revenue in the R200m-R250m band, with just on 60 clients and a staff complement of 215.

Donovan, who is already implementing a 100-day plan, says his key mantra will be getting the business to “respond at the speed of culture”. Part of that plan includes accelerating a transformation agenda across the group, hiring outside skills, putting data at the core of the agencies’ operations and expanding partnerships with sister
agencies in Europe, the Middle East and
the rest of Africa.

Donovan says an immediate priority will be to refocus on transformation and ownership, and allocation of management equity to take the group to a BEE level one or two company.

He acknowledges the group is a little behind its competitors when it comes to digital and data analytics capability after a flurry of acquisitions of specialist agencies by rivals in recent years.

“But we are growing that side of the operation quickly and also working with a specialist Abu Dhabi-based TBWA team,”
he says.

Over the years an awkward question for those running the TBWA group has been the relationship between the CEO and founders Lascaris and John Hunt. Donovan concedes their shadows loom large, but says he has been given all the room he needs to operate.

“Both are happy to give advice and are keen to understand.”

Donovan describes his management style as “empowering and democratic”, believing if leaders are in their position they should be able to do their job.

He will be based in KwaZulu Natal and commute weekly to Johannesburg, giving him a little spare time to ride the waves.

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