Luca Gallarelli. Picture: SUPPLIED
Luca Gallarelli. Picture: SUPPLIED

At a time when the global advertising industry is in a state of flux, taking the operational helm of one of the country’s iconic agencies is no easy task.

But Luca Gallarelli, new MD of the Ogilvy group, says he’s more than up for the challenge. He’s been moved up the chain of command after five successful years running the Cape Town office, and most recently steered the agency to a Cannes Lions Grand Prix win for client Carling Black Label. Other big blue-chip accounts include Nestlé, Volkswagen and Unilever.

Gallarelli’s appointment has come as the group elected two new board members: Nkosinathi Biko as chair and Nonzukiso Siyotula. Biko is the former CEO of the Steve Biko Foundation and Siyotula was CEO of Thebe Capital. Biko takes over from Moss Mashishi, founder of investment firm the Matemeku Group.

Speaking to the FM, Gallarelli says he sees himself as a "connecter" of people and that integrating disciplines across a big agency group will be his biggest task. "The critical component is a desire and willingness to collaborate … Our refounded organisational structure, where we have pulled previously siloed teams into one [profit and loss centre], under single leadership teams, is getting us closer to where we want to be.

The ambition is to create a networked, integrated group across SA, underpinned with new technologies, to unleash the full power of close to 900 employees in all marketing services disciplines."

One of the dilemmas facing big network agencies is the growing threat from smaller shops that have specific and highly sought-after skills that can be offered at a fraction of the cost. Gallarelli notes: "It’s always been my intention to ensure that Ogilvy represents the best of both worlds — the energy, nimbleness and entrepreneurial spirit of independent agencies, allied to the scale, rigour, smarts and capabilities that Ogilvy worldwide brings."

A matter of standards

He’ll also have to deal with a growing skills shortage in the industry, particularly in the tech and digital space. "We’re lacking in two areas at opposite ends of the spectrum. The first is in the craft of the work. As an industry we’re grappling with the increased demands for delivering quality efficiently. In a world that seems to place greater value on pace than craft, we’re forgetting what world-class craft looks like. The second is at the sharp end of the data revolution. As an industry, we talk a good game in this space, but I haven’t seen much evidence that it is where it should be."

Does he have a view on the state of the industry in SA, and is it keeping up with the changing demands of marketers?

"We’re a resilient and determined bunch in SA and our industry is a fine example of this. Many SA agencies are leading the way within their global networks in driving change in their offices, becoming templates of sorts for their global organisations.

"But there is no question that we are at a major inflection point as an industry. Some agencies are dealing with these changes better than others. Some will thrive, others will struggle. New ones will emerge. As an industry, we have work to do."