Melissa Daniels. Picture: Supplied
Melissa Daniels. Picture: Supplied

DDB SA is one of those ad agencies that is either on the ropes or dancing in the middle of the ring with hands clenched high. At one point it held prestigious accounts like McDonald’s and FNB and then it experienced a few dry years as a rebuilding phase began.

That process is now being accelerated by the appointment of Melissa Daniels as the new CEO of DDB SA. She takes over from long-standing boss Emmet O’Hanlon.

There is no doubt that Daniels has big shoes to fill taking over from O’Hanlon, who joined DDB almost 20 years ago. Along with then partner Glen Lomas — still with the agency group in London — they transformed the business from a boutique shop with an eccentric reputation to a real powerhouse.

O’Hanlon joined as head of strategy, eventually taking over the business when Lomas returned to the UK. Under his stewardship the agency won a local Apex Grand Prix for its "FNB Switch — Beating the Beep out of Beep Bank" and later a Cannes Lions Grand Prix for its "Never let their toys die" campaign for Eveready.

Another coup was winning the giant Telkom account, but then it took it on the chin after losing the Unilever business through a global realignment. Current badge accounts include a portion of the Edcon business, Honda and Plascon.

Daniels was previously chief of staff at TBWA\SA. She tells the FM she is looking forward to building on the agency’s legacy of effectiveness and creativity.

DDB is part of the US-based Omnicom Group. Daniels has some clear thoughts as to how advertising needs to evolve in the next five years. "As in virtually every other industry, in advertising we have a habit of talking about the dramatic changes and nervously trying to pre-empt the evolutionary path ahead.

Emmet O’Hanlon. Picture: Supplied
Emmet O’Hanlon. Picture: Supplied

"There are several key areas where change is exponential. Technology and connectivity will continue to shape the way we live, consume, share and connect and will directly influence the way we engage with advertising, with branded communication and with our clients and their customers’ expectations.

"The known is that advertising is no longer one-way mass communication. The unknown is how niche customer segments will evolve our approach.

"We already suspect that the age of the influencer has begun to wane. So what next?"

Daniels believes the mediums through which customers engage, explore and transact are collapsing — "a phenomenon that is forcing us to look at the entire value chain of customer experience.

"If we fail to do this, we will miss key engagement points for the brands we manage."

She will also be engaged in the services insource-outsource debate.

Daniels says that as clients continue to seek better value and demand more for their budgets, the question arises whether to insource or outsource agency resources. It is fair to say that most clients are becoming a lot more insistent that creativity must translate into business results, and must do so in a cost-effective manner. As with any business operating in a strained economy, our clients’ budgets are under pressure and, as a result, agencies find themselves forced to relook at their business models and to lean into models we would have previously shied away from — like providing our clients with insourced resource options."

It’s also worth asking if the traditional agency model still has relevance in SA.

She thinks it does. "The traditional agency model still has a place for traditional clients with conventional needs, anywhere in the world. But the fact is that our clients face accelerated change daily, rather than change that takes place quarterly or annually. Accelerated change is driving all of us to relook at the value we deliver."

Daniels says her new focus will be on digital excellence. "Currently, 60% of the agency’s outputs are digital-based.

"We aim to improve on this by investing heavily in technology that will allow us to tap into consumers in real time, access research through artificial intelligence, and empower our teams to be more agile."

Apart from rebuilding the agency, Daniels also has to win back currency from the marketing community. In essence DDB has to be a first consideration when it comes to brands compiling agency lists to pitch for business.

While the digital-first strategy is laudable, she’ll also have to rebuild the agency’s creative pedigree and win more awards. One leading marketing director says: "Frankly I’d forgotten they exist. To impress me, I need exciting work and more of the noise they used to make."