Saying it in French
|Publicis boss Padraig Burns on why a move to new premises a short distance down the Liffey is reason to salute its French owner and end its ties with QMP|
As Padraig Burns takes a seat in one of the meeting room’s low-lying chairs he shares a client list and a copy of James Hurman’s book, The Case for Creativity extolling “two decades’ evidence of the link between imaginative marketing and commercial success”. The book is peppered with quotes from some of the world’s top admen, including the Bill Bernbach corker: “If your advertising goes unnoticed, everything else is academic”.
Message received. Burns may be ‘a suit’ but when it comes to creative quotes there’s no mouches on this Kerryman. He knows his Bartle Bogle Hegartys – “Our objective is effectiveness. Our strategy is creativity”- from his Jim Stengels: “We’d been through the dark ages. And then we had the enlightenment”. The interview turns to the Publicis client list, or, as the page’s heading notes, “our partners”, with Renault first off the grid.
Burns joined Publicis QMP in 2006 as deputy managing director to Tom Doherty. When Doherty left, he took over in November 2010. Pragmatic in style, he keeps his cards close to his chest and gives little away. If he had chosen advertising as a career, he reckons he would have liked to have done something involving travel, perhaps a travel writer. With his diplomatic skills, a job as a UN ambassador may have been more appropriate.
The Publicis mantra is “prosper through creativity” and that is why clients like Cadbury, IDA Ireland and Hostelworld.com hired them. Agencies may yearn recognition – they want to be loved, but Burns asks what is it they want recognition for from clients. It should be good work. “It’s possible to meet both agendas,” he says. “At the heart of it, our clients’ brands flourish and we’re able to take pride in what we do.” He refers to a recent better place to work survey and how the agency scored really well in the audit.
Burns adopts a hands-on approach to management, as he believes to do otherwise would be foolhardy, tantamount to living in an ivory tower. With all the changes in the business and digital playing such an important role it’s essential, he says. He and Jimmy Murphy share the accounts. Publicis acquired Murphy’s The Hive agency, which saw Barnardos and News International, along with five staff, join the ranks around this time last year.
FBD is one of the agency’s longest-standing accounts. It was put out to pitch last year but they held on to it. “We’ve a good record of retaining long-term accounts,” Burns says. “In the last two years we’ve retained VHI, Spar, TG4 and FBD, all of which have been with us over ten years, which is most heartening.” Speaking of FBD, Publicis QMP earned wide acclaim for its NoNonsense car insurance ads.
While the award-winning TV ads may drive older women drivers mad, the ads achieved huge cut-through, thanks to the pun-loving Mags, voiced by actress Helen Norton.
Despite rumours to the contrary, they do not have Coca-Cola, unlike Publicis in London. They handle Tiger beer in Ireland, at a time when Rothco is pitching for its international account. They competed for the GAA with the incumbent Leo Burnett, but lost out to Target McConnells and along with Irish International they gave the Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) their best shot but saw it move to Chemistry from Cawley NeaTBWA.
So Publicis QMP has been busy on the pitch front. Burns firmly believes in the ‘you win some, you lose some’ credo. While it costs to compete for new business, the alternative is less attractive. The agency pitched for RTE with McCann Erickson and the incumbent, Cawley NeaTBWA. They had created award-winning work for TG4. Both broadcasters knew of the review in advance and were said to be happy with the new arrangement.
Based on its work for its Beamish stout, Heineken Ireland awarded Publicis QMP the Murphy’s account in January, previously with Cawley NeaTBWA. It handled Renault’s pioneering car scrappage scheme, a campaign which earned the brand’s marketing director, Julien Lelorrain, a final place in the Marketing.ie Marketer of the Year. Burns points at Nescafe, one of several clients won through its Groupe Publicis membership.
BURNS RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
Padraig Burns is circumspect about pitching for State business, given the experience adland had with Bus Eireann last year, when nine agencies were invited to present proposals. Publicis counts IDA Ireland among its accounts.
While at McConnells, Burns partnered Greg Jones on servicing the National Lottery for 12 years and “loved every minute of it”. So when Publicis QMP pitched for the account recently, he was reasonably upbeat about the chances of the agency getting the business. But because the Government is putting the lottery franchise out to tender he was not surprised that An Post decided to stay put and not to move it elsewhere for a year.
Pitching for the lottery prompted them to resign from pursuing Fáilte Ireland (which also ended up staying at DDFH&B-JWT). On the back of the lottery, Burns decided there was no point in going for the two of them as they would have been splitting resources. While making no comment about whether or not agencies go overboard with promises at new business pitches, agencies are guilty of talking of talking about themselves too much.
A native of Sneem, Co Kerry, Burns studied marketing at the University of Limerick. His first agency job was with Y&R in New York in 1989. After a year, he moved to Wells Rich Greene, now part of BDDP. Another year later, he returned to Ireland and joined Arks as account manager and worked on Guinness. After three years, he moved to McConnells. He spent 12 years at the agency.
Gaining access to client boardrooms is never a shoe-in for agencies. There are lots of reasons given why company directors put the ‘do not disturb’ sign up. But Burns is happy about how they got to the top tier at FBD to create NoNonsense brand and its wacky ads for Adrian Taheny and Bronagh Twomey. Eircom has a similar youth model with Meteor and 02 owner. Telefonica now has 48 Months.
Bad as things are in adland, the agency has not had to let any staff go since 2008. They now have 55 employees. “The procurement department has more power than ever before,” he says. “It’s taking a lot longer for clients to make decisions because everything has to go through the finance department. The lottery process went on for six months.”
While they say you should never have two captains on a ship, Publicis boasts three creative directors. Without the proper balance, the number of ICAD and Sharks show awards won by Carol Lambert, Ronan Nulty and Ger Rowe is enough to capsize any ocean liner. TG4 was the big winner last year for its Seven Signatures Easter 1916 Rising ads, taking top gongs at the National Newspapers of Ireland (NNI) awards and in Kinsale.
Burns is on the board on the Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland (IAPI). He believes IAPI does a lot behind the scenes which it does not always get credit and admits the big challenges with food and drink advertising lie ahead. An action plan is in place to tackle the findings of the Genesis report. He was on the interview panel for the chief executive post. He looks forward to working with the institute’s new chief executive, Tania Banotti, a strong lobbyist and someone with a firm grasp of Irish media.
More guarded than an A-list celeb, Burns was reluctant to say what the agency was pitching for at the time of press. Queries about what business they might be tendering for were met with a firm “no comment”. Accounts up for review in recent days included Bord na Mona, which is with Cawley NeaTBWA. DoneDeal saw Ogilvy, McCann Erickson and Target McConnells and Publicis clinched it.
Burns believes pitch doctors bring professionalism to agency reviews. QMP co-founder Conor Quinn now runs Empirica with Claire Cluskey, while Brian Sparks represents Agency Assessments in Ireland. He would love to see agencies being paid for pitches, apart, of course, from the agency that wins the business. He mentions Fáilte Ireland again and cites resources as the reason they pulled out.
The Publicis directors have a major stake in PR firm Pembroke Communications, run by Michael O’Keeffe and Publicis D, run by John Canacott. From the original QMP, Quinn left the agency in 2005, Charlie McDonnell died and Terry Pattison retired. From the time the agency was on Leeson Street, only group financial director, Padraig Moran and print production boss, Dave Wright, are still around.
Burns and all Publicis group staff are looking forward to moving to their new home, just a skip and a jump down the quay. When all the renovations are completed, in June, all going well, they will occupy the fourth floor in The Observatory building, what was the old Display Contracts premises, just around the corner from Windmill Lane Studios. Morgan Stanley will be on the floor above them, so they will be in good company.
He says adland has changed beyond recognition. When Burns came back to Ireland from New York in 1991, he was struck by what he left behind. With so many resources at its disposal, Madison Avenue was amazingly slick. Due to the size of the Irish market, the same tools were not here; unlike today’s global set-up, where you would have to search long and hard to find a young Facebook user who understands “agency commission”.
Burns says people get into advertising because they find it interesting, it offers variety and it’s fun. Yes, he says, despite all the austerity, it is a still a great business to work in – maybe no longer the career that offers the most fun one can have fully dressed, but fun nonetheless. “It’s tough in a recession when people are worried about their jobs, but we have fun here,” he adds. You’re professional about your job but you still make time to have some fun.”
As they say in France, sante et bien etre.
- In an interview with Michael Cullen