Ogilvy Chief Data Officer Role May Be Sign of Things to Come

Agencies Will Have to Change the Way They Do Business

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Todd Cullen, Ogilvy & Mather
Todd Cullen, Ogilvy & Mather

Is the chief data officer an addition to the agency C-suite that will stick? Ogilvy & Mather is among the first agencies to create a CDO role, as the influx of data and modern approaches to analytics change how agencies do business and serve their clients. The company has hired former Acxiom exec Todd Cullen as its global chief data officer reporting to Miles Young, worldwide chairman and CEO at the WPP-owned shop.

Forward-thinking agencies such as Ogilvy already have plenty of people focused on analytics and how consumer data can benefit clients. However, Mr. Cullen is charged with creating standards for using data that can be applied across the organization and across the globe.

"The approach here is not so much can they build a data and analytics capability; the difference here is the opportunity to scale it globally," said Mr. Cullen, speaking from his home in Little Rock, Arkansas, home to data giant Acxiom.

Mr. Cullen worked at Acxiom for around nine years, and left the firm in September 2012. While there, he most recently led its global data products division, which involved sourcing data, developing data products, commercializing them through sales and fostering distribution partnerships. He also led one of Acxiom's first marketing strategy consulting teams, and helped facilitate Acxiom's relationship with digital data firm BlueKai, which offers offline data from Acxiom for online targeting.

The CDO concept is not a new one, though it's a relatively novel role in the agency realm. Wunderman, a WPP agency with a direct-marketing pedigree, has a chief data officer, Andrew Rutberg, who hailed from data-services firm Harte Hanks.

In some cases, the CDO is in charge of figuring out how to use the information generated by an enterprise, and sometimes how to create revenue streams from that data. "The CDO's job is to find new digital revenue from existing physical assets," wrote Peter Sondergaard, global head of Gartner Research in an August 15 blog post. "The CDO guides the organization from not knowing what they don't know about the data locked in their assets to actually doing something about what they know."

CDOs are no strangers to Wall Street. Big banks such as Citi and Bank of America have them. Samsung Telecommunications America has a chief data officer. So do innovative municipalities like Philadelphia.

Mr. Cullen is in the process of formulating an overarching plan for his new role, but he has a basic set of themes he expects will be his main focus. He'll help advise clients on their strategies for gathering and acquiring data and standardizing collection, and will also assist them in securing data from outside sources. However, he cautioned, "It's impossible and probably unnecessary to collect all third party data."

He'll also help develop advanced analytics, approaches to predictive modeling and cross-channel data applications to be disseminated across the Ogilvy universe. The overall idea is to take what Ogilvy has done on an individual case basis for clients and scale it for use throughout the organization.

In addition, Mr. Cullen will handle data rights management, governance, and use cases. "Privacy, compliance and security are definitely…part of this remit."

Ogilvy has made a name for itself as a data-centric agency in part through OgilvyOne New York's Managing Director Dimitri Maex, author of "Sexy Little Numbers," a book about growing business through consumer data.

"I had worked with and had a connection to Dmitri, so I've been on as a consultant for a few weeks," said Mr. Cullen, who expects to start officially in the CDO role at the end of this month.

The question remains whether agency C-suites are getting too cluttered with potentially overlapping roles. Mr. Cullen downplayed that notion. "I don't see that here because my mates in the C-suite are all fairly domain specific."

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