Devika Bulchandani looks to Ogilvy's future as she prepares to exit McCann after 2 decades
As Devika Bulchandani prepares to leave Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann Worldgroup—where she spent 23 years, most recently as president of North America—to become CEO of WPP's Ogilvy North America, Ad Age caught up with her to reflect on 2020 and discuss what the future looks like for her new agency and the industry.
In November, it was announced that Bulchandani would join Ogilvy sometime in early 2021, helping to lead the agency through significant change. Earlier, in July, former longtime Deloitte executive Andy Main took up the post of global CEO, replacing Ogilvy Worldwide CEO-Chairman John Seifert, who announced his retirement after 41 years with the agency in April. Seifert's departure was part of a succession plan helmed by WPP CEO Mark Read, who has been working to strengthen the holding company's legacy creative agencies with digital expertise.
Bulchandani—who was also appointed global chairwoman of advertising for Ogilvy—will be responsible for leading the agency's core business across the U.S. and Canada, spanning advertising, brand and content, public relations and influence, experience, growth and innovation and health.
The following interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
You’ve been with McCann since 1997, overseeing notable campaigns like Mastercard’s Priceless ad slogan and Fearless Girl. You’ve obviously had a big impact on the agency. Why leave now?
On a personal level, 2020 has been a year that’s given us all perspective. On a professional level, it’s also a time when change is happening. It’s an interesting time for Ogilvy in that [leaders are determining] how to take this iconic brand and move it to the future. I wanted to take that leap with them.
Ogilvy is in the midst of major changes with Andy Main joining as global CEO from Deloitte. What do you think of Main and where Ogilvy is headed?
If you just look at the mashup of where Andy comes from and where I come from, look at the two backgrounds, that is a really interesting mashup of the future. Andy’s background is Deloitte and digital transformation, which is so important to our business going forward. Mine comes from creativity and building iconic brands. We’re going to need both those forces to move Ogilvy forward in a way only Ogilvy can do.
On an Ad Age Ad Lib podcast this year, WPP CEO Mark Read said “If I have one frustration, it’s still somehow that we’re seen as an old-fashioned advertising agency that’s being disrupted by Google and Facebook.” This is obviously not an issue unique to Ogilvy or WPP but to creative ad agencies in general. How do you change that perception?
It’s kind of funny asking that question of us when we’re the experts on doing that for our clients. The same principles can be applied for us. The best way to change perceptions is through actions; by bringing new value to our clients. One of the things that was really appealing to me about Ogilvy from a capability standpoint is the incredible breadth of capabilities it has, from creative to digital transformation to PR to the health vertical. The capabilities sitting in-house are excellent. What we have to do is bring them to bear for clients. Not in silos. In a seamless manner.
What do you think of the consolidation that has been happening within WPP? With the recent merger of Grey and AKQA, Ogilvy is really the last legacy creative agency that hasn’t been merged with anything else.
I haven’t gotten there yet so I don’t have any insider’s view on WPP. What I will say is Ogilvy has all the capabilities our clients need today. And what we don’t have, Andy, Mark and I have talked about it, we will build [in-house]. What we need to do a better job of, and the task at hand for Andy and me, is how to deliver [those capabilities] to our clients in a seamless manner with creativity at the heart.
What are you expecting in terms of creative trends in 2021? Any long-term impacts from the pandemic you expect to stick?
Creativity is a value. It’s a mindset. It’s an approach to solving problems. The problems that clients are facing are so different. We can use the power of creativity to solve any one of those problems. We need to be thinking about the technology capability we have, then the data capability we have, then the physical experience capability we have. That is a powerful combination. I don’t think of creativity as ‘what’s the trend?’ I think of it as how do we bring the value of creativity to all the unique touchpoints we have today. We tend to think of creativity through a channel orientation but really what we have to look at is creativity from a human perspective. What is going to move people?
What has your experience been running McCann in a pandemic?
It’s been a lesson in crisis management. Not one leader was prepared for it. But if it showed me anything, it’s the power of human resilience. I will say one thing about our industry. If you have a problem, there’s no better [group] to have than advertising people. We’re the most resourceful people. When you talk about being able to problem-solve, there has to be a level of caring for what’s happening in culture. And what happened this year was not just a pandemic but unrest over social injustice issues. As an industry, we have a lot of work internally to do and with our clients to help make the world a better place for every single person.
How are you working to improve diversity, equity and inclusion for all people, internally and with clients?
There are two sides to the coin. One is internally in respect to what we do with our own people. We have to make sure we have the right voices and perspectives at the table. One one hand, it’s the right thing to do from a human perspective but it’s also better for our product to bring diverse perspectives to the table. The second obviously is how we are using the same principles and applying them to the product we put out for our clients through our creative work, and how we are not harkening back to the power structures of the past but breaking new ground and creating representation and new narratives that are much more reflective of a just world.
How are you thinking about moving into a new role during a pandemic? Any discussions on returning to the office?
I don’t officially start for a few months now. The good news is there are conversations about a vaccine. But I don’t think anyone is going back to the office in the old ways we once did. The future of the workplace will be different and that’s a good thing. Never let a crisis go to waste. Of course, I still see the benefit of being and collaborating together but how we do that will evolve and those conversations are being had.
I’ve been thinking about what it takes to make Ogilvy the best agency on the planet. I think there are four areas of focus. First is clients, everything starts with our clients. We have to make sure we are delivering for clients what their businesses need. The second is internal culture, which is very, very important. As I’m talking to more people at Ogilvy, I’m figuring out how we make the culture always admired. How do we make the culture shine? The third is capabilities and the fourth is creativity. If we can focus on those four pillars, the four Cs, magic can happen.
You mention culture. It’s been an interesting trend to watch as agencies seem to move away from these founder-led cultures built around the David Ogilvys of the industry. How are you thinking about that in terms of positioning Ogilvy going forward?
Every brand has a sewn-in DNA. It’s about keeping that sewn-in DNA. It’s not about backward-looking but how to keep it moving forward. I don’t think David Ogilvy himself ever rested on one thing. He constantly moved the Ogilvy culture and capabilities forward. We have to do the same thing; keep taking the DNA of that culture, the beauty of it, and move it forward.