Six Questions for DraftFCB's New CEO Carter Murray

Exec Chats About Agency's Reputation and His Thoughts on Adland's Biggest Merger

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Carter Murray
Carter Murray

Carter Murray was hired as DraftFCB's new CEO in March, but has been sitting on the sidelines for the past six months, thanks to a previous employment contract at WPP's Y&R.

As of this week, Mr. Murray -- who previously spent a combined dozen years at Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett and Publicis -- has officially started in the post. And all eyes are on him to see what changes he'll make at the Interpublic Group of Cos. network, one of the holding company's biggest and most important assets.

He doesn't seem to be wasting any time making his presence felt throughout the network, by making senior appointments and meeting with key clients. Mr. Murray today named Jonathan Harries -- who was planning on leaving DraftFCB at the end of the year -- the agency's global chief creative officer, a reprisal of the role for Mr. Harries. He also named Elyssa Phillips, exec VP-worldwide creative manager, the agency's chief of staff.

Ad Age caught up with the exec, who was in Germany visiting a client on his third day on the job. He talked about his priorities in the coming months, DraftFCB's reputation in the marketplace and his thoughts on adland's biggest merger.

Ad Age: When it comes to agencies, just like with brands, the perception and reputation in the marketplace matters a lot and impacts who wants to hire you as well as what sort of talent the agency can attract. Do you think the reputation of DraftFCB in the marketplace matches the reality?

Mr. Murray: I think I can answer that better after I've been here for three or four months. What I'm seeing early on is a globaI company with many different teams and officers, in different places, with different reputations. Overall, in the early client contact that I've had, I've been getting very positive feedback. Obviously, one of the things you want to do is to make sure you have a good reputation, but the most important thing for me is to make sure that the people at the agency enjoy what they do, we have clients that respect the product we get out the door and that there is a real relationship of trust and partnership. The work speaks for itself; that's the most important thing. Reputation is something we want to have, always -- we're striving to have the best reputation we can. But my first priority is to look after our clients and make sure we're really helping them on their business, and really making sure that the people who are working here are happy and are motivated to be working here.

Ad Age: What do you personally need to focus on with regards to improving the agency's reputation?

Mr. Murray: For me, I think it's a cart and horse. I need to focus on the people, clients and work and let the reputation take care of itself, rather than worry about the reputation and have the good and the bad direct what we do. My focus is really going to be on the clients and the team here and what our purpose is as a global company, and making sure we really deliver it. And then I'll focus on what that will do to our reputation.

Ad Age: Why recruit Jonathan Harries back into the global chief creative role, and go with someone older, more experienced and internal rather than someone younger and external?

Mr. Murray: It's funny, the age thing. He's younger in spirit than I am…[age] actually never entered my mind...nor should it. It was of those decisions, you only have to have one meeting with him to understand the type of person he is, his passion for the work...what the challenge and what the opportunity is from a creative perspective. For me, the debate is always what is the role of a chief creative officer. And his role of being a real partner to our global clients, inspiring and mentoring very talented strong local creative talent -- that is exactly what Jonathan has. Finding a good new person from outside and being rigorous in the process would take a considerable period of time. When I meet somebody who is overqualified for the job, who I get [along well] with, who I hear nothing but brilliant things about in my first few days calling clients, meeting the teams -- when it's a no brainer decision, then it's the right one. I never saw the need to go outside.

Ad Age: After a new business lull, the agency managed to reel in three new accounts over the past several months -- all while you were on leave and unable to come aboard as CEO. What does that say?

Mr. Murray: There was a period of limbo. We're in a talent business. and we have some people in the company that are entrepreneurial, and sometimes when you need people to get on with it you get good results. And clearly what's happened; there are teams around in the last three or four months who have been waiting for me to arrive and have been getting on with things and those are the results. What I need to do is understand why those people have been winning...and make sure we [improve] in the places where we're not [winning] and be more consistent.

Ad Age: What are some priority categories in new business for you?

Mr. Murray: The obvious one is -- we were so proud of SC Johnson and the relationship we had with them for so many years, and it's heartbreaking that client's no longer here. But as we look forward, that expertise in this company is now something we have to see how we reapply. That category is something we'll definitely be looking at.

I also want to sit down with the main managers in the main markets and the new business team and come up with a very focused list of who we're chasing and why. The key thing is that we find people who are like-minded and clients where we feel we can really make a difference and they're a good fit.

The beer brand experience runs deep in DraftFCB, and so it's important for us to have a ber client in the U.S., in particular because of our experience. When I look at that experience and that passion, I think we need to channel. It's a shame the MillerCoors relationship moved, but we've still got but we've still got real passion and credibility in that space, and we'll be exploring what we can do in the beer category, especially with the creative inroads we're starting to make. We can actually make a difference for a client in that category.

Ad Age: Having worked at Publicis for a long time, what are your thoughts on the merger with Omnicom and how it will reshape adland? Is it a good thing for the industry or not?

Mr. Murray: That's the multi-billion dollar question. I don't know John Wren, but I know Maurice Levy from having worked at Publicis, and I think he's quite extraordinary, and you underestimate him at your own peril.

I think it's really interesting, the merger. You can see some obvious benefits. It's an advantage for us, because when you start having these gargantuan holding companies, and we're in a talent business, it allows us as we think about our DraftFCB story to make sure that it's very much about personalized care and attention from the very top of the company down where we have the time to do that. And it's a lot easier to create a culture with 8,000 people than it is with 140,000 people.

We're all trying to absorb what that merger means for us. As we look to the future and who we want to be moving forward, we have some real opportunity to make ourselves different from those larger holding companies and even more compelling, and frankly, attract new clients because of that.

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