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By Leah Montebello
Mat Mildenhall, Chief Client Officer at eg+ worldwide, discusses flipping the production model, tech driven content creation, a global network of -in-market’ experts and the benefits to marketing procurement.
“Flipping the production model turns things on their head. We have taken the mindset and capabilities that are really strong in production and brought this to the front to provide clients with a new agency model”
Mat Mildenhall started his career with PwC before spending a number of years at global digital and creative agencies, notably Proximity and BBDO. His experience spanned agency acquisitions and was part of the leadership team that grew Proximity over 250% in six years. From there Mildenhall moved to New York taking on the global client lead roles for BBDO and Omnicom with P&G and Visa.
In the Summer of 2017, Mildenhall was ready to take on his next challenge and became Chief Client Officer of eg+ worldwide. He explains, “I had known of eg+ for 10ish years before I joined the team. There were two things that really attracted me to the agency: a really interesting set of capabilities and, most important of all, a really wonderful group of people.”
Success during uncertainty
From a client perspective, Mildenhall says the past 18 months has been a remarkable time for eg+. Despite being able to count in-person meetings with clients on single hands, Mildenhall speaks of how he and his eg+ teammates feel a lot closer with their clients, “We’ve spent more time in client kitchens than would ever be the case, and we’ve rolled up our sleeves together like never before.”
Not only has eg+ been able to either maintain or grow virtually every key client relationship, but they have also gained 12 new global client partnerships since the pandemic. Even more impressively, eg+ had a success record in pitches and reviews of 80%: an awesome figure for a world that has been so uncertain and turbulent.
This success is something that Mildenhall attributes to three things. First, eg+’s clear value proposition, “We know what we do well, we don’t stray further.” Second, eg+ places a strong focus on earning trust and building relationships with clients, “some production based agencies are great at the craft, but fall short when it comes to making clients lives easier, truly caring and thinking around corners with clients.” Third, the use of flexible and highly responsive operating models that are specific to each client, “it’s night and day when compared to more traditional agency models.”
Flipping the production model
Unlike some agencies and consultancies who claim to do pretty much everything, eg+ focuses on four key capabilities: content production, content adaptation (including localisation), content development and content optimisation. These are powered by over 2,000 eg+ people across 26 onshore and offshore offices, alongside 2600+ creatives in over 80 countries.
This razor-sharp focus has proven crucial for eg+ as they’ve helped clients navigate through the “what we refer to as our clients ‘ever-more’ challenges … ever more effective content, ever more quickly, ever more efficiently.”
Central to addressing this challenge, Mildenhall talks about “flipping the production model.” He continues, “Production was always the end of the chain when I worked in creative agencies. It was the final slides in the presentation, if time allowed. Flipping the production model turns this on its head. We have taken the mindset and capabilities that are really strong in production and brought this to the front to provide clients with a new agency model.”
Mildenhall describes three examples of this coming to life with major brands. First, where eg+ helps clients maximise the potential of the creative ideas developed by lead creative agencies or internal agency teams. Amplifying ideas across audiences, geographies and channels with in-market testing and optimisation of content. Second, how eg+ makes their clients’ lives easier with technology platforms such as “Cradle Shop” to brief, review and approve work. Third, how eg+ provide constant tracking and measurement, providing clients with useful data and insights into their asset use, effectiveness and ways of working.
“This is not about incremental changes to the agency model, nor is it lip service. It’s a totally fresh approach and it’s real.”
The model that Mildenhall describes benefits marketing procurement as much as it does marketers. “Flipping the model helps marketers and procurement alike. Marketers and procurement may come at things from different angles, but they share the ‘ever more’ challenges – ever more content needed, ever more quickly, and ever more efficiently. And that’s where we can help drive real change and impact.”
A fundamentally different client base and no ‘cookie cutter’ solution
The face of their client base has changed since eg+ was first formed in 2014. At the start, most of their work was with or via agencies. Today, Mildenhall states that over 80% of their work is direct to clients and brands. A big part of this shift is due to the growing maturity of the production services industry, where brands appreciate the value that companies like eg+ can bring. It also reflects how eg+ has nurtured its long-term relationships. Indeed, of eg+’s top 20 clients, the majority of the relationships are well over five years old.
With 26 offices and over 2,000 people around the world, eg+ has capabilities and talent across the globe. Mildenhall says, “But it’s not about flags on a map, it’s about how we connect our distributed talent in the right way for each client.” This flexibility and fluidity make its offering an appealing one. The fact that these ways of working and connecting technologies were in place before the pandemic was a huge help when COVID-19 hit.
Mildenhall is passionate when he says the model they offer clients is “never, never cookie cutter” and different clients will have different models. As Mildenhall explains, “It is always an operating model that is driven by the brand and clients’ needs versus our needs. That’s how we win together.”
The smart use of technologies falls into two categories
Mildenhall discusses how he thinks opportunities in technology fall into two broad categories.
The first is the potential for production and content technologies to be used to do things better, faster and at a higher quality. Examples include production automation, DCO, 3D, CGI and the use of AI tracking the effectiveness and use of content. “3D and CGI is something we’re really excited about, especially as the use of the gaming technology platforms opens the doors to CGI for categories for whom it was previously off limits.”
The second category is the “uberfication” of ways of working. Mildenhall explains, “We are constantly thinking about how we can take away friction and make lives easier for our clients and employees.” For example, Mildenhall says eg+ continues to invest in tech platforms that help clients brief, review and annotate, and approve work. “Let’s not forget clients are real people! They shop online, order taxis on their phones, so we should be taking a similar mindset to make their work lives simpler and easier when working with our teams.”
Advice for Procurement when thinking about Production
Mildenhall says. “I’m not just saying this, but we love many of our procurement partners because they often help us get things organized and ship-shape.”
He has three pieces of advice for procurement partners.
First when reviewing production agency partners, Mildenhall’s advice is to spend time “making sure to understand the why”, that brands benefit the most when they are totally clear from the offset about what they are looking to achieve and build a shortlist of production partners on the basis of relevant research. He explains, “We have seen pitches with long lists of 80 agencies, which is not the best use of anyone’s time. You’ll learn so much more and be able to kick the tyres much better with a focused short list.”
His second advice is to make sure to build strong relationships with marketing leads. “Another word for procurement is change management, and this is so much more likely to succeed when marketing and procurement leads are rowing together.”
Third, continue to push for improved industry diversity. “Change is happening, but not yet enough. The responsibility is on agencies but there’s no doubt clients have a powerful ability to push for positive change. Please don’t stop pushing.”
Centrality of Diversity
Mildenhall thinks the tragedy that amplified the Black Lives Matter movement, the horrific crimes leading to calls to Stop Asian Hate, and other lightning rod events of the past 15 or so months had a resounding effect in the industry at large: “These shocking happenings forced us to open our eyes to longstanding unequal treatment.”
On diversity, the resounding message from Mildenhall was that “awareness has been raised, some progress has been made, but a heck of a lot more needs to be actually done and tracked.”
For eg+, this meant bringing in Denise Carter, a lawyer and culture management expert, as VP, Diversity and Communications. Denise reports directly to the global CEO and “is doing amazing work, making things happen,” says Mildenhall. These actions are focused in several key areas – improving cultural acumen through education, increasing agency diversity through improved hiring, promotion, and retention, increasing diverse supplier and vendor spending, and boosting pro bono initiatives. “Words matter, but actions make the biggest difference.”
If Not This, What and Why?
The last question we asked Mildenhall was what he might have loved as a different career. “A full-time job doing judo, without a doubt. It’s been part of who I am since I was 9 years old … I was just never good enough!”
Asked for a judo-agency parallel, Mildenhall responded “It teaches you to constantly adapt and it teaches you how to fall over and get back up with a smile, again and again. That’s pretty useful!”