AOY '08: Q&A With TBWA's Tom Carroll


In 2008, TBWA, Adweek's Global Agency of the Year (see main story), became Visa's lead global agency, landed PepsiCo's flagship brand in the U.S. and, through a partnership with fellow Omnicom Group units Critical Mass and 180, became Adidas' lead shop for global digital duties. In a 90-minute conversation with Adweek senior reporter Andrew McMains, TBWA worldwide CEO Tom Carroll reflected on those marquee wins, why the Playa del Rey, Calif., office is the "driving force" of the network, Omnicom's influence on the shop, and why Crispin Porter + Bogusky reminds him of the old Chiat/Day.

Adweek: The Visa and Adidas wins were the product of collaboration among TBWA offices, subsidiaries and other Omnicom units. Could that have been done four or five years ago?

Tom Carroll: No. It couldn't have been done because it's just not the way networks work. ... What we've been doing is redefining what a network can be. If you look at the mother ship, we couldn't be doing any better than we are right now. But at the same time, we're very collaborative with [Diversified Agency Services] companies [as well as] 180. What's making TBWA grow is that we're redefining how a network can operate, and all it has done has made the network stronger and bigger.

For Adidas, you built a unit to work against the client's global digital business. Will you be doing that more often?

We'll do it when we have to do it. The truth of it is, in 2008, TBWA Worldwide had one of the most incredible years we've ever had. Probably the best we've ever had. So, we'll build around TBWA first and foremost. That's the brand that we're building. But we're flexible because you have to be. There are so many things that you have to do to deal with clients, to deal with client issues today. So, how did we get Adidas' digital account? We had to work with Critical Mass, we had to work with EVB, we had to take [chief digital officer] Colleen DeCourcy and put her against sorting that out. Sometimes you can work outside the traditional model to solve problems. That's what's happening in the industry. The business isn't the same, so by definition the traditional models can't be the same. You have to be flexible and nimble, and I think that's what we've done.

What was Colleen's role in the Adidas pitch?

What we really needed was a digital leader to go over [to Amsterdam] and collaborate with the 180 guys, who are incredibly bright and open-minded. Once she landed on the ground, it took them about two seconds to realize the opportunity they had in their hands, and for about five months they worked 24/7. They actually literally did. I would be on the phone with them at 8 in the morning, and they had been there until 2 o'clock at night. Then I called the next day, and they had been there 'til 1 o'clock at night. Then I called them on a Sunday, and they had been there Saturday and Sunday. It's what it took to get there, and Colleen was just the type of personality and talent that she could totally lead and help change an organization's mind-set. And they did it, and they did it together. But that's a compliment to the 180 guys, who are just smart.

How do you characterize what they put together?

It's a client solution. 180 and Riot is one client solution. [Media Arts Lab] is another client solution [for Apple]. And the truth of it is, it all comes back to TBWA. So, while it may have a name around it, it's still TBWA. TBWA and 180 share the Adidas client. TBWA and MAL just happen to be wrapped around Apple. But all that knowledge and all that learning finds its way back to TBWA, and then it gets disseminated around the entire network. It's that flexible, nimble, "What's the best way of solving it for the client?" [approach]. Then I think we put an incredible premium on communicating and exchanging knowledge inside the agency.

Was Visa really about the offices coming together?

Visa is a great example of a couple of things. One, L.A. did what L.A. can do. L.A. is extremely good at putting together those big brand-building exercises using disruption. But the best thing about the Visa win is the way the network really came together. [Playa del Rey executive creative director] Rob Schwartz and [president] Carisa [Bianchi] have this incredible ability to reach out and engage Moscow, Korea, Brazil. ... It was one of those experiences where you knew everybody had given 150 percent. It was global, and it was the network at its best. This is all the result of 10 years of building a culture of inclusiveness, truly wanting to be international. Just, it works. I feel like we've been practicing for this for 10 years.

TBWA's problem historically was that it had great creative but it didn't have systems, processes, unity to bind it all.

The thing that we've done is -- and Lee Clow will say this as much as anybody -- is we've kept all those creative standards and principles of Chiat/Day and BDDP, and then you put some of that Omnicom/John Wren criteria against it. At first, you think that's going to kill the creative. [But] all it has done is make it better, make it stronger. So, Lee will be the first to tell you that Omnicom is the best thing that's ever happened to Chiat/Day.

Visa was a quick growth spurt, starting with U.S. business two years ago and now having it worldwide.

We're growing in three ways. One is, we're growing because we're consolidating business. Adding Michelin in the U.S. -- now we have it everywhere around the world. We've been consolidating Nissan for five years around the world. We consolidated Visa. Then we're picking up some new clients like Gatorade, Pepsi and Singapore Airlines [the latter in 2007]. And our digital business is growing. That's the third way. We're no different than any other agency. We all have the same challenges. I just think we're moving fast, we're being nimble. If we do a really good job, we're going to get more clients. If we pay attention to what we know is right, we're going to get clients. If we spent too much time wondering what people want, we get caught up in our crap.

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