Bringing ‘Swagger’ to Hearts & Science: A Conversation With CEO Ralph Pardo

The new chief executive shares his plans for the Omnicom media agency

Athena Maroulis
Headshot of Erik Oster

Last month, Omnicom revamped leadership at two of its media agencies, appointing Ralph Pardo as CEO of Hearts & Science and Catherine Sullivan as CEO of PHD.

Pardo succeeded Erin Matts in the role, who is moving into another role within Omnicom. Matts was named Hearts & Science CEO in 2019, when Scott Hagedorn was promoted to Omnicom Media Group’s North America CEO.

Adweek caught up with Pardo, a 12-year Omnicom veteran, to ask some questions about his new role, his previous one leading the AT&T account through an integrated cross-agency team, and media agencies’ role in helping clients navigate these turbulent times.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.

What do you hope to bring to this role and how do you envision evolving Hearts & Science?
On a personal level, I want to bring a bit of confidence and swagger to the agency. I think it has always been there, especially considering we’re young and unencumbered: speaking as an agency with certainty and having a strong POV about disruptive things facing the industry, starting to be pragmatic about what that alchemy of media, creative and technology should deliver.

That can be everything from specific products and toolsets to ways of working and operating models, both with partner agencies and when we’re more integrated with our solutions. Building transformation playbooks for the DTC transformation that’s happening. A lot of clients are struggling with that and will need roadmaps. Also analytics: My POV on analytics is it works in service to business outcomes, so it supports a lot of thinking and strategy. It’s the backbone of a strong, modern agency.

How did your prior role prepare you to take on leadership at Hearts & Science? How often do you foresee the agency working in tandem with other OMG agencies in custom units such as the one you previously led?
If I go back to the role I’m exiting, at the time I couldn’t think of anything more exciting in our business than sitting at the intersection of creative, media and data analytics in service of supporting this client undergoing a transformation.

Today, we have to be thinking of the alchemy of media, creative and technology to get results for clients. If we think of where a brand needs to compete to be successful today, increasingly it’s a platform battle. A good portion of that focus is across three main areas: the Google ecosystem, the Facebook ecosystem and the Amazon ecosystem. The message and experience is the other piece. That’s what I’ve had the opportunity to focus on in the AT&T role, bringing that together.

As I think about translating that into Hearts & Science’s evolution, one of our core areas of focus is going to be building more of a maker/creative layer. That’s not to say we’re going to compete with creative agencies. To win on digital platforms, you have to be ambidextrous. The reason that’s more important now is because of the DTC evolution that’s taking place. To some degree, Covid has accelerated this. In almost every boardroom, the conversation is taking place about having a more direct relationship to consumers and thinking of the sales apparatus differently.

We’re seeing the advent of an accelerated discovery-loyalty-purchase model that is going to disrupt a lot of traditional categories. If I make a connection with disruption, that’s what Hearts & Science was founded on four years ago. The thread at the time was data and audience as currency for the future. Competitors have since caught up. So now we have to think of what a media-plus organization looks like. That’s what I’m looking to bring to the agency, with media as the core bread and butter but not the only thing: media supported by tech, building tech into the product, thinking of tech from more a customized perspective.


@ErikDOster erik.oster@adweek.com Erik Oster is an agencies reporter for Adweek.
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