Advertising agency CEOs play a key role in building client relationships and winning new business. From startups to the big names, the best ad agency CEOs have a hands-on approach with their clients, keeping in touch through regular communication, both face-to-face and online. Seeing a CEO roll their sleeves up and get involved shows their new clients how much the brand cares for them. And this is essential for client retention in any marketing agency. According to recent studies, the average agency-client relationship is just 3.2 years, the key word here being average. While in the top 40 ad agencies, the relationship lasts an average of 22 years. This demonstrates the power of strong client relationships, and ad agency CEOs play an instrumental role in this.
Finding, developing and mentoring team talent is another important role of an ad agency CEO. In smaller ad agencies, CEOs sometimes even interview for new team members and have the final decision. While in larger firms, CEOs will see the overall talent and employee strategy, ensuring strong benefits and constant learning. Creative directors, copywriters, art directors are some of the roles that make up a creative team. They’re the ones responsible for ensuring a happy team that’s both creative and productive, essential points for any successful ad agency. If team members feel overworked and reach burnout, they’ll produce lower quality deliverables for the client and maybe miss deadlines. In fact, advertising agencies have the second-highest rate of turnover after the tourism industry. The top ad agency CEOs look after their teams’ wellbeing by ensuring realistic workloads and fair fees. You can read more about turnover in advertising agencies here.
Operations and performance
Advertising agency CEOs are responsible for the overall direction and performance of their advertising agency and must answer to the board of directors on results. CEOs also sit on the board of directors, overseeing different business units such as sales, marketing, and finance. They ensure their teams achieve KPIs and key metrics, provide vision, and design strategies to increase revenue and grow the business. They also regularly meet with shareholders and stakeholders as an ambassador of their brand. CEOs should not be confused with COOs who are responsible for the overall operation of the business. COOs ensure client projects get done. This involves making sure the team has the resources they need, as well as efficient systems and processes that allow team members to produce high-quality work for their clients.
As we established earlier on, CEOs are responsible for building strong client relationships. They manage this through their account services team, made of account executives and account managers. These team members look after the day-to-day relationship with clients and act as their main point of contact within the agency. This involves regular meetings in which they discuss their clients’ marketing strategies and objectives. They write briefs and coordinate with creative teams. Account execs are responsible for presenting the work to the client and taking feedback. When things go wrong or the client is unsatisfied for whatever reason, the account services team is in charge of resolving the issues. They work closely with account planners, who are responsible for the planning and implementation of ad campaigns. Digital agency CEOs provide strategic vision for the account services team, ensuring outstanding service and strong relationships.
CEOs head up their agency’s senior management team, and directly manage the leaders of different business units within an ad agency, like marketing and sales. A typical senior management team is made up of the chief financial officer (CFOs), chief marketing officer (CMOs), creative directors and chief operating officers (COOs). This team oversees the day-to-day running and performance of the ad agency, as well as providing direction and strategy to the business. The CEO coordinates different teams to ensure consistency in processes and systems, and that each team is working together and contributing to the business’ objectives. There are a number of different organizational management models used in the advertising industry, including the traditional model, the matrix model and the pod system. You can read more here.
As the ones in charge of the senior management team, CEOs have overall responsibility for setting corporate strategy. They decide on the long-term objectives and design roadmaps to achieve them. Working closely with the board of directors, CEOs lead acquisitions and affiliations with other agencies. As technological advances rapidly change the way we work, many ad agencies’ corporate strategies involve digital transformation. This is the modernization of traditional work practices, such as remote working and automation of repetitive tasks. The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated digital transformation within the advertising industry, and the best CEOs are working to adapt their business models and operations to new trends. Specialization is another part of corporate strategy, as CEOs decide whether to niche down on new and ever-changing advertising trends.
Investment and Project Management
The C-level team, headed up by the CEO, decides on where their ad agency should invest to help them achieve their corporate strategy. They investigate different areas for investment, and assign their teams with assessing viability, conducting market research and defining the smaller details. As we discussed in the previous section, with digital transformation bringing about sweeping changes, many ad agencies are investing in new technologies to help them stay relevant in 2022 and beyond. Agencies are adopting project and workflow management tools to help automate repetitive and time-consuming tasks. By automating processes, these tools free up their team members’ time meaning they can take on more client work. Ad agency CEOs are increasingly looking to invest in tools that facilitate more efficient operations and productive teams.
What should every CEO be doing
There’s no single route to becoming a CEO. Many join their organization as juniors and rise the ranks, while others often have unconventional backgrounds. Job descriptions vary by ad agency, but they generally all involve strong leadership skills and sound business acumen. Aside from their business skill sets, here are the top 5 points all ad agency CEOs should be doing:
- Stay on top of industry trends. Be it through browsing social media or reading the news, CEOs need to be up-to-date with the latest trends within their clients’ respective industries. They need to keep their finger on the pulse and stay on top of new technologies and always be one step ahead of their competitors. The best CEOs are constantly reading books, white papers and publications by industry leaders to gain industry.
- Build a tight-knit team. We spoke about how CEOs are responsible for looking after their talent, but the best agencies go one step further. They understand how important a tight-knit team is, and how members should feel like they belong to a family. Team members who enjoy working together will enjoy their work in general, and that means better quality outcomes for their clients. The best CEOs regularly arrange in-house team engagement activities and encourage team bonding.
- Network. The best ad agency CEOs are constantly networking with different people from across the advertising sector. They network in person, by attending industry events, and online via social media platforms like LinkedIn. They exchange ideas and discuss the latest challenges facing the industry. By networking, they get their brand’s name out there and win new business.
- Lead by example. In the most successful advertising agencies, the CEO leads by example, rolls their sleeves up, and gets involved with the operation. Not only is this a big morale boost for staff, but also sets an expectation for the quality and standards of work expected within an organization. Through leading by example, CEOs remove the “us and them” set up and instead create a strong, working culture.
- Avoid the perfectionism trap. Many of the top ad agency CEOs recognize that nothing is perfect and businesses often grind to a halt when looking for the perfect outcome. By not striving for perfection, CEOs can help build moments and empower their team to achieve their results in less time.
- Never stop learning. The CEOs of the most successful ad agencies all look to continually grow and develop their skills. They learn from academics and fellow students and implement what they’ve learned in their businesses. By being part of academics, and not just corporate, circles helps CEOs keep a fresh and varied perspective.
- Keep things simple. In the age of digitization and agile working, the top ad agency CEOs look to simplify their business goals and visions to make them easier to achieve. By focusing on simple goals, ad agencies can achieve them faster and move on to the next stage of growth in less time.
- Create an exciting and passionate place to work. All the best CEOs have one thing in common: they know how to get their team members excited about their work. Be it through feedback, recognition, or bonuses, CEOs should drive engagement and create a passion within their teams.
An advertising agency CEO is a varied role that encompasses all parts of a business. As the most senior leader in an agency, they’re responsible for both the strategic and operational direction of a business. And while there are no single criteria or must-haves, the best CEOs all have certain traits in common that make them perfect for their roles.