Ogilvy & Mather names Ben Richards global strategy chief

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Ben Richards.
Ben Richards.

The new Worldwide Chief Strategy Officer, leading business transformation, tells Campaign how he'll integrate complex strategies on a global scale

NEW YORK — How does a marcom giant apply new ideas on a global scale? For Ogilvy & Mather, the answer is a shared "operating system" and an executive to lead it.

Ogilvy on Monday appointed Ben Richards Worldwide Chief Strategy Officer, leading business transformation, a new role that reports directly to Worldwide Chairman and CEO Miles Young. Working closely alongside Young, Richards, 35, will oversee strategy across Ogilvy’s 538 offices in 126 countries.

Richards, based here, was Ogilvy’s first Worldwide Head of Integrated Strategy. He joined the company in 2010 from Naked Communications and was key to the development of Fusion, a cross-discipline planning system he refers to as the company’s OS.

What’s behind the focus on integrated strategy? In a statement announcing Richards’ promotion, Young commented: "Both the ideas we are being asked to create and the ways those ideas need to live in the world are evolving.  Now more than ever, the job of strategy is to help make choices about all aspects of a client’s business and brand — across every behavior, experience and expression — and this requires new thinking about change and change management."

"Clients are facing unrelenting disruption and complexity," Richards told Campaign. "They are dealing with The Great Fragmentation: more brands, more data, more audiences, more geographies, more platforms, more devices, more products and more things to say."

His role, Richards said, is to leverage the scale and variety of Ogilvy’s services to navigate those complications. "Big can be beautiful," he said, "but clients need it to be quick, cheap and imaginative as well."

That doesn’t mean eliminating specialization, he said, but taking advantage of the depth they afford. "’Blowing up siloes’ is an abhorrent cliché," Richards continued. "Silos give you world-class depth across fields and world-class capabilities across geographies. Of course you need a robust common operating system and a collaborative culture to join the dots, but without all this depth you have nothing to integrate."

Those roles encompass disciplines as well as geographies and cultures. "If you’re a Middle Eastern brand needing government relations in Washington, D.C., we’ve got that. If you’re a German brand trying to improve retail activation in China, we’ve got 4,100 employees on the ground to help you figure out how."

What’s more, Richards continued, that reach is key to conquering the even bigger virtual landscape. "Media has become infinite, and content has become ubiquitous. Our goal is to work with complexity, not just complication" — disorder that can be cleaned up according to a predictable pattern. "Complexity is integral; it encompasses everything from the CEO’s speech to the baseball cap an employee wears."

Ogilvy CEO Young "is giving me quite a lot of air cover and opportunities to succeed," Richards continued. "This a real systemic imperative driven from the top."

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