Shreyas Kulkarni

DDB global Prez & COO on turning clients into friends, helping friends like McDonald’s in today’s boycott age, and A.I.

Glen Lomas was in India last week, and we caught up with him for a chat.

“People that have been with us for a long time, I feel a great loyalty to them,” says Glen Lomas, president and chief operating officer, DDB Worldwide.

He spoke to us (afaqs!) last week during his India visit, right after the Lemon Awards; the agency’s internal awards for the best work its folks have put out.

Lomas was speaking about brands whose relationship with the DDB Group goes back decades. Carmaker Volkswagen has been with the agency since the 50s, fast-food giant McDonald’s since the 70s, and chocolate Co. Mars since the late 80s.

“If they believe in you, and they believe you believe in them, they will give you anything regardless of your budget. You can have the biggest budget in the world but if they feel, you do not listen to them or respect them, you won’t even get their shower time because it is a human business.”

Lomas believes, when asked to define success for himself, is to get the right culture and the right people, and you will create a brilliant product and hopefully be awarded for it. “If you do that, profit comes in the form of clients not leaving you, willing to pay you what you deserve, and potentially attracting new clients.”

He also doesn’t mind winning a Cannes Lions now and then but not for anyone. “Winning Cannes for a client that's not really a proper client is a hollow victory. Winning Cannes for McDonald's, that is a huge victory, and that's what we should be aiming for.”

And he too has been with DDB Worldwide for 28 years now. His first client was Unilever, he tells us, and throughout his nearly three-decade career at the Omincom-owned agency group, Lomas has turned many client relationships into deep friendships.

“You experience things with them, you build an element of trust, you are co-dependent, and build each other’s success,” says the president and COO.

For him, it was never about the budget or the brief that makes agency folks look up, listen, and respect a client, and then proceed to build a lengthy harmonious relationship. It was always about how you the client interact with the agency team.

DDB Worldwide was adjudged Network of the Year at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in 2023.

A year later as it looks to defend its Lions, the agency finds itself in a world worse with all the issues of the world and one of its most treasured clients under the eye of the proverbial boycott storm.

McDonald’s is facing calls for boycott from across the world after it was revealed the fast-food company’s franchise owner in Israel offered free meals to Israeli forces during the ongoing Israel-Gaza war.

The company, a few days, ago announced it is buying back all its Israeli restaurants.

During such times, an agency must dole out sage-like advice to its clients for there is a lot more at stake than numbers.

"You're saying to a client that you can be more appealing, put less barriers to purchase, have more supporters and less detractors if you go in this direction. If you frame it in this way, they'd listen to you."
Glen Lomas

“If there is an element of truth, you need to, as a brand guardian, which you are, address that truth with the client, and if you feel, what they’re standing for, their values are not being represented, and that’s what people are cross about, then your advice is how to bring your actions in line with your values,” states Lomas.

And during such hours, the client-agency relationship turned friendship face its pressure test. The president and COO goes by the adage of the true friend – one who tells you the truth in a nice way and gives you ways of getting out of it.

As this war rages on, there is also a risk being posed to multicultural marketing because what may work in one region ends up infuriating another region.

Lomas agrees and says the last thing DDB Worldwide wants to be seen doing is to take a side.

“When you turn up at a DDB brand office, you need to feel the environment you work in supports you and has your back. What you shouldn’t be feeling is ‘I am working for a company that supports something I don’t believe in,’” he says, and then adds that employers may want to be more opinionated but “you owe it to the people who work for you that there is neutrality in their jobs.”

He is a strong supporter of taking up and working with clients who’ve say a chequered history or belong to a sector of disrepute, but who want to change themselves and the sector for the better.

“You as an advertiser should try and find the good in what that company is doing and ensure they put their resources and ambition and emphasis behind that and discard what’s not good,” he says.

Another beast humans are coping with right now is the rising artificial intelligence, and advertising and marketing companies are standing right in front of it.

The Uncreative Agency
The Uncreative Agency

Lomas is excited by what A.I. has to offer - DDB has its own fully automated creative agency powered by A.I. - but is wary of the issues, especially the credits and rights, that are cropping up. “You don't and ever will have the right, 'We'll put this out in the air, in the public domain without truly knowing whose creativity has been used to do.’”

He takes the example of Spotify, and how for the first time, artists have an opportunity to get their work heard at such scale and get paid for it.

But this is easier said than done when it comes to convincing the chief decision-makers of brands.

"You're saying to a client that you can be more appealing, put less barriers to purchase, have more supporters and less detractors if you go in this direction. If you frame it in this way, they'd listen to you” he distils his vast knowledge of how to make clients listen.

Misinformation and fake news can often fuel boycotts he feels, and urges people to not just boycott, and say why’re doing so, but agree to accept them if they change.

“There is a value credited to the original creators. We're not in that position with A.I. yet, and until we are. It shouldn't be used as a prima facie tech that can go straight to market.”

Amid such drastically changing times, does one need to look back at timeless words for reassurance and inspiration, and see if they need an update?

“Situations change, media changes, government changes, what motivates us as individuals do not. Therefore, if your persuasion, communication and motivation are built around human truth, those words are timeless.” 

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