Ogilvy & Mather's Chief Production Officer, Clare Donald, was interviewed by Creative Brief.

Career to date:

2016, Chief Production Officer, Ogilvy & Mather
2013, Head of Operations, Google Creative Lab, Google EMEA
2012, Head of Operations, Havas Worldwide Londons
2010, Joint Head of Operations, Euro RSCG London
2008, Head of Broadcast, Euro RSCG London
2006, Senior Producer / Acting Head of TV, Mother London
2002, Deputy Head of TV, JWT


Creativebrief: As Chief Production Officer of Ogilvy & Mather what is your primary focus?

Clare Donald: My primary focus is to establish the means to facilitate great, innovative creative work. This starts with encouraging learning and awareness of the big conversations going on right now, and access to inspiration in craft and creativity. But it’s very much about the people too - finding the best people to work with us, nurturing diverse new talent, and supporting teams to feel empowered to excel.

Creativebrief: Please share a para on your career to date – specifically talking us through the high points.

Clare Donald: It’s been an unusual path. Upon graduating from Cambridge, I started as a runner in a commercials production company. I was producing within 3 years and won a good few awards working with some great directors. I then worked in feature films for a while, and on my return to advertising transferred to agency production - at Mother, JWT and AMV/BBDO. I became Head of Operations at Havas in 2010 managing digital, print and film production. I was approached by Google in 2013 and left to be Head of Operations at Google Creative Lab. I had an amazing time learning about some of the most cutting edge developments in technology and design over my 3.5 year tenure, and then became Chief Production Officer at Ogilvy & Mather London, as part of the new management team in June last year.


“I think the biggest development is the concept of horizontal planning - content won’t be designed for channels, but to consumers wherever they are, informed by data. The upside (for me) is that quality will be at a premium, and, whilst the targeting will require better planning, it’ll lead to really focused deliverables that can play to the strengths of the platform.”


Creativebrief: What's unique about your agency / business? Why did you join Ogilvy & Mather?

Clare Donald: There are a number of things that are unique to O&M - I’ll expand on these below. But as to why I joined has its own unique reason. I have believed for a very long time that agencies are missing a trick by not putting production onto the same standing as other departments. As content in all its forms proliferates, the makers are more and more key to a successful business. So when Mick Mahoney (CCO, and who I’d worked with at Havas) approached me, I was inspired to join a team where production was elevated to the management table as a truly equal voice. I would not have left Google if I didn’t believe this was a unique new way of running a business. It also helps of course that Mick, Charlie (Rudd, CEO), Kevin (Chesters, CSO) and I get on so well. We all started within six months of each other. Our partnership feels like an exciting start-up, allowed to lead with new thinking from within an amazing, established brand.

Creativebrief: Who are the people new to you (either within your business or externally) who have particularly impressed you in the last twelve months?

Clare Donald: Well, I’ve been at Ogilvy for nine months now. I have been incredibly impressed by so many people here, but I think the thing that has impressed me most is the Ogilvy Change team.  To my knowledge, the team here are unique in having genuine behavioural scientists working to establish consumer behaviour that benefits brand thinking from within an agency. They’re terrifyingly smart, and have amazing titles like ‘Mind Modeller’ and ‘Behavioural Director’. I’ve seen them contribute enormous value to clients both in pitches and for existing partnerships. They rock.

Creativebrief: What has been your agency's best work in the last year?

Clare Donald: We’ve done so much already this year, but I think I’m most proud of the work we’ve just done for Amnesty. The campaign started with the challenge to get people to do more - not give money - but actively participate in action that could make a real difference. We took this thought, and came up with the idea that ‘Outrage is not Enough’. We brought it to life with a live Twitter campaign, where we responded in real time to well-meaning tweets about the refugee crisis from actual refugees living in camps. It was a real production challenge, but we were thrilled with the response. We reached nearly 200 million people with no paid media, and submitted 850,000 signatures on a petition that was handed to the UN on 6 February.

Creativebrief: Industry wide, what work has excited you most this year?

Clare Donald: I think that some of the work being done in VR is amazing (loved Google’s Natural History Museum campaign). I’ve been equally inspired and scared by advances in AI - for instance Deepmind’s ability to predict moves with ‘AlphaGo Games’. And I love the fun and creative potential of TiltBrush. 

Creativebrief: Who or what inspires you?

Clare Donald: Oh God - so many things. Outside of advertising and tech, it’s the people who do great work for people who can’t necessarily help themselves. I’m involved with a charity called Working Chance. They help find employment opportunities for women who have criminal convictions or are care-leavers. These women are often mothers and support families. The re-offending rates for women who get jobs are slashed (3% after gaining employment as opposed to a national average of 48%). I think it’s a really important charity and am proud to say that I have hired someone to work at Ogilvy.

Creativebrief: How do you stay in-touch with the industry's best work and culturally relevant news?

Clare Donald: Our mission at O&M London is to create socially relevant work for all our clients. This means it’s imperative to stay in touch with our competition and with broader cultural issues. We have a number of tools we use within the business to ensure we're plugged into what's happening locally, nationally and globally.

On a personal level, like most people, I go to talks, I follow innovators on Twitter, I read newspapers (yes - the old fashioned print kind). I also get interesting suppliers to come into the agency to present new work. But I don’t beat myself up if I occasionally miss things. If something is truly amazing - I’ll hear about it. There is so much noise out there, that you have to protect yourself a little from constant immersion in newsfeeds. I use smart people who I respect to act as my filters!

Creativebrief: What work or agency from outside the UK do you think is particularly influential?

Clare Donald: I think The Martin Agency in the States has done some really innovative thinking that has influenced a lot of people - they properly understand how to use pre-rolls and bumpers. Their work for Geico and Kayak have cemented what "good" looks like in the world of YouTube comms. The new six non-skippables will no doubt be a great challenge for some fun, exciting work.

Creativebrief: What do you think are going to be the main challenges for agencies in the next two years?

Clare Donald: I think the main challenges agencies face will be around how we can adapt to squeezed client budgets in the face of start-up competition. I have no issue with competition - and naturally I think agencies with their extensive brand-building experience have a strategic advantage - but for production, we really need to re-think our response. I believe very strongly in the value of craft and expertise - and there will be a continued need for really excellent high-end production work. But there is also going to be an ever-growing need for quick, cheap and good. Yes, we have to deliver all three. So those solutions from within the big networks are something that I believe we are doing, but continually need to adapt and evolve to answer client needs.


“I have believed for a very long time that agencies are missing a trick by not putting production onto the same standing as other departments. As content in all its forms proliferates, the makers are more and more key to a successful business.” 


Creativebrief: How do you see the media landscape unfolding in the next five years?

Clare Donald: I think the biggest development is the concept of horizontal planning - content won’t be designed for channels, but to consumers wherever they are, informed by data. The upside (for me) is that quality will be at a premium, and, whilst the targeting will require better planning, it’ll lead to really focused deliverables that can play to the strengths of the platform. I think video will continue to dominate and everyone will try to own the ‘making’, from clients to publishers to agencies. With YouTube and Facebook developing their own TV channels, lines will continue to blur. Interesting times indeed.

Creativebrief: What's your attitude to the 'traditional' agency review process? Do you think there is a better/more modern way?

Clare Donald: There’s nothing like a creative shoot-out for keeping an agency fresh, on its toes and cognisant of their competition; pitching brings a buzz and energy with it. That said, it can be a tremendous strain on agency resource, especially if the goalposts move during the process. Every review is different, but provided there’s clarity at the outset and mutual respect, I don’t have any problem with it.

Creativebrief: What's the best agency review you've been involved in?

Clare Donald: Our recent pitch win for Time to Change. A very clear brief, an enormously collaborative client and an opportunity to do some hugely socially relevant work.

Creativebrief: In what ways do you think the industry can change for the better?

Clare Donald: I believe that clients and agencies need to find a way to have more grown-up conversations. The demands on time and resource mean that we have to find a way to mutually respect each others’ needs and expertise, and work together to find smart, collaborative solutions. We all need to be brave, having open dialogue about successes and failures without a default reliance on research. As our media landscape gets increasingly flooded, having a stand-out comms solution is never more important.

Creativebrief: What's the next big thing for Ogilvy & Mather?

Clare Donald: It’s got to be about the work. Ogilvy is a heritage brand, but the London agency hasn’t been renowned for its creative work for a while. We want to become famous once more for getting powerful ideas out there for our clients. And that’s not about chasing awards - it’s more about effectiveness than impressing juries. Nevertheless, effectiveness requires extraordinary, stand-out creativity, and that’s how we want to define ourselves going forward.


Topic of the moment

A constant drive to innovate means brands are experimenting with new technology more than ever before, how can brands ensure they retain a ‘human touch’ in this overly digital world?

I think brands need to remember who they are trying to reach.  There is no point focusing purely on outstanding tech if your target audience may not be able to access it, or worse still - just have no interest in trying.  We are keenly aware at Ogilvy that we live in a London-focused media bubble.  We are actively working to gain awareness of issues beyond the M25.  To this end, we’ve kicked off a programme called ‘Get Out There’, where we send teams around the country to get a sense of what is important to a wide, inclusive section of people in the UK.  Technology is great - don’t get me wrong.  But it’s key to never lose sight of your idea, your human truth and the relevance of your campaign to the diversity of conversations going on right now.


This was originally published in Creative Brief.

Want to know more about Clare? Shots spent a day in her life here.