OMD global boss Mainardo de Nardis on the definition of innovation, scam in media awards, and why it’s not a media agency’s job to take risks

Mainardo de NardisMainardo de Nardis is the global CEO of OMD, the most awarded media agency network in the world.

Mumbrella Asia editor Robin Hicks caught up with the straight-talking Italian in Cannes about why the Media Lions are always so controversial, scam in media awards, competing with his former employer WPP, and why it is not a media agency’s job to take risks.

Clients don’t care about awards, do they? Particularly media agencies who enter awards?

I disagree entirely. All of our biggest clients are forcing us to look at how we can be more creative and innovative, and they’re using these ideas to assimilate creativity and innovation in to their own operations. Awards stimulate people to do better work. Ask the likes of Visa or McDonald’s, clients who expect innovative ideas from their agencies.

The global chief creative officer of DDB, Amir Kassaei, recently told Mumbrella that a big problem with awards is that people are not judging ideas, “they’re judging the quality of case study videos – the packaging of an idea.” Do you agree?

It’s true. With Cannes, there’s a jury of 30 people who have a week to get through 4,000 case studies. They have to focus on the entry, and they don’t have time to distill the idea. If they had 15-20 minutes to look at every case study, they wouldn’t need video, but because they only have three-four minutes for each entry, a video is a useful guide. Of course, you need a good idea in the first place. But if have good idea and no good video, there’s less of a chance of winning.

OMD is the most awarded media agency in the world. So what’s the secret to media agencies winning awards?

We’ve put innovation and creative at the centre of what we do, and we measure our awards performance on a monthly basis – it’s one of our KPIs. Measuring innovation is impossible, so we use awards as a proxy. We look at how many we enter and how many we win. I think this approach is partly why we win more than anyone else.

There have been many changes to the media category, which always proves to be the most controversial. Why do you think this is?

One of the reasons is because media agencies are so competitive. It’s the nature of our business. We’ve done a lot of work with Cannes organisers in past three years to change the rules. They changed two years ago, so that only nine people judge the shortlisted entries, with only very senior people on that jury [30 judges are used to decide what should be shortlisted]. Few people judging the shortlist means that there can be a more serious and elevated discussion about what should win.

No awards judging system is perfect. What else can be done to improve the selection process for the media category at Cannes?

One idea would be to give the jury more time to go through the entries, but I’m not sure how that could work in practice. Perhaps judges could pre-judge the entries before they arrive in Cannes.

The decision to award OMD Sydney Media Agency of the Year at Cannes in 2013 stirred up a fuss, since many of the points the agency accrued came from awards that sibling creative agency DDB had won. Looking back, what is your take on what happened?

They were the rules of the game last year, and OMD Sydney won agency of the year. Did DDB did all the work? No, of course they didn’t. We worked on the winning campaigns too. But this year the rules are different. The top awards goes to network of the year instead of agency of the year, with the sum of all the points accumulated by all agencies from shortlisted entries and winners going towards the award. As usual someone will complain about who wins, as they always do. That someone maybe us this year. Who knows, we’ll see.

Given that the rules have changed so much, doesn’t that make success difficult to benchmark for media agencies?

No, I don’t think so. The media category is one of the most popular at Cannes. Look at the number of entries awards [there was 3,126 entries to the Media Lions this year, up from 3,031 in 2013]. One of things that clients are looking at more now is results, and there’s more of an emphasis on results in the Media Lions, as there is in data and strategy.

Scam is a big issue at creative awards shows, and there was a suggestion that it might be creeping into media at Spikes Asia last year, with an agency suspected of making up campaign results. What’s your perspective on this?

The jury will spend a lot of time evaluating a case study if they think it is suspicious. They can investigate a campaign online or they can simply pick up the phone and call a client directly. Clients don’t like scam on their brands, and I’ve never come across a winner of the media category where the results were not believable. That said, it’s possible that scam might occur on smaller brands in small markets, but it is less likely on bigger brands. If I was chairman of the jury I would call a client and ask them if the campaign results were true. But of course if the agency is lying and the client is lying too, there’s not a lot you can do.

You used to work for WPP and you’re known to be a very competitive individual. Are the WPP agencies the ones you enjoy beating the most at awards?

I don’t purposefully look at the WPP agencies as my top competitors. While some are better than others, I respect all four of its agencies [MEC, Maxus, Mindshare and MediaCom. But I look at Carat and Starcom in the same light. Of course we compete, but I have respect for everyone that we go up against.

How do you think OMD will do this year at Cannes?

We’ll see. I have no expectations, only hope.

How do you think your Asian operations will do at Cannes this year?

I’m very curious to see if all the awards we’ve won in Asia will also win here. It’s not always the case that what wins in the region wins at Cannes, which is a truly global show. Asia has been a champion for OMD, and not just in Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia, but also in India and China where traditionally there has not been such a big focus on awards.

You’ve talked a lot about innovation. At Mumbrella360 recently, a former MediaCom executive said that agencies misunderstand the true meaning of innovation, and think that media firsts are innovative. What’s your view on this?

It is a term that is very difficult to qualify and measure. I agree that some media firsts are not innovative at all, but some certainly are. Agencies can be innovative in a number of different ways; in how they attract and retain talent, how they use technology to manage they way they work, and how they manage data.

Of course innovation is not just about media firsts and winning awards. Awards are a way to reward those who push the boundaries slightly. I use the word “slightly” because media agencies are too big to jump into the unknown. We’re not here to take risks. We are here to build brands and commercial success. We can’t do extreme things when they cannot be proven. Our job is not to go to the moon and back. We are responsible for around 10,000 staff and 3,000 clients. Our clients want us to meet, and in some cases overachieve against their objectives, but they don’t want flights of fantasy. Everything we do has to be proven. Everything we do is about testing and learning. But we’re not a start up. We don’t compete with startups. Ninety per cent of start ups don’t exist a year later, and it is not in our interests to behave like startups. Innovation for the sake of being innovative is not what we are paid to do.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella Asia newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing