An Interview with Cogent Strategy Director: Dan Neville.
Read our Strategy Director’s interview with Creativebrief for the low-down on what it’s like to be part of the Cogent family, the future of advertising, inspiration and much more.
Creativebrief: Please could you outline your career to date, talking us through anything of particular interest or that you’d like to highlight?
Dan Neville: It would be fair to say my career has been more a case of ‘marching while reading the map’ than any great master plan, which is perhaps reflective of the dynamism, and rate of change, in the creative agency sector generally. I’m also fortunate that in each agency I’ve worked at, the environment, culture, structure and ambition have enabled me to harness opportunities, broaden my toolkit and play to my, evolving, strengths. That may even be what’s drawn me to those agencies in the first place.
Looking back, I think instinct and intuition have probably been the biggest drivers behind the decisions I’ve made, and these are the two things I call on most today in my current role. I started in pure play digital, which gave me the foundation for developing strategies for the digital world we live in today. I now work at an independent, integrated agency where nimbleness, entrepreneurialism, client-centricity and insight underpin everything we do, making my role as Strategy Director a fascinating one, with a new challenge every day.
Creativebrief: As Strategy Director at Cogent, what is your primary focus?
Dan Neville: Leading the team that acts as the voice of the target audience in the creative development process. Whether that’s drilling to the heart of what data tells us to draw insights or facilitating cross-department workshops to explore every possible angle or approach to solving a problem.
Our strategy team is there to keep the consumer at the heart of everything we do. It’s also there to share knowledge, not just gather it. Whether it’s ensuring our creatives are aware of the latest developments in technology and media, or our client services team are up to date with the latest consumer trends, we ensure all our departments are able to consider the ‘art of the possible’ when tackling client challenges.
Creativebrief: What’s unique about your agency? Why did you join Cogent?
Dan Neville: The thing that really drew me to Cogent was their depth and breadth of experience. Established in 1936, the agency has remained proudly independent, evolving, adapting and developing its offering in response to countless market changes over the years. That longevity and entrepreneurialism combined made it a pretty compelling organisation to be part of.
The thing that makes Cogent today is its ‘Togetherness’ ethos. Togetherness is in what we do, in how we work, in our client relationships and how we integrate a wide range of skills and expertise. It’s the best way to get the best results and frankly, is a strategist’s dream.
Creativebrief: What has been your agency’s best work in the last year?
Dan Neville: Just over a year ago we were appointed as Kwik Fit’s lead creative agency, having handled their below-the-line and in-centre comms for a few years. In the last 12 months or so we’ve worked closely with them to shift the focus of their marketing from product and promotion led, to a much more audience-centric approach. This has all been built around the ‘Drive Away Happy’ campaign line. It’s been a significant and positive journey for them as a brand strategically. The resulting work is great and there’s loads of exciting stuff in the pipeline as we build on the foundations we’ve laid.
Another piece of work I’m particularly proud of is the work we have done for Paym, mainly because of the results it’s driven. Paym is a mobile payment service supported by the UK’s 15 major banks and building societies. With all those stakeholders, each with their own brand priorities, infrastructures and mobile banking offerings, to consider, the marketing challenge is complex, and having launched in 2014, by 2016 Paym’s growth had started to plateau.
We were appointed in 2017 to raise awareness, registrations and usage of the service. Over the last year we’ve run two main campaigns ‘Pocket Dance’ and ‘#awks’, with strategy, creative, film production and media all handled in house here at Cogent. The impact of those campaigns has been significant. In the last year, more money has been transferred via Paym than in 2014, 2015 and 2016 combined, and online engagement increased by 891% YOY which is hugely significant given their young audience. It’s a great example of true brand/agency partnership delivering results.
Creativebrief: What work or agency from outside the UK do you think is particularly influential?
Dan Neville: I’ve always found the rise of CP&B to be a particularly inspirational story. I guess I’ve always looked to them as an example of how ‘the only limits in our life are those we impose on ourselves.’ So, if you’re ambitious, determined and driven, there really should be no limiting factors to what you can achieve. And as ambition goes, setting out to be ‘the most written about, talked about agency in the world’ is right up there, but then they’ve achieved it. They have produced some unbelievable work over the years, they’ve done it on their terms and you can’t help but admire and take inspiration from them.
Creativebrief: How do you see the advertising industry evolving over the next few years?
Dan Neville: If one thing is certain it is that change is constant. And the pace of change is quickening. So, agencies need to learn to adapt to change more quickly if they are to succeed. However, the decreasing average tenure of agency/client relationships is perhaps evidence that this adaptation to change is not yet happening. Perhaps the rise of ‘traditional’ management consultancies taking a seat at marketing’s top table, is a pointer to at least one change we should be making: a collective move upstream.
Ad agencies have always been the stalwarts of creativity, but perhaps we’ve been guilty of not sufficiently or accurately hero-ing the commercial value of our strategic thinking that gives that creativity it’s foundation. Over the next few years, the shape of that strategic thinking and the inputs it calls on will change. Insight and data remain key to both agency and consultancy offers, but rather than being myopic in focussing on how these underpin our agency advertising solutions, perhaps it’s time to look more deeply about how these can add value to our client’s businesses. This means leveraging our strategic thinking and creativity to tackle not just ‘advertising challenges’, but the big business challenges that keep clients awake at night. It’s happening already but I think we as creative agencies need to be the ones to pick up the pace.
Creativebrief: What are your ambitions for Cogent over the next few years?
Dan Neville: Over the last couple of years, we’ve significantly evolved our strategic offering, as a direct response to a change in the way clients want to work with us. As well as the traditional brand and comms planning you’d expect in a creative agency, we’re also supporting clients with product strategy, sales strategy, innovation, CSR, UX etcetera.
Strategy has always been about drawing actionable insights from data and putting the consumer at the heart of the creative thinking that results. However, with more data, type and quantity, being gathered across every corner of our clients’ businesses, and fewer barriers than ever between brands and their audiences thanks to technology, the techniques and processes we’ve been using in marketing have become increasingly applicable to a broader range of challenges our clients’ businesses are facing. So, from a personal point of view I hope to see our strategy team grow in even more interesting ways, so we continue to champion the consumer as our clients’ businesses change and evolve.
It’s hard to predict what that will look like in five years’ time. It’s certainly very different now to five years ago. In the short term, I’m very excited about a piece of consumer research we’ve been conducting around life stage targeting, which is producing some really interesting insights around busting inertia in consumer spending patterns. Watch this space!
Creativebrief: Personally, who or what are you inspired by, outside of the industry?
Dan Neville: I’m at risk of being cheesy here, but with the opportunity to win a few brownie points at home, I’d have to say my wife. She’s incredibly driven, and whilst taking time out with the kids, she took time to re-evaluate what she wanted out of life, but also what she could give back. After four years of hard work she’s now the owner of a thriving children’s language franchise, with over 100 franchisees now running their own businesses and benefiting from the work/life harmony that was missing in their previous roles. On those days when doubt sets in, I’ve got a permanent reminder of what ambition, drive and determination can help you achieve.
This article first appeared on Creatievbrief.