Dentsu’s Jacki Kelley on her expanded client remit in the wake of a parent company restructure

Only a month ago, longtime media veteran Jacki Kelley received a vote of confidence from her boss, Dentsu Group CEO Hiroshi Igarashi, when he asked her to handle the vital role of global chief client officer, on top of her current duties as CEO of Dentsu Americas. 

The task was given to her amidst a restructure at the agency holding company that saw the Dentsu Japan mothership become one with Dentsu International, which represented the rest of Dentsu’s operations across the globe. Igarashi-san, as all Dentsu employees refer to their global CEO, has entrusted Kelley with a key role: to help unify and strengthen Dentsu’s client relationships and foster those especially with multinational clients including American Express, Mondelez, Coca-Cola and Marriott. 

Kelley, who has decades of experience in both holding companies and major media firms (including Bloomberg and Yahoo), took the promotion in stride, attributing it in part to the fact that a majority of those clients are headquartered in the U.S., which is under her control.

Still, challenges and opportunities lie ahead, and Kelley shared her thoughts on some of them with Digiday. 

The following conversation has been edited for clarity and space.  

What were the highlights and lowlights of 2022 for you at Dentsu? 

Our largest clients continue to grow. In my case, eight of our top 20 clients grew double digits just in the last quarter, and it’s across other capabilities. Our fundamental belief is, clients want fewer agencies solving much bigger problems. And we see this in the consolidation reviews that are going on — the desire to reduce complexity. So we have really retooled ourselves to deliver on that. And when we see our largest clients growing across capability, that is a really strong indicator for us. So that was that’s a point of pride. If you look at our top 100 [clients] globally, more than 85% of those work with us across at least two of our service lines.

Does that approach limit you to only larger clients who can afford such wide capabilities? 

Dentsu is so different and distinct because it’s been built through acquisition since 2011. We might be the oldest [holding company] formed in 1901 In Japan, but internationally we are in our teen years, and barely. You could argue we’re an adolescent.

The last three years have been focused on completely changing the plumbing of how we work. I think that is fundamentally different — and I think I have credibility saying that, because I’ve worked with every other holding company as a media owner, and I’ve been inside one of them [IPG, as North American CEO of Mediabrands until 2014]. We welcome all sizes of clients. Candidly, some of the smaller clients need even more of this level of integration, because they simply don’t have teams on their side that are helping to drive that. So our ability to really be an extension of them across an end-to-end capability is just as needed as it is on some of these bigger clients.

How has the restructure Dentsu announced in November affected you?

There’s a real knowledge [among Dentsu’s competition] of the strength of our Japan operation. And I’ve had many people say, “If you guys figure that out, it’s going to be super compelling.” I am thrilled that we are figuring that out. Igarashi-san is now across the full organization. He was before, but we’ve fully integrated under these four regions [Japan, the rest of APAC, the Americas, EMEA]. Japan is a region versus its own separate organization. We’ve integrated our functions so that when I talk about changing the plumbing, the hard work we’ve done to integrate how we operate, that now will be fully integrated across Japan. A lot of that is back office stuff, but it really drives real value to our clients, when we think about how we can get more cost efficient for them, and how we can make those divisions work harder for them.

We created this client platform [with] a real commitment to investing in the best integrated client leads that can help drive ambition of being the most integrated network. It’s a really exciting time for our organization. And, you know, many of the employees in the international division are they’re intrigued with the capability that sits within Japan and we’re excited to define areas of that that can can further be exported.

What will you bring to the new chief client officer role?

There’s a disproportionate amount of global clients headquartered in the U.S., so by virtue of that, I’m already working with with many of [them]. And even those that aren’t headquartered here, the U.S. is such an important market that I’m already working with a majority of them. Having spent more time on the media owner side of our industry, I’m a client service person to start with. I get real joy in understanding a client’s business problems and then deciding how we can best solve those problems. And so I think I was selected because of that orientation. But ultimately, we need really ambidextrous talent. Being able to have a network where I can help identify and bring in that type of talent, or equally and probably more important, continue to hone and train that talent here, is a key priority to this role.

What different approaches will you take with clients?

We’ve taken a very clear view that we will have fewer [brands internally] — we’ve gone from 160 brands down to the five major ones [Dentsu Creative, Carat, Dentsu X, iProspect and Merkle]. Because we believe clients care about the capability on the other side of that brand, they don’t care about the complexity that’s created with the silos inside these holding companies. We have worked really hard to ensure that every client we have — managing conflict appropriately — can have seamless access to the best talent against the best task. And the broadest scope of work in our single P&L structure on that client allows us to do that very, very easily. My job is to create the conditions in the chief client officer role where that is even more scaled, and done more easily for a larger number of clients.

What’s your expectation for 2023 given the headwinds the industry faces?

There are economic indicators that 2023 may be challenging, but I would argue there’s just as many indicators that it won’t. In North America, CMOs largely told us that there they expect budgets to increase despite the economic environment. I think that’s because they’re prioritizing the investment into media, recognizing there’s absolutely a growth driver for their businesses when they need it most.

We will manage our clients, and we will manage our own business with some level of caution, simply to be prepared for whatever comes. But we’re leading into really believing that this is a moment to accelerate growth for our clients.

We’re able to connect our abilities in identity to personalization at scale, and some of the things that are so important for performance media and performance marketing. Our ability to to really deliver on that capability for a client can help them justify more media spend because it’s driving the revenue on their side. And we’ve gotten so good and so tight at being able to draw a clear ROI between a dollar spent and what the return is for the client that I think you can spend into that with far more confidence than you might have been able to in prior economic issues.

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