by Herman Manson (@marklives) Luca Gallarelli — who took over as MD of Ogilvy & Mather Cape Town in November 2013, following the departure of Gavin Levinsohn for Australia — believes there remains significant areas for growth and expansion at the agency, which employs 300 people and generates between R100–R120 million in annual revenue.

Luca Gallarelli
Luca Gallarelli

Needs to up its game

For one, the agency needs to up its game in winning new business. “We pitch a lot but we don’t win a lot,” says Gallarelli. “New business keeps an agency on its toes and increases our value offering to existing clients. We need to be better at winning new business.”

Part of the problem is legacy perception; the agency is not always perceived as quick and nimble, which are two characteristics he would like to add to the existing ‘solid’ and ‘strategic’.

“Have we done enough to address legacy issues in the pitch room?” Gallarelli asks. He seems to think not.

Happy with organic growth

Gallarelli is happy with organic growth at the agency, saying it is realising the value of long-term relationships with clients. He is particularly excited about building out the group’s specialist agencies: Ogilvy One and Ogilvy PR, in particular, are experiencing rapid growth.

As PR’s role shifts to align with social media and move closer to the consumer, more and more talent is expressing an interest in PR. It’s becoming more integrated into both the digital and traditional advertising mix and plays a role across divisions at the agency.

Its digital and data arm, Ogilvy One, is also growing in importance, as digital becomes the centre of customer engagement. The division make the agency group smarter, says Gallarelli, resulting in more granular campaigns through the smart use of data.

Grew up in Port Elizabeth

Gallarelli grew up in Port Elizabeth. His mom was an artist, so he grew up around paint, pencils and other tools of her trade. She instilled his early interest in the creative world. Then, while attending Grey High School, he had an English teacher who would show his students the Cannes reel every year, something Gallarelli remembers with fondness.

It doesn’t take a giant leap of imagination to see how their combined influence would help steer Gallarelli towards a career in advertising.

But PE offers limited scope to see the ad industry in action. Gallarelli imagined the route to a career in advertising lay in creative, and signed up for a graphic design course at tech. Six weeks in, he realised it wasn’t for him, so he did what everybody else did in the mid-90s, and signed up for a computer science course instead (he holds a Computer Science degree from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University).

Business side to advertising

A friend one year ahead of him, thanks to the graphic design course crash, headed to Cape Town for an interview at Red & Yellow, suddenly realised there was a business side to advertising as well, and put in a call to Gallarelli with the good news, who promptly followed to do a Post Graduate Higher Diploma at the AAA School of Advertising.

Gallarelli says it’s at AAA that his passion for advertising really was fired up, and where he could finally see application for his computer science learning in advertising. Code as creative and all that, and while he says it, I imagine the creative department sniggering, but Gallarelli is definitely having the last laugh on that score.

In 2002, Gallarelli had a tough time finding a job. He spent six months at Hirt & Carter  doing systems development, then got a break at Ogilvy & Mather Rightford Searle-Tripp & Makin as an account executive, working on BP and Pilsner Urquell (for SAB).

Lured away

Gavin Levinsohn, ironically, lured him away to The Jupiter Drawing Room (Cape Town). The agency had just won Sanlam and was on a fast growth curve. Due to the growth pace at Jupiter, Gallarelli, by his own account, landed senior account roles sooner than he might have otherwise. His brand portfolio included Musica, Brandhouse (Bushmills Whiskey launch), Galaxy & Co Jewellers, Primi Piatti Restaurants, National Brands (Willards Chips, Big Corn Bites, Real Juice Company) and Bokomo, among others. It certainly helped set his on the career trajectory he had hoped for.

Ogilvy & Mather Cape TownJacques Burger landed him back at Ogilvy Cape Town as a business director handling Cadbury, Weylandts, VWSA (SEAT) and Foschini Group. By 2009, he was a director handling Carling Black Label (SAB) and Coca-Cola in SA. In mid-2012, Gallarelli was appointed deputy managing director at Ogilvy.

By mid-2013, Levinsohn was discussing his departure inside the group and Rob Hill, chief operating officer, and Abey Mokgwatsane, CEO of Ogilvy & Mather South Africa, sat down with Gallarelli to find out if he wanted one of the top jobs in the local ad industry.

“I said yes immediately”

“I said yes immediately,” says Gallarelli. “This is the job I have always wanted. I aspired to it when Mike Abel led this agency, when Jacques Burger led the agency and when Gavin [Levinsohn] led this agency. To be a caretaker of the Ogilvy Cape Town legacy, to create a story within the Ogilvy story, makes this one of the most exciting jobs in advertising.”

Gallarelli, aged 36, says that Ogilvy Cape Town has a long history of appointing younger agency leaders, pointing to several of his predecessors who were also in their mid-30s when they landed the job.

A key focus for Gallarelli will be putting staff at the centre of what the agency stands for and creating an environment where individuals would like to work and give their best. The agency expects a lot from its people, says Gallarelli, and so it should give back as well. It will help “liberating the talent of people to produce their best work,” says Gallarelli.

Ogilvy & Mather building, Cape TownOn a practical level

On a practical level, it means allowing staff a greater say through committees, bringing managers on board who share people-centric values, getting the management team to set the example of this approach inside the agency and generally empowering staff.

Ogilvy’s digital education arm, the Ogilvy Digital Marketing Academy (ODMA), will be reshaped to allow staff to pursue individual modules on an ongoing calendar, making it less exclusive. This removes certain limitations imposed by the previous course model and Gallarelli hopes it will extend the initiatives influence throughout the building.

While he assumes the economic environment to remain tough, with a devalued rand, interest rate hikes and increased cost to consumers, Gallarelli believes this could benefit FMCG clients, even if it proves detrimental to producers of big-ticket items such as cars.

Has stolen some advantages

Gallarelli says that, while the agency has stolen some advantages on the competition, especially in terms of digital integration, it needs to act like it’s in the number two or three position, and never believe it is coming close to its true potential. Gallarelli’s starting point is that the agency, which emerged as the most admired in the country in a MarkLives poll among agency executives, is only 50% there. This leaves a lot of work to do.

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