Meet Gareth Orr, Director of Culture at OMD UK

We were lucky enough to sit down with Gareth Orr, Director of Culture here at OMD UK, to hear about what’s changed since he first joined the agency 17 years ago and his fondest memories to date.

Hi Gareth – you’ve been at OMD UK for donkeys years…can you remember your first day? What has been the biggest change at the agency since then?

Yes it’s fair to say that I’ve been an OMD’er for a long time – 17 years in fact. But the agency today is pretty much unrecognisable from the one I joined. For a start, we weren’t called OMD UK – we were BMP Optimum and our offices were on the third floor of the DDB building in Paddington where you could still smoke; well on the stairwells at least. The only thing I remember about my first day was that it was an especially hot June Monday and I was wearing a grey shirt!

The biggest change at the agency in that time is the creative scope we now have with our clients. When I started, media was often relegated to 30 minutes at the end of a meeting; we were definitely viewed as the poor relation in the marketing mix. Today, we’re crafting thoughtful, creative solutions to business challenges that we couldn’t have dreamt of then; and that’s what keeps things exciting for me.

What does a Director of Culture do?

A very good question. If you think of my job as a cake, you get three slices. The first slice is to work with teams across the agency to help originate and execute ideas that fuel the brilliant culture we have at OMD UK. It could be building plans for the office refurbishment that bring our Culturally Connected positioning to life in a very tangible, practical way; or taking responsibility for the agency’s tone of voice in partnership with the Marketing team, in award papers and marketing collateral.

The second slice is where I serve up my facilitation and training skills for the benefit of the agency, but also for our clients and media owner partners. This year I have trained a small army of Brainstorm Champions across the agency, run workshops for one of our FMCG clients to generate in-store brand activation ideas and facilitated an away day for a media owner to supercharge creativity within the team.

And your final slice comes in the shape of my OMD Create gatekeeper role; I’m the first point of contact for the Comms Planners and Strategists where I cast my beady eye over new briefs to check they’re as fertile for ideas as humanly possible and to traffic them to the right specialists quickly and efficiently.

It all makes for an unusually flavoured cake, but somehow it just works!

You must have quite a few memories from your time – are there any that stand out?

17 years is a lot of memories, but of course a few spring most readily to mind. When we won the McDonald’s pitch, the whole agency crammed into the nearest branch to celebrate. I think we sent the staff into meltdown with the size of our order! Rita Ora singing in the office is another highlight. And the opening of the new reception at Minerva House by a Queen lookalike after months of hard slog couldn’t be forgotten.

But mostly, it’s a happy haze of brilliant, passionate people doing work that they love and having fun at the same time.

Fast forward five years – what do you hope to see that’s fundamentally different from today?​

All agencies go through natural lifecycles and here at OMD UK, it feels like we are very much at the start of a new phase. Having launched our new mission and strategy last year, all of our collective energy is entirely focused on creating ideas that earn our client’s brands a greater share of people’s lives. And that single-minded determination is already starting to pay off; you just have to look at our performance at last month’s Media Week Awards to see the evidence. But we have so much more to give and so I hope 2020 will be the glorious culmination of all our efforts, seeing us crowned Agency of the Decade. Well you’ve got to dream big haven’t you?!


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