How Halting Pitches and Improving Morale Paid Off for Organic’s New CEO

David Shulman settles in


Current gig CEO of Organic

Previous gig President at Wunderman

Twitter @organicinc

Age 47

Adweek: What were the challenges you faced when you joined Organic three years ago?

David Shulman: The company needed a reboot when I stepped in. When you look at what wasn't working, it was pretty much all about retention. With a focus on bottom line, we were chasing the dollars rather than inspiring our talent to produce amazing work that drove impact for our clients. There was a great base of clients, but we were seeing too many turn over, and that led to disruption and high staff turnover. We were seeing nearly half of the talent leave on a yearly basis and all of this contributed to poor financial results.

What was your first order of business then?

The first year I reoriented the company around talent and turned off the new business engine so we could focus on our clients. We had been on what I called pitch crack with the entire executive team focused entirely on winning new business. New business wins produce an addictive buzz that drove the team to immediately go after a new pitch, but with all the focus on new business we weren't focusing on clients, which led to a leaky bucket.

You said that your biggest recent win was Wells Fargo.

Wells Fargo was looking to consolidate their digital and media partnerships to drive more efficient and effective marketing. Building on the existing BBDO relationship, Organic, OMD and Annalect united to bring the best expertise in a coordinated offering of brand, digital, media and data. In fact, our agency team is all co-located in one space to drive the best collaboration, sharing and impact for Wells Fargo.

What's the last thing you want to hear from a member of your team?

We have a strong "no asshole" policy. So, the thing I'd hate to hear is, "I'm working with an asshole—someone who's not collaborative, looking out for himself versus the team, being toxic." You have to understand that the culture and vibe you have in an organization is contagious, so whether it's a senior or junior person who's not conducive to that environment, that's the last thing I want to hear.

You have some clients marketing in sensitive categories. How do you handle messaging?

I'm super proud of the work we're doing on Kimberly-Clark, Kotex, Poise and Depend. These are categories you have to be sensitive about, but you can't shy away from them. You can bring personality to the communication without being humorous in a way that can sometimes be too lighthearted. What we want to do is give people more confidence and more comfort.

A lot of brands are trying to master the science of programmatic ad buying. What's your take?

Brands should absolutely be exploring programmatic to automate their media buying of specific audiences and assembly of creative assets, but that's just part of the equation. Dynamic marketing may leverage programmatic capabilities to automate things, but it goes beyond the tech stack and data management tools to create the most effective communication for each individual target and then continually sharpen our approach based on the intelligence we gain via user engagement.

This story first appeared in the Sept. 21 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Publish date: September 22, 2015 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT