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Paul O'Malley: Leadership, Marketing, and Agency Insight from Fox Agency COO

An interview with Fox Agency COO Paul O'Malley



Paul O'Malley is a global business leader who is motivated by opportunities where he can drive profitable growth and make a meaningful impact on an organization. He leverages integrated marketing and communications campaigns that increase awareness, advocacy, and demand generation. He recently joined Fox Agency as its new Chief Operating Officer – North America, Paul and brings over 15 years of B2B experience to his role. Prior to joining Fox Agency, Paul was responsible for Kingpin Communication's expansion into the US where, Over a period of five years, he built the business from the ground up to over $50m in revenue with a 90% employee retention rate

Fox Agency has been steadily growing its US client base, with clients including Delphi, PHINIA, BearingPoint and Arcwide accounting for 30% of its global revenues. The move represents Fox Agency's and O'Malley's commitment to continue this growth to service clients seeking tailored, globally informed strategies from a US location.


Transcript Below

Host Shawn P Neal

You've got a long history that comes with this industry. Can you tell us a little bit about just your past and what brings you to today where you are at Fox Agency?

Fox Agency COO Paul O'Malley

Yeah, for sure. It's been a while. I wish I could say that it was only five years because it feels like it. should have only been that amount of time, but it's hard now when you look back and you think, wow, it's been 20 years now. Getting older.

I'm from Ireland, as you can probably tell from the accent. I moved over to England when I was 21 years old and I got a job at a theater. So I was greeting the people as they were arriving at the theater. And I did that for three years and it was a great way to build relationships and engage with the public. But it wasn't exactly a career move. So I moved into the marketing space in 2005 and I went to IDG, which is now Foundry.

Banner was part of WPP, got taken over by MediaCom. And from MediaCom then I went to an agency called Kingpin Communications. And Kingpin, very similar to Fox: UK based headquartered agency in the B2B space with ambitions to grow. And they hired me on the premise of them almost turning 18 and saying, we're about to be an adult and we need an adult to help us grow up. (laughter) So apparently I was the adult to help them grow up.

And so I joined that business. Restructured.

And then it was almost like a "what next" moment. And we'd been over to the States a couple of times for meetings. What I found is that our American prospects were very friendly at accepting meetings, but it was actually difficult to take business over the line because we weren't on the ground here. So it was a 'thank you for coming five and a half thousand miles to visit us, but I don't think there's much of an opportunity for us to work together.' Without really knowing what the reasons for that was, other than this kind of very top line, well, it's because we're not there.

And so in 2016, I moved to San Francisco then and opened Kingpins office. We had no clients, no prospects, no staff, no idea. (Laughter) No, our idea was growth. You know, we knew that we wanted to grow as an agency and it wasn't a Eureka idea to say that the U.S. was the place to grow and San Francisco felt for a tech agency to be the place to grow. And so I settled there for four years in San Francisco, moved to New York with plans to expand our East Coast operation. COVID hit. So I ended up kind of hiring around the country rather than in New York specifically. And then we sold the business in 2021. And then I, myself, left that business at the end of 2022. And that's where Fox came in. And that's where I've landed now.

Shawn P Neal

You know, it was interesting because I had noticed some of your previous work and that 2016, I think you said, move to the States kind of gave you that opportunity to cement yourself as someone who can help bridge that gap across the pond, so to speak, and start to build here.

Paul O'Malley


Shawn P Neal

So you come into Fox Agency here, and this is kind of where our story picks up. You have been charged with kind of leading the US effort. Fox Agency, of course, well established in the UK. Very, very well accomplished there. What did this feel like when you first took this role on and I guess semi-started the same process as you did back in 2016 with your previous agency? What did this feel like coming into this?

Paul O'Malley

You know, the interesting thing was that when I left the last place, I didn't have a lot of desire to want to do the same thing again. I think I had an idea that maybe I wanted to have less of a U.S. role and more of a global role. At least that's what I was telling myself. But I realized that I wasn't quite ready to jump back into something. And I think a big part of that was that the conversation that I was having just wasn't really exciting me.

The biggest thing that has excited me at the previous company, as much as we were successful, was the people that I worked with; the team that we built. There was very much a sense of camaraderie in the team- a feeling that everybody was working for each other. And that was the type of culture that I wanted to build at the old agency. And the conversations that I had throughout this year just felt like they were more sales-led conversations. It was, 'we want to grow into the U.S.' What that really means is we want you to come with your little black book.

I respect the relationships that I have with my former clients that I don't see myself as a sales guy in one sense. I'm a relationship builder for sure, which is a form of sales, I suppose I didn't really warm to the idea that your growth plan for the U.S. is stick a number against one person's head and then let them go out and try and burn all their relationships trying to sell them some product.

So it wasn't interesting to me when Fox - Ben Fox is the CEO of Fox agency - when he approached me, it was about six months before I joined. Just reached out. I think he'd seen an article that was on that I had been interviewed around something. And I think he just liked the sound of my journey or whatever. And so he reached out and we start talking. And I got a sense immediately that Ben had a people-first mentality. And my mentality as a business leader has always been, if I respect and help the staff on the career paths that they're on with authenticity and being genuine and all that sort of stuff, they will give their best work because they will want to work for each other. They will want to work for the agency. And therefore, the clients will then reap the benefits of that. Then I'm on board with that. And that's what excites me. And I think I realized that before, but it took me to take a step back and then meet Ben to realize again that that's a company that I can get behind.

Shawn P Neal

Yeah, I think that people first leadership is so key, especially after 2020. You know, after the pandemic, we all realized how valuable... because I mean, we were ripped away from those face-to-face interactions and suddenly face-to-face meant screen-to-screen. And so I think that it's incredibly important that we focus on that. Do you feel like, as you come into this role, that kind of interpersonal skill that you have to build relationships and to kind of lean on 'people-first' is going to be kind of the the hinge pin on how you advance these accounts in the U.S.

Paul O'Malley

Yeah, a hundred percent. I mean, when you're building a company, you're really building a culture. It has to focus on the desires and the wants and the needs of the people. The company has its plans and its targets and all that sort of stuff, but they're not going to mean anything to somebody who's coming in at the start of their career, with the greatest respect to the company. For them, it's a paycheck and it's a step on the ladder. As a small business as well- that's the other thing is when you're starting in a new continent and you're battling against established companies that maybe have offices in places where they're giving out free food or they're doing all sorts of smoke and mirrors benefits in order to make you feel like you're important. You have to be able to counter all of that with things that make people genuinely respond to whether they want to be a part of something.

One of the lessons that I learned a long time ago - I was at an agency. I left the agency because I mean, I told myself that it was an hour and a half drive from where I was living to the office and traffic might push that beyond two hours. And so I left and I went to a company that was 15 minutes walk down the road. And on the first day, I was walking through the park and I was kicking my feet through the leaves. I was loving life. I was thinking I'd made the best decision ever. Nice spring morning. It was lovely. Sun was shining and all that sort of stuff.

Got to the office. And I think within 30 minutes, I realized that I'd made a mistake. And the mistake was that the culture didn't fit with what responded to me. And so I ended up going back to the agency.

I realized in that moment that you spend eight hours of your day with people. And the job itself will have its updates and its down days. Like any job. What gets you through those rough days are the people that you're happy to wake up every morning and say, you know, "I like working with Shawn P Neal. You know, that's a guy that I can get behind," that sort of thing. And so that's what I'm trying to build here. That's what I will try to build here. And I firmly believe that in building that sort of process as a company, people will want to work for Fox and they will want to do their best work for Fox.

Shawn P Neal

Yeah. You know, what's interesting about this conversation - and I spent several years working in leadership development, leadership coaching - and a lot of the kind of self-care that you're talking about, that intentionality, the self-awareness of making sure that you're doing the things that align with you and your core beliefs resonate in your voice.

And I just want people to pay attention to that as we're talking. There is a calmness and kind of an assuredness in your voice that tells me that you are very focused on being in places that align well with you. That, ultimately I think, is the key to fulfillment when you're talking about the workplace and working in an environment, especially marketing. I mean a conversation I recently had and I'd love your take on this, is that marketing is that focal point where when everything's going good, all the high fives come to you. When things are going bad, everybody blames marketing. And I would love your take on that because I think there's a clear, maybe explanation or something, that can be said for that from your perspective in the agency world as to how marketing really drives, behind-the-scenes, bottom line.

Paul O'Malley

Yeah. It's again, I guess, gone back to something I just said about viewing a company's approach as just purely black and white and numbers. That creates a lot of tension when things are not going so well. There's always this question about the marketing and sales relationships. Marketing don't talk to sales and sales don't talk to marketing. And again, that's the key to anything I think in life in general is that if you are not communicating and there isn't context behind what you're doing, then the easiest thing for you to do is point the finger at someone else. If sales get a lot of leads through from marketing but they can't close the leads, then sales will be like the leads weren't good enough. And marketing will be like, well, sales are not working hard enough.

But the common thing that you hear from marketing is that sales want sales ready. They don't want to do any of the legwork, you know?

Shawn P Neal

Right, right. We delivered X to sales and sales didn't do anything with it.

Paul O'Malley

Right. But I remember working with a company years ago and one of the approaches for them was, I think, was probably not the right approach. But there was an element of it that was right. And that was to bypass marketing and go and speak to sales.

Now the bypassing marketing was the mistake because marketing still controls the budget. But their idea was bypass marketing, go to sales so that sales understands the process to generate an engagement. And that then may give sales more information to then be able to effectively follow up because it's a more real process then. It's not just here's a bunch of data I'm going to follow up on.

But again, the real answer is communication across channels. Understanding from within (that) marketing has to educate sales on what the process is. How hard it is for them to actually generate the kind of stuff that sales and sales to also know what they're working with. And I think for that then people are more inclined to celebrate the wins together and commiserate the losses maybe. But yeah, it seems like a basic thing, but it's actually one of the more difficult things.

Shawn P Neal

I'm nodding my head because these are conversations that I hear over and over again. So I appreciate your hitting some of these spots. I think we need to hear that. Now, let's kind of dive in a little bit to the nuts and bolts of, you know, what you see coming in 2024. I think it's very important to focus on what this looks like and what kind of things that Fox Agency and specifically your efforts here in the States will be focused on. So can you kind of give me an idea of maybe any market trends. And I'm going to use that term very loosely, because I know we all kind of go, well, that's, that's a great, you know, one size fits all. But seriously, I mean, looking at some of the things with AI, how that is now becoming such a real part of our world, and how that is changing the consumer landscape. How consumers are consuming the assets that we're putting out there into the world. What kind of things do you see on the horizon as we come up into the new year?

Paul O'Malley

This is probably one of the most difficult moments to predict. I would say because of a variety of changes on the horizon. I mean, like the AI explosion that's happened in the last year has created an awful lot of confusion for people. I think there's elements of fear about we're moving too fast. What are the true benefits that we can get out of it? From a creative perspective, are we looking at a period where AI is going to start replacing creative work? So many questions on the AI side.

At the same time you have on the other side of it, the Third Party Cookie law change that comes in next year. And how that's going to influence, let's say marketing strategy. I want to believe that actually there's positivity here.

First of all, I think anywhere where privacy is taken as a consideration is a good thing.

I don't care whether it's going to make our lives a little harder in terms of that. I'm a consumer at the end of the day. I want my privacy protected. So I'm all for changes that will do that. I hope then from a marketing perspective that the shift will be towards more, okay, how can we be smarter about how we are engaging with our audience? Because we're still going to be able to, you know, contextually target people. We're still going to have a lot of data that we were going to be able to target, let's say prospects and customers that are on our database already.

If we can get more creative with that, then that's great. And that's great for Fox because Fox is a creative led agency. You know, so new ideas, big ideas, you know, unique ways of engaging with customers. And actually that is something that I would be very keen on. I almost feel that we have become so exhausted with the idea that everything that we do needs to be data led in some way. How can we automate absolutely everything to the nth degree? And I think what we have tended to forget is that the buying process in anything at a certain point still involves human interaction. Whether that's at the creative concepting end where you do research into an audience. The best type of research you can do is actually speaking to somebody. But then if you go back to the other end of the process, when all of the marketing is done and whatever amount of digital or offline marketing happens, at a certain point, sales are going to need to speak to prospects. My hope is that the removal of some of that insight from third party cookie pools or whatever you want to call it, that you are forcing a different thought process because you realize that you can't just plow a load of money in to digital activities and just do a race to the bottom scenario, try and pay the lowest cost and then, you know, hopefully you get some conversions bubble up. So my hope is that we'll start to see a bit of a resurgence in some of those more traditional marketing methods. Maybe I'm old school like that and I just want to see a return to the old days. Or, my fear is that tactics like lead gen, which I remember years ago being saying I think next year lead gen going to go away, but stuff like that is going to be like, okay, well, if we can't spend it on more brand awareness-type activities, that's at least spend it in an area where we're "guaranteeing" (and I'm doing the inverted commas on "guaranteeing") quality engagements. And of course that then is another top of the funnel fill / race to the bottom type tactic.

Yeah, my hope is that customers or clients, big companies out there, small companies, whatever, are looking at their marketing plans for next year and thinking, how can we generate a more holistic marketing plan that communicates better with sales, but actually we want to surround our customers. Take advantage as well of customers as well for advocacy. Help maybe some of that build on how we put ourselves out there as prospects. And yeah, be more creative with it rather than sort of, let's just try and uncover another way. And that's where I think AI counters some of them. Because AI is still tapping into that. How can we use an automated solution to create our marketing strategies for us, but also to monitor our audience behavior?

It seems counter to me that we would try to put in this privacy thing with third party cookies, but at the same time then try to utilize something completely automated. So to me, the two don't go hand in hand. However, it's not uncommon for us to close one door and open another window.

Shawn P Neal

As you look forward to some of the things that you're doing there with Fox, I want to acknowledge.. So I saw here on the Fox Agency Facebook page. See. I'll tell you where I get my research. It's Facebook. Thank you, Mark Zuckerberg. So there was a recent post there about Sony. And this is kind of to bring this all into perspective. So it says that this recent partnership with Sony resulted in over 4 million impressions, 63,000 clicks, 25,000 engagements, and a 179% PR reach in KPI. So those are the kind of numbers, obviously Sony- massive company, but those are the kind of numbers that when we look at it, we go that's successful marketing. That is a strategy that works. What kind of things when it comes to Fox Agency and the things that you're looking to do with your clients here in the States, what kind of things can they look forward to expecting as far as strategies and tactics and things that you're doing to take full advantage of all of the technology and things that we have to our abilities today?

Paul O'Malley

First and foremost, 30% of Fox's revenue, let's say, comes from existing U.S. business. So unlike when I started Kingpin, we had nothing. There's already a basis of relationship here. So my first goal here is to strengthen those relationships. They're already strong, but they're strong from a distance. Now, we want to honor the people who have got behind us by showing them that we're here to help them grow their business and in turn, obviously, they'll help us grow ours. So that's step number one. Relationship building is absolutely paramount. And any company that we work with, that will be our goal: to understand the KPIs and the go-to-market strategies of our clients, align with those, align with the people, align with how they need to. It's such a cliche, I suppose in one sense, to say that we want to be that extension of their team. But ultimately to be the extension of the team, you have to show authenticity and consistency through everything that you do. So we will do that by being in front of them, by again, being consistent with our ideas. You know, for us, it can't just be about those numbers at the end. It's got to be about the ideas. The proactive communication, the proactive ideas that will help lead to those results and the consistency with that.

We are mindful about the clients that we're working for will align to the certain goals that we are able to help them achieve. And of course, in time, we would like to grow from there. But that means that companies like BearingPoint, OneStream, PHINIA- These are companies that are already working with us. That's our bread and butter. That's where we're going to focus our efforts on. Really we want to, we want them to look at us as like, these are the guys that we want fun, effective ideas. We recently did our drone show for PHINIA. I mean, that's pretty awesome in itself. Our main focus has got to be on delivering results. Of course. But delivering results is something that is not guaranteed. But the relationship management is something that we can control. And the ideas is something that we can control. And all that sort of stuff. So that's where our focus will be. And I think by the end of next year, hopefully we'll see that Fox has been on a pretty good growth trajectory.

Shawn P Neal

Yeah, you know, I'm reminded of Simon Sinek's talk, the Golden Circle. And the reason that that's coming to mind right now is because your response to my question couldn't have been any more on target. And I just genuinely appreciate where you took that because what you said is my why is the relationship with the people that we're working with. That's it. I mean, what more can be said? I think that's an incredible place to land that.

Paul O'Malley

Yeah. Yeah, I always used to think that if you have a strong relationship with somebody, then you would get through the bad days. Not every day is going to be a great results day. You know, you're going to have some bad results, but it's all learning. But if you have a good relationship with somebody and you have that communication that we talked about that sometimes is lacking. If you have that consistency there, then you know, you're willing to work through the bad days together rather than, you know, if you don't have that relationship, then it's like, well, these guys are not working for us. Let's just wipe our hands of them. And that's it. We're gone. So relationship first, right? Internally and externally.

Shawn P Neal

That's amazing. Yes. Thank you. Thank you for saying that. Yes. Well, Paul O'Malley, I know you're going to do some amazing things with Fox Agency and I am just excited to kind of follow the next 12 months and see where your leadership takes thisand where Fox Agency lands in the next year. So thank you for joining me. Thank you for being my guest today on Innovate Marketing. We really appreciate it.

Paul O'Malley

Thanks, Shawn.

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