DDB’s Roisin Rooney on the Universal Human Truths

Roisin Rooney is a self-described ‘DDB lifer’. The global chief people officer for the iconic advertising network has become a keystone for talent across the agency offices around the world. Over the course of four decades, Roisin has helped to nurture thousands of careers, growing and developing countless programmes, platforms and strategies, whether it’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, training solutions or developments to support and retain talent. And at the time of one of the most intense talent wars the industry has ever seen, Roisin’s experience and insight is more crucial than ever.
But it almost ended up very differently. When Roisin first began her working life, she entered thinking a career in PR lay ahead. Something wasn’t clicking and this lifelong journey looked like it was about to end before it had even started. But thanks to the ‘freedom to fail’ – what she’d later learn is one of the four key ‘freedoms’ that underpin the network’s culture – Roisin was able to find her true calling in people and culture, moving to BMP, the agency that would later become DDB London.
“It was a happy accident that saw me move over to what was BMP in those days. I felt so blessed and lucky to have gotten through the doors of such an incredible shop filled with the most iconic people who were genuinely nice,” says Roisin, who joined at the time that the incomparable John Webster was creative director. “It felt like home the minute I went in. You worked hard but you really played hard as well. There was a sense of belonging and accomplishment in what you were creating.
“Culture creates that true stickiness. What I’ve been grateful for at DDB is the evolution of being able to continue to map and grow into different roles and continue to be challenged. And, ultimately to do something that I believe in, because I think you have to be credible in a role like this. That’s what’s led me to DDB and the pathway that’s kept me here for those 30 plus years.”
Right now, the whole industry is facing a ferocious battle for talent. The pandemic has seen talent question their career, and the experience of working from home has seen people demand more in terms of work-life balance. Given the breadth of Roisin’s experience, she takes a long view of this, suggesting that agencies and holding companies need to go deep and address the root causes of the issue rather than grasping for quick fixes.
“What’s really interesting is if you map where you see the highest levels of turnover, the real insight is it’s aligned to where employer-employee relationships are very transactional. Before rushing to create solutions, it’s about understanding the root cause that is driving people to feel the need to leave their jobs. The pandemic has crystallized it and caused us all to pause for thought, thinking about what we want. As we come out of this, we’re all tired. We’re reflecting on how we want to live and work in the future,” reflects Roisin. “For us organizationally, one of the key learnings has to be the move from any sense of a transactional relationship. In DDB, we talk very much about wanting a really positive emotional relationship, where people can have a true sense of belonging. And belonging shouldn’t just be in a local agency. We want that kind of emotion at scale, because we want people to feel it across our entire network – connectivity and community.”

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