Chief Operating Officer

Job Description

The COO reports directly to the Managing Director, and works in close partnership with them. A member of the senior leadership team, they are normally a member of Agency Board.

Chief Operating Officer

Also known as...

COO, Deputy MD, Operations Director, Finance and Operations Director

The role in brief... 

The COO reports directly to the Managing Director, and works in close partnership with them.  A member of the senior leadership team, they are normally a member of Agency Board. They may lead a separate Operations Board/Team. The MD oversees the activities of an agency, establishing the strategic goals, working towards growth, profitability and increasing shareholder return and formulates plans. They may also hold senior client relationships. The COO ensures that the organisation and resources are in place to make the plans happen and manage the day-to-day processes. In some agencies this role may be combined with that of Finance Director, although its remit is broader.

Working with...

  • Internal:  Managing Director/CEO, Board of Directors and any subsidiary management boards, department heads and team leaders; global finance team and global operations team, and indirectly with the whole company.
  • External: Suppliers, relevant trade and regulatory bodies, professional advisers, accountants and auditors. Procurement and client finance and marketing leads.
  • They may have line management responsibility for a PA; Intern; Finance Team, Finance Assistant; HR/Talent Team being accountable for their performance and providing them with professional development opportunities. 

Responsible for... 

Ensuring that the right people, systems, processes and resources are in place to allow the agency flourish. The operations and processes need to be fit for purpose and to enable, not prevent quality work to be produced.

  • Champions the work of the agency and creates pride in the agency and its work.
  • Overseeing the work of the support functions, usually including HR, Talent, IT, Legal and Finance, and often Marketing, Office Management and Facilities.
  • Keeping abreast of developments within the various technical fields that affect the running of the agency and their potential relevance to day-to-day working.
  • Researching and suggesting relevant innovations to increase both working and financial efficiency that contribute to the overall culture, tone and style of the agency.
  • Implementing the overall operational and financial performance measures for the agency. Working in collaboration with the Finance Director, monitoring and analysing company performance against those measures. Suggesting timely and remedial actions if results are moving off target.
  • Working closely with board members and senior managers to make sure that their teams remain in alignment with the overall strategy.
  • Negotiating client contracts and fees with the Finance Director, client lead and procurement. Must be able to explain and justify the value of agency charges.
  • Developing a strong partnership with the Managing Director and providing a sounding board for them.
  • Representing the Managing Director to the rest of the agency and taking day-to-day charge when the MD is elsewhere.
  • Leading projects such as office relocations, restructuring and reviewing agency financial models with the Finance leads as appropriate.
  • Supporting CPD and learning activity for all agency staff and ensures that there are adequate resources, time and budgets in place.
  • Liaising with relevant trade bodies to make sure the agency is as professional as possible.
  • Involved in recruitment and selection decisions.
  • Focused on the personal and professional development of their team.

Those who succeed are...

  • Experienced in directing the operations and processes in sympathetic partnership with the work of the agency. 
  • Strategic thinkers and can see the greater potential for the agency whilst learning from the past and able to take realistic and strategic decisions about the future,
  • Able to lead, motivate and inspire others to do great work.
  • Able to sensitively manage a wide range of other professionals, often specialists in their field, such as accountants and lawyers. Good at negotiation and conflict resolution.
  • Strong communicators, able to get complex ideas across to others in straightforward language.
  • Able to solve the majority of operational problems and make effective and timely decisions based on the knowledge available.
  • Willing to involve themselves thoroughly within the agency, are curious and appreciative of the creative output.
  • Proficient at building strong and cordial relationships with both senior colleagues and junior staff.
  • Financially adept, and able to keep control of agency expenditure and build a sound financial base for future activity. 

Where they come from, and where they go…

COOs may well come to the role from one of the specialist functions which look across the entire business, such as Finance, or less usually HR or IT or Legal. They often have financial qualifications. They may or may not have client-facing, account management and planning experience. They may come from Commercial Production. They need to develop and maintain the breadth of vision to understand and actively support the other specialisms that fall under their remit. The COO may also be part of a team of senior executives from another agency who have launched their own company, but will usually have held the senior role in one of the management specialisms first. They may come from a consultancy.

In other industries the COO is often seen as the successor to the MD, learning the ropes of the business. This is less usual in advertising, as the COO may not always have the depth of client-facing and account management knowledge to take on the most senior role. The more usual path is to move to a larger organisation for career progression, or to a larger group which affords new challenges. There may be opportunities to undertake Non-Executive Director positions on the boards of various other companies, consultancy or interim roles.

Last updated 22 September 2020