Interview: Jean-Philippe Maheu, Chief Digital Officer, Ogilvy: ‘Frenemy’ Explained; Data And Stories

For the past year, ad agencies have been trying to find the best way to consider their individual relationships to Google (NSDQ: GOOG). With the internet search giant’s $3.1 billion merger with display specialist DoubleClick completed last week, the choices to view Google as friend, foe or, WPP Group CEO Sir Martin Sorrell’s term, “frenemy,” seemed to became more stark. But Jean-Philippe Maheu, who became WPP shop Ogilvy North America’s first chief digital officer around the time the merger was proposed last April, feels that much of the industry’s hand-wringing and trepidation that has been building against Google has been a bit much. Overall, working with Google is a fact of life for every major agency at this point; it might just be best to see how the industry can harness the company’s increased power to better serve their clients.

Maheu, a former CEO of Razorfish, and I spoke at the McGraw-Hill Media Summit. Maheu spent six years at Razorfish, retiring in 2003 after guiding the sale of the company to SBI (which itself was acquired by aQuantive in 2004; ultimately, aQuantive was bought by Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) last year for $6 billion). In addition to discussing Google, Maheu also talked about the importance of traditional creative disciplines, AOL’s (NYSE: TWX) recent troubles, as well as his outlook on ad spending for this year. More after the jump.

The nuances of “frenemy: “Let’s be clear: the completion of [the Google/DoubleClick merger] was something we expected. Number two, Sir Martin’s quote – “frenemy’ – was probably taken a bit too far by people in the press. I really felt that Sir Martin was exploring the meaning of what Google’s position in the marketplace means. Google and DoubleClick have been partners with Ogilvy for a long time. Half of our clients are on DoubleClick ad serving platform and obviously, we’re buying a lot of media from Google, in the form of keywords. So both continue to be key partners to Ogilvy – as are Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) and MSN. From an industry dynamic, it’s going to be interesting to see how Google can leverage the data that DoubleClick has and combine that with the search data to further optimize the display media. If they can further enhance the return on investment for our clients, we will continue to work with them.”

Marrying search with storytelling: Digital advertising has largely been focused on search, while traditional advertising has been about condensing a narrative about a product into a 30-second TV commercial, a page in a magazine or newspaper, or a billboard. Among Maheu’s goals when he took the job at Ogilvy last year was to bring the art of storytelling to interactive advertising: “One of the key things we’re working on is how to engage with Yahoo, Google and MSN in a way that is creative, unique and that is a bit more strategic than just buying media.”

Freeing digital: In order to make that goal a reality, Maheu helped free digital advertising from being housed in its own distinct area, like print or TV or out-of-home. At Ogilvy, digital is no longer a department; it