An e-interview with Tony Granger

Issue 17 | December 2010

Global Chief Creative Officer, Young & Rubicam

Q Paul Silburn, executive creative director of Saatchi London, has said he thinks the two most interesting categories at Cannes are Direct and Promo. This is the man who wrote one of the most famous TV commercials ever, John Smith’s “Bear”, so what do you think he’s on about? Do you agree?

No, I think there was interesting work across all media.

Q What sort of work excites you as a creative person?

Work that feels spontaneous and insightful.

Q Can you define the direction you want to take the agency?

“Resist the Usual,” a line that Ray Rubicam wrote in 1924. He encouraged people to be “Anti-Usualists.” This really resonated with me. I thought, if there ever was a time for our agency and our clients to resist the usual, it’s now.

Q Which recent Y&R campaigns best point towards the sort of work you want the company to be associated with?

We created a 12-part documentary TV show about high school football rivalries in the South for our telecom client Cellular South.  It aired in 80 million households in the US, and has now been picked up for a second season.  We jointly own the intellectual copyright with them.

The work we did for V&A Museum out of London is another example. A user generated digital expedition. Changed its dusty old world image for good. Technology is enabling the average person to create film, music, art, that only the professionals could a few years ago, it’s become a pro-am world. Exciting.

Q Do you have a mission statement, either publically or privately?

Faint heart never won fair maiden.

Q What recent work have you seen recently from rival shops, which you admire? And why?I love  Great idea, flawlessly executed.

Q The skills required to produce some of the big integrated campaigns we are seeing these days are getting further and further away from the old craft skills of the writer and the art director of yore. Where are you finding new talent? And what are you doing to train and retrain your people so they are adapted to the new market conditions?I’d argue that the copywriter/art director team still has relevance, and that craft skills are still and will always be relevant and indeed very important to our business.  The difference today is that the core team has expanded. It’s now more about clustering talent with different expertise around an opportunity, then you unbundle, and cluster again for the next.Where do we find talent? Well, for a start I have a dedicated global team that is responsible for finding and attracting talent. We find that schools like the Miami Ad School are training teams that are fantastic.In this industry, you grow and thrive by being inquisitive and enthusiastic. And that helps you evolve as the industry does. Those who aren’t won’t be around in the next few years.

Q How are you going to differentiate Y&R’s creative product from that of the other WPP agencies? Isn’t there a danger that Ogilvy, JWT, Y&R and Grey all just merge into one big amorphous WPP-ness Thing?I have to say that one does not keep me up at night.  It’s not relevant. We operate independently.  Have different leaders, cultures.  They’re competitors like all the other agencies out there.

Q You’re a South African and for a time South Africa produced some wonderful work. Producing great work is not easy anywhere but in a small country, lines of communication between creative director and client decision-makers are shorter; and marketing budgets are not spread across different silos such as ATL, Direct, Sales Promotion and so forth.  Do you find it frustrating now you are dealing with clients who actively want to keep those silos intact? And how can you persuade lumbering marketing giants to think small and be nimble and quick-witted?Well, first of all South Africa isn’t a small country. It has the same challenges creating great work as any other country.Clients are evolving as media is evolving and as digital becomes everything. Those who don’t will fail. Simple as that.

Q In your job, who are the people you spend most time with and why? Is it the suits, educating them as to why creativity is important? Is it the clients, trying to get them to buy ideas that move even fractionally     beyond the predictable and the turgid? Is it the creatives, trying to get them to get excited by the opportunities that exist right now?All of the above.I work very closely with Hamish McLennan on the business side. It’s a partnership. We are very connected to our clients. During an average week I’m talking to and meeting with multiple clients internationally, building their trust and encouraging experimentation.I also know our creative/account leaders very well and have processes set up where I can see all the very best work daily. It’s important that agencies in our network feel our presence (me and Hamish) and see that presence as a help.There is great value in bringing people together often. We get to know each other’s strengths and talents.  It’s making us a tighter, more intimate network that cross-pollinates and collaborates.We’re in a people business – our people are our strength and their focus gives us momentum.

Q As the nature of advertising changes, we see Abbott Mead Vickers becoming Direct Agency of the Year at Cannes and Y&R agencies around the world creating great response-driven campaigns. So where does that leave Wunderman in the scheme of things? Wunderman London created Pringles “Oversharers” which was seriously unlucky not to win a Lion of any sort.  Doesn’t that sort of work make your sister agency a competitor to you? If so, how do you deal with it?We work closely with Wunderman across many clients. We pitch together and we make each other stronger. We have no desire to be a CRM agency. We have the world’s best CRM agency as our partner.

Q Ray Rubicam quit advertising and became enormously successful as a property developer. What’s your next career? (!)Is it too late to become a rock star?

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