THE MANAGEMENT INTERVIEW Heart of Stone – Yeah, right

They have one of those Tui “Yeah, right” billboards in reception, but this one’s blackboard so you can write your own line on it and I’m tempted. I’m copywriter of sorts and, besides, I have 40 minutes to think about it.
It’s busy place, the reception at Saatchi & Saatchi, more people coming and going than Britomart. There’s much purposeful walking and air-kissing. Multiple TV screens are playing soundless images. Big banners carry references to advertisements we know and love: The Telecom boy who even blinks fast, the TV One toddler with thousands of hairs, the even more hairy Brucetta from the Tui factory, the horny bulls who steal the Toyota ute and, of course, that blackboard.
Despite all this and flick through the newspaper, the low-backed seating wasn’t meant to make time fly and I start thinking: “11 o’clock. Yeah, right.”
Then he comes. Winner of the Fairfax AdMedia CEO of the Year Award, the man who righted the floundering Saatchi ship since becoming CEO two years ago. And, let’s face it, we love Saatchi’s. For most New Zealanders, it’s probably the only advertising agency they know by name. Andrew Stone could be national hero. He’s built like torch battery, charged with energy.
On the way to his office, as we skirt the seething open-plan creative office, he starts talking. In passing there’s quick word to his assistant and then we’re in his modest office and the door closes. He still talks mile minute and does something that completely disarms me; he gives me his complete attention. The waiting, the expired parking meter, the hubbub we hear through the walls, it all becomes incidental. It’s just the two of us now.
Not only was Stone named CEO of the Year, but Saatchi & Saatchi was agency of the year in the AdMedia awards and won the Agency Effectiveness Award at the EFFIEs. The Australian-based industry magazines Campaign Brief and B&T also named Saatchi’s as their New Zealand agency of the year.
The question, as with businesses in any industry, is why some are better than others.
“You have to really want to be good,” says Stone. He talks with an air of complicity, as if revealing things not everyone gets to know about.
“There are some businesses that are happy to exist and then there are some where there’s deep need, whether it is insecurity or opportunism, but there’s something that drives their people to be hungrier, make sacrifices and be more enthusiastic.”
The key to this, he believes, lies with the management group. “That was one of the big things here. We realised that what we needed more than anything was group of about 15 people to go: Right, how great can we be?”
That was his first objective when he became CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi New Zealand in February 2004. Stone found some of his core group already employed in the agency. Others he had to invite along for what he describes as journey. number of them left very senior positions in other agencies to do so.
“You do need to get the right sort of people and enough of them to make difference. People who just go life’s an adventure and let’s be as great as we can be. If you can find those people who are team players as well, willing to explore new territories together and learn, then it’s not difficult. Once they’re on board, everything else falls into place. You’re sharing the workload and all those people are part of greater team that is achieving more and more. I don’t think that it’s much more complicated than that.”
Obviously manager can hardly create number of new roles equal to the number of team members they want to bring in. Stone had to look at who was already in the company.
“There were certainly people here who were like the ones we’re talking about, but over time had it knocked back. We’ve got about 190 people in Auckland and Wellington and probably 50 of those have been at Saatchi’s for five years plus. In all those people that x-factor once existed. Some of them still burned quite strongly, but in some it had been diminished over time. You can rediscover it in people, which is what we did. I don’t think, though, you can create it in people.”
He has no time for people with bad attitude and makes no bones about wanting to get rid of them. “I love rational people, people who say I love to do that, but we have to think about this or that first. But people who just for whatever reason say no to stuff, I don’t think have any role in an organisation, especially one like this. With creativity there’s degree of insecurity, need for bold leaps. If you have somebody bringing you down all the time, it gets very hard.”
Not everyone in an advertising agency works in the creative side, but they provide the lifeblood of the business. It’s easy to imagine that their creative mentality poses unusual challenges to manager.
“The outside view is that they’re unusual people. I think they are fantastic, because they are enthusiastic and lateral. From management perspective the challenge is to extract the extra 50 percent out of them, the truly brilliant ideas versus the good ideas. It only happens in an environment that genuinely suits them.
“The only thing you have to do as manager is to give them what they need. You have to be very tolerant and very flexible. If you’re very controlling person, you would never work well within creative environment.”
This requirement may well be becoming increasingly important in other businesses. Stone says the skill sets across the communication industry are merging. “We find that our clients are getting much more like us than they were 10 years ago. Creative businesses have grown in value in the past five to 10 years, extraordinarily so.”
Which brings us to the Government’s efforts to foster the creative industries. Stone is still on the edge of his seat, leaning across the low table between us, but his gesturing hands waver for moment.
“Wellington is very creative city and does lot to encourage creativity in all sorts of ways. Very little is being done in Auckland to encourage creativity. The richer cities are the ones that have larger number of creative people freely expressing themselves, be it in their own endeavours or in the business environment.”
Stone has habit of answering questions in non-obvious ways but he keeps track of where he’s heading. “The answer to the question is no. I don’t see evidence that our creative people are enhanced by the creative programmes, as I understand it, from the Government.”
As for himself, he claims not to be very creative. He did business degree and got into advertising in the media department, then went into client service before the first of series of management positions. Working in creative environment does affect him though. “It inspires you to think differently every day, because that’s the way these people are, they’re always thinking up fresh, new ideas.”
He acknowledges that this constant creativity may not suit all businesses. “I think clients’ jobs are much more complex than ours and I would never impose how we run our business on them. It would be disaster. Most client businesses have to be very disciplined to get operational efficiency. We have an element of that but also incredible free flow.”
An advertising agency is still business and one would be mistaken to believe it’s all just an orgy of brainstorming.
“You have to make money. For us, there’s two parts to that. One part is we want to increasingly be rewarded for the ideas and the power and effect of those ideas, in other words for the insights and the strategy and the concepts, rather than for the doing. That’s no different from any smart consultancy business in the world, like merchant banking.
“Secondly, we devolve lot of responsibility within the agency down to business managers. We say to those people we want them to grow their revenue by 20, 30, 100 percent, whatever, and we will have view as to why we think that’s possible. We tell them: First ask what are all the things you could do that would get you there

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