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Tony Granger

tony granger Tony GrangerWorldwide Chief Creative Officer
Young & Rubicam

Where do you hope to be in your professional career ten years from now? Five years? A year? Most of us don’t even have the slightest idea about what we’ll have for lunch tomorrow. Not that Tony Granger has his objectives mapped out to that level of detail, but the Worldwide Chief Creative Officer of Young & Rubicam is a man who has not only found success, but also planned for it.

This, of course, after plans to become South Africa’s biggest rock star didn’t quite materialize.

As Tony prepares to serve as a Monster Judge in the inaugural Tomorrow Awards, IHAVEANIDEA had an opportunity  to sit down and chat with this creative director renowned for transforming agency cultures about his rise to the top, and how exactly he runs things now that he’s up there.

IHAVEANIDEA: There’s a lot that I want to talk to you about, but let’s get the most common question out of the way. What on earth got you into advertising, and what got you into an advertising agency?

Tony: Well I could read music before I could read. My mom, who was prima ballerina at the Conservatory of Madrid, is also an artist and a musician. She taught me so much about art and music that it became part of my DNA.

I was always involved in the music scene at school. Playing my Gibson in garage bands around Johannesburg. The dream, of course, was to become a “Rock God”. But something else caught my eye…advertising. I thought, Maybe there’s something in this advertising thing…

I joined a studio supply retailer called Art Book Center. Back then, every agency in Johannesburg ordered their studio supplies from us. I was the guy who would take orders from creatives for letraset, magic markers and layout pads, all the tools of our trade before Macs. I got to know a few art directors who suggested I “put my book together,” which I learned meant taking ads you hated and redoing them. My education was hands on, learning directly from people who were in the business.

An agency called Kenyon Eckhardt offered me a job, and I thought, “wow, how easy.” I was supposed to start on a Monday, and on the Sunday night before, I received a phone call explaining that things had changed and they couldn’t give me the job after all because they needed someone more experienced. So I had the honor of being fired from my first job even before starting. This was the beginning of my thick skin that is so necessary in this business.

From there, I was hired at Grey as an assistant AD for a retail account called OK Bazaars. My job was to trace products onto a page with prices so the studio could shoot the photographs and put them in the places I’d designated. Real sexy work it wasn’t, it was more like an apprentice position. I started learning from the ground up, making coffee for people and learning about the craft of an art director. I became fascinated by type and how it has different personalities. I was in awe of people like Helmut Krone, and I would plaster my walls with his work.

Fast forward about three years into my career, and it dawned on me that I wasn’t doing very well from a creative pedigree standpoint. As an art director, I was earning okay money, but my work… well, I wasn’t proud of my work. I decided to take a step backward financially, so I resigned and joined a boutique called Geffen Simkins Marrington. I remember walking into Mark Simkins office and being amazed by all his awards lying around the office. I thought, Here’s a man I can learn from. I joined as assistant AD and stayed for four years.

I had decent campaigns in my book that had won a few things. It got me into Hunt Lascaris. Well, I’m not sure if it was the work or my enthusiasm that got me in. It was probably the latter. But I stayed at Hunts for thirteen years. John taught me about the business. He was very important to me and continues to be an inspiration. Hunts was and still is a fantastic agency.

We were working with our BMW client in New York City, and I would fly over for shoots and meetings. I fell in love with New York, and I convinced my wife, Claire, to leave our very comfortable life in South Africa. We sold everything and moved our one and four year-old children to start life again in the Big Apple. Brave woman, Claire was, she moved here without even visiting! Changing our home over continents was a whole adventure and story in itself.

And to finish up, stints at Bozell NY; Saatchi London and New York; and finally landed here at Young & Rubicam, nine years after my arrival.

IHAVEANIDEA: And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen, the key to success is to start by having a ballerina for a mom!
You’ve often been called an agent of change. What does that mean to you? Explain what it is like to be a change agent.

Tony: Well, first off I’m very grateful to people who join me and take a chance on a turnaround, even at its infancy when the agency is seemingly unsexy. It’s not easy, but you get the chance to do something big and to make a real impact. The spirit and tenacity of these people is inspirational.It’s a team effort.

The first step for me is to define the mission and the direction of the organization. There are some incredible things in Young & Rubicam’s DNA that makes it unique.

The most difficult thing about creating a revolution though, is getting it started. Once it gains momentum, it’s unstoppable. It’s been almost two years in Young & Rubicam’s reinvention, and we’re starting to see results. Still a long way to go, though.

Some of my very favorite people are those who I’ve inherited in agencies. It’s not about just coming in and sweeping clean.

“The good thing about the cynics is that they can be converted, but if not, get rid of them because they can be a cancer.”

I find there are three groups of people I come across. The smallest group tends to be younger and brings excitement and a nothing-to-lose attitude. The largest group of people are in fear. They say “am I going to be good enough? How will this affect me?” And then there’s the most dangerous group — the cynics. They are usually the hardest to find. They think “oh, I’ve seen this all before, I’ll just put my head down and ignore it, this too will pass…”

The job of a change agent is simple: you take the first group’s enthusiasm and make it infectious; you hug the second group and help them understand it is for their benefit to evolve; and the third group? Well, the good thing about the cynics is that they can be converted, but if not, get rid of them because they can be a cancer.

It’s a little like changing the engines on a 747 while flying at 30,000 feet at 500 miles an hour. One has to be careful.

IHAVEANIDEA: This whole interactive thing that all the kids are talking about these days. How much are you on top of it? When you joined Young & Rubicam you talked a lot about changing the agency. However, to change thousands of people that were used to making TV and print ads to highly complex social media campaigns must be a bitch behind the scenes.

Tony: While I was searching Young & Rubicam’s DNA, I found a line that Ray Rubicam wrote in 1924. ”Resist the Usual,” he urged. Be “Anti-Usualists,” he cried. Man, I thought, if there ever was a time for our agency and our clients to resist the usual, it’s now. Our world is changing around us so quickly that it demands that we reinvent ourselves constantly. Our audience’s media interaction is changing daily as Google and the like throw wonderful digital creations at us.

“We don’t hire anybody who isn’t digital. Anyone who doesn’t understand digital just won’t be in the business in a few years.”

So, the first thing we did when I joined Hamish at Young & Rubicam was dismantle the digital department in our New York shop (which was on a different floor to the rest of the agency). Digital can’t be a department; it’s at the heart of everything we do. We’re driving this philosophy across all our offices.

We don’t hire anybody who isn’t digital. Anyone who doesn’t understand digital just won’t be in the business in a few years. It’s not only a Young & Rubicam need, it’s an individual career need. Simple really.

Our business is about defining the DNA of an idea and then creating content that connects that idea to a particular audience. We have so many ways to do that now. It’s really exciting. This has to be the most exciting time in our business since that box called TV was invented.

IHAVEANIDEA: What would you say is the core difference between Saatchi & Saatchi and Young & Rubicam?

Tony: They’re both iconic brands and both have a magic that is very different but very powerful.

Saatchi is a network with a creative mystique. Its brand is very focused connecting emotionally to consumers through Lovemarks. Its office in Charlotte Street, London is the soul of the network and New York is the heart.

In the 80’s and 90s, Young & Rubicam was a magnet for the best creative minds in the business. Recently, it had become known as a very intelligent agency with very smart planning and account people. And that helped it grow.

But to make this business successful in the future, there needs to be a balance of insightful analysis from our planners and magical thinking from our creatives. It needs the yin and yang. And to that end, over the past eighteen months, we’ve been dialing up our creative firepower enormously around the world, attracting some really brilliant creative people.

IHAVEANIDEA: I remember you once talking about the way you work with objectives, how you wrote them out and verified if you reached them. Please tell me more about it, or if you’ve developed any new ones for managing your goals.

Tony: I’m very particular when it comes to objectives. I have one-year goals, three-year goals, five-year goals and ten-year goals. I’m constantly reviewing them and upgrading them. Hit one target, cross it off, make another. I’m very focused on that. I have personal goals and goals for the agency, and I methodically put into place people who will help me reach those goals.

I hold other people accountable for achieving objectives as well. I give them specific targets and follow up to help make sure they’ve come through. You’ll always know where you stand with me.

IHAVEANIDEA: Okay, big thinking time. One day in Fantasy-Future-Land, Sir Martin Sorrell wakes up and decides to shut down Young & Rubicam so he can sail the seas in his yacht, and he gives you a million bucks. You’re now in Manhattan, Monday morning with a coffee, a notebook and a Sharpie. Your goal, start a new agency from scratch. What would this agency be like?

Tony: (laughs) Well, I’m not sure a million bucks would be enough. But it would probably be an agency that would engage with the best screenwriters, comedy writers and musicians on the planet, to create content that would have the DNA of a brand idea at its very core. We would share royalties.

IHAVEANIDEA: What creative stuff — and I don’t mean kinky stuff — keeps you up at night?

Tony: Talent, it is the key to everything.

“A great CD will always try to make the work better. They have the ability to make their creative people believe that they can be great and that they can create better work than what they’re seeing…”

IHAVEANIDEA: What’s the difference between a good creative director and a great creative director?

Tony: The step from being an art director or copywriter to a CD is an enormous one. It’s huge because it’s a completely different job. Being an art director is all about you. It’s a very inward focus between the art director and writer: It’s you two against the world. A lot of people stumble in the process of becoming a CD because being a CD is all about everyone else.

A great CD has an ability to find and nurture great talent. She or he understands about managing the very fragile creative egos, and understands that all creative people are paranoid about their talent. When we create, we are showing something that is very personal. The way a CD handles that is very important. I’ve known CDs to completely destroy the confidence of creative people in just a word or the way they approach a conversation.

A great CD will always try to make the work better. They have the ability to make their creative people believe that they can be great and that they can create better work than what they’re seeing, in a way that inspires. They have the ability to build loyalty in their staff.

But that is all futile if they don’t build the trust of their clients. Without that it is going to be difficult to get anything done.

Last but not least, they need to have the ability rally the entire team — planners, suits and creatives. Get them all pulling in the same direction. Define great and focus everyone on it.

IHAVEANIDEA: You’re a Tomorrow Awards Monster Judge, and you’re no stranger to industry accolades, whether receiving them or bestowing them. How would you describe the award shows of the world.

Tony: Well, I’ll start by saying that a lot of people in our industry think that award shows don’t matter. I think they do matter. A lot of work our industry creates is mediocre, mundane and pragmatic. Shows highlight what is possible and inspire our industry to leap forward. They also attract new talent into our industry.

Award shows need to evolve, though, because our business is evolving. It’s now more about content creation with digital at its heart. Many shows still evaluate digital agencies and traditional agencies. It just doesn’t reflect where our business is going.

IHAVEANIDEA: Explain to a civilian what it is like to be in the shoes of the Global Chief Creative Officer of Young & Rubicam.

Tony: It’s no different from being a Chief Creative Officer of an agency, except that instead of one agency to motivate and inspire, I have 185.

IHAVEANIDEA: (laughs) With a slightly larger bank account to show for it! As you climbed to the top, from Bozell to Saatchi to Young & Rubicam, how did your view of salary in your advertising career change?

Tony: I’ve always believed that if you focused on the work and becoming really good at what you do, money would follow. It is career suicide to follow a bigger paycheck instead of following a creative or experience growth opportunity.

But it’s something you can’t ignore and hope it will sort itself out. Creatives seem to always feel uncomfortable talking about money for some reason.

Always negotiate hard when you have leverage.

IHAVEANIDEA: Final question. If you and the other Worldwide Creative Directors from other agencies were shut up in a shady bar with a bottle to scotch, what single common agency problem do you think would rise to the table for discussion?

Tony: Jet lag.

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Interview by:

ignaciocreditpic Tony Granger

Ignacio Oreamuno
El Presidente

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