Fast Chat: TBWA’s Peter Souter on Creative Hires

Why Walter Campbell is worth more than he is

There’s no shortage of creative leaders at TBWA\London. A week after TBWA hired Peter Souter as chairman and chief creative officer for its U.K. Group, Souter reunited the celebrated creative team of Walter Campbell and Sean Doyle to work across all London office accounts, starting next month. The duo worked together with Souter at AMV BBDO in the 1990s, producing a string of memorable, award-winning ads. Most recently, Campbell was a creative partner at Anomaly, London; Doyle was the cd at Panic, London. At TBWA/London, they’ll simply be art director and copywriter, respectively, under ecd André “Dede” Laurentino. In a brief interview today, Souter explains why he’s loading up on creative talent.

Adweek: So, you’re getting the old band back together?
Peter Souter: I’ve discovered that when you’ve just been hired, you’re in very good odor and that’s the time to do stuff. So, I’m spending [TBWA CEO] Tom Carroll’s money before he realizes it. (laughs)

In advance of revenue, right?
Yeah, exactly. Listen, that’s how you get revenue. You get really good people, they win pitches, they win prizes, you make money.

You see them doing a fair amount of new business?
Yeah, the truth is I think they are a new business tool in themselves. And I’m going to walk around London and say, "Look, I’ve got the best guy in the country (Campbell). Wouldn’t you want him working on your business?” You know, we’ve got to make noise. We’re in the promotion game and these guys will do it for us.

Can you go home again? You guys worked together in a different place at a different time.
Last time we were together, we all did our best work together. That was the last time I won the Gunn Report—best agency in the world. It was also the period where Walter won most of his [D&AD] Pencils. I think we both have had interesting experiences without each other—me as a manager and them as creatives. I think I created the circumstance where they do their best work. They made me look good.

For how long did you work together?
I worked with Walter for nearly twelve years. Less time with Sean.

Are you concerned about having too many chefs in the kitchen?
Dede is executive creative director of the agency—that’s what he was then, that’s what he is now. I am the boss of the agency. … My job is to run the agency. Dede’s job is the run the department. Walter and Sean’s job is to do something amazing. I don’t care what it is. I don’t want them looking at other people’s work. I don’t want them to do anything other than sitting in their office and thinking of something amazing. I believe that a medium-sized agency (with a creative department of about 60) can afford to have people who just do that. In fact, I would argue that not many agencies have got that person.

Who will they report to?
Listen, if they do a great script, I would love them to go and show it to Dede. And I would fully expect Dede to say, “Let’s go make that,” because that’s what I did when I was their ecd at Abbott Mead Vickers. I didn’t massively go in there and annoy them. I didn’t demand actually that they ever show me anything. I wanted them to show me stuff when they were really excited, which is what they did. So, yeah, there’s a very simple structure and I’m sure Walter and Sean will be delighted to show Dede their stuff. He’s a nice guy, a cool guy, a clever guy. My advice to Dede will be, let them do it.

You confident that Dede won’t feel threatened by this—having senior guys in the group who could second-guess him or replace him if all does not go well?
I have worked very hard to make him not feel those things. He shouldn’t feel those things. And, nobody wants his job—that’s the really cool thing. I don’t want it, Walter doesn’t want it, Sean doesn’t want it. He’s the ecd, he’s young, he’s good.

So, how do you define your role?
I believe massively in coaching. I believe massively in surrounding myself with people who are better than me. Here’s a nice little tidbit for you: Walter Campbell is going to earn more than me. In order to be able to hire him, I had to pay him more than me and I totally, totally applaud him making it. I think that’s great because he’s better than me: I’ve won 14 Pencils; he has won 23. I’m not threatened by Walter’s presence. I think it makes me look good. It makes my agency work better and that’s my job. And I would just propose that Dede should feel the same thing.