Isherwood To Be Honored

NEW YORK Like most practicing creative directors who have received the Clio Awards’ Lifetime Achievement Award, Bob Isherwood, worldwide cd of Saatchi & Saatchi, had mixed feelings when he heard about the honor. “My first reaction was obviously that I was nervous; I hope I haven’t finished all my achievements,” he says with a laugh. “But the Clio Awards assured me it’s very much an ongoing award.”

Isherwood, declining to give his age—which Adweek estimates to be 66—paraphrases Pablo Picasso instead, saying he “would like to get back to the age of 5 or 6 [the age of his daughter, Jessie] because that’s where true creativity is.” Regardless, Isherwood is as enthusiastic about advertising now as he was as an art school graduate pounding the London pavement. His portfolio was filled then with ads he had torn from magazines and redone. “I thought I had invented” the exercise, he says. Isherwood, who grew up in a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, went to art school after a failed attempt as an auto mechanic at the age of 13.

He landed his first job in the business by looking up “advertising” in the phone book and cold calling his way into an interview at Advertising and Design Associates, where he landed a job as a designer. He says he was given his first assignment, advertising pig food to pig farmers, because no one else wanted it. But it wasn’t long before Isherwood realized advertising was for him. “I discovered the marriage of words and visuals,” he says. “I found this amazing tool and I knew I had to experiment more and get into advertising.”

He was soon hired as an art director on Cadbury at Young & Rubicam in London, where he spent six years. There, he met the man whom he says has had the greatest influence on his career: Steve Frankfurt, then the cd of the New York office, who frequented London often. Among other things, he says, Frankfurt taught him that good work could be done on packaged goods. “One of the reasons I’m lucky is I’ve managed to work with a lot of my heroes in my career,” he says, also citing Art Kane, Alan Parker, the Scott brothers and Frank Lowe.

It was his 12-year tenure at Collett Dickenson Pearce & Partners in London, however, that got Isherwood noticed. There, he worked on accounts including Stella Artois, Parker pens, for which he won a D&AD gold, and Hovis bread.

He returned to Australia in 1982 as cd of Campaign Palace in Sydney and won the first gold Cannes Lion for Australia with a cinema ad for Harper’s Bazaar before moving to Saatchi in Sydney in 1986. He has remained at the agency, working in London and New York. In 1995, he was named chairman of the agency network’s worldwide creative board and, in 1996, he was named worldwide cd.

Isherwood says he’s proud of his accomplishments at Saatchi, including: “the elevation of the ideas of ads as expressed in the concept of an ideas company”; the launch of the Award for World Changing Idea, in 1998, which he says encouraged “the industry to change beyond traditional advertising to move to ideas that were different from ads”; the establishment of the worldwide creative board, which he says “has had a major role in the innovation of the company”; and the “creative transformation” of the New York office, which made a strong showing at Cannes last year.

But he’s most proud of the talent he has helped nurture through the course of his career, including David Droga, who he brought into the London agency from Singapore to lead creative, which some thought was risky. “I was told this was either going to be incredible or the biggest mistake of my career,” he says. “People were amazed that I was looking outside the U.K. I didn’t want the best down the street. I wanted the best in the world and I believed I had that in Singapore.”

“Bob’s vision and leadership have been instrumental in transforming Saatchi & Saatchi from an ad agency to a global ideas factory,” says Kevin Roberts, Saatchi’s worldwide CEO and Isherwood’s business counterpart for the last 10 years. “His pursuit of creative excellence is an inspiration to thousands of people around the world.”–ELEFTHERIA PARPIS