One Ad At A Time

Tony Granger has a theory. The chief creative officer of Saatchi & Saatchi in New York, who came on board in October 2004, believes it takes about two years at a new job before things start to “snowball”—in a good way. At Saatchi, the snowballing came right on time: In late June of this year, he and the department he’s shaped were honored with six Lions at Cannes, making it best among U.S. shops, third best overall behind TBWA\Paris and AMV BBDO in London, and No. 3 in the Agency of the Year rankings.

“It was a little like, ‘We did what?'” says Granger, who made his way to Saatchi’s top ranks after developing a reputation for his turnaround abilities. “Belief,” he adds, “is a very strong thing. There is a belief now at our place that we can do interesting work.”

Instilling that belief in an agency that has had a lackluster creative reputation for packaged-goods clients such as Procter & Gamble and General Mills took some work. Granger, who now has 47 Lions under his belt, has implemented structural changes, broken down traditional processes and made new hires, including some of the talent he has come to rely on in his 25-year agency career.

While three of the Lions—all golds—were for small billing clients 42Below vodka and Stuffit Deluxe software, the agency also won bronzes in print and outdoor for P&G’s Tide to Go. (The sixth, a bronze, went to a public service campaign for Innocence in Danger.) “It was a big splash for us,” says Granger, who felt confident enough about the agency’s work to submit 20 percent more entries to the Cannes Festival this year than last year. “But it can’t be just a flash in the pan. We have to consistently do well. What about next year?”

Succeeding on the awards show circuit has been a primary objective, which Saatchi worldwide CEO Kevin Roberts and worldwide creative director Bob Isherwood made clear to Granger when they offered him the job. The mission, as Granger explains it, is to “raise the creative bar, get new business in and make the agency think more like an ideas company.”

After four years of experiments with multiple leaders, the agency streamlined its management by mirroring the pairing of its global leaders, Roberts and Isherwood, in New York. Granger was teamed with CEO Mary Baglivo, previously president of Arnold Worldwide, New York—a sure sign that both business and creative were to be at the forefront. They express their united perspectives by working in adjacent offices and even sharing business cards. “It was important that we were joined at the hip,” says Granger.

New business has improved, with nine clients added to the agency since Granger and Baglivo arrived, including Novartis, Ameriprise and, most recently, J.C. Penney, which shifted its $400 million creative account from DDB Chicago last month. However, the shop lost KitchenAid, Eukanuba and Old Spice.

The 45-year-old Granger, who is described as being direct and concise in his feedback, still has his work cut out for him, particularly in generating new media ideas and getting bigger, test-result oriented clients to take more risks. “Are [creatives] choosing between Crispin, BBDO and Saatchi? No,” says creative recruiter Susan Kirshenbaum of Greenberg Kirshenbaum in New York. “But they’re doing some really good work and they’re a different kind of agency” than before Granger arrived.

The native South African, who entered the U.S. market as CCO of Bozell in New York in 2001, joined Saatchi in New York after 19 months as ecd of the network’s London agency, replacing Tod Seisser. He’s described as more dynamic and upbeat than the low-keyed, poker-faced Seisser, who ran the department for six years. “That was a difficult call because I liked Tod a lot,” says Roberts. “It’s difficult to get from good to great. [But] Tony had already proved at Bozell that he could get from shit to great.”

When they arrived, Granger and Baglivo not only moved into adjacent offices, they consolidated the creative department, spread across three floors, onto one floor and moved art buying from production to creative. Granger also opened up the agency’s account-specific silos so that creative development could be more collaborative. Large accounts, such as General Mills and P&G’s Olay, still have dedicated creative directors, but more junior creatives can now work across all brands.

The former amateur rock guitarist, whose passion is now collecting art, also occassionally gets the department together to spend two to three hours brainstorming on a brand and has a monthly gathering to discuss ads from around the world. Plus, there is now a 10-by-10-foot wall on which work in progress can be posted for peer input.

The wall and brainstorming sessions are carryovers from Granger’s days in London, says Jan Jacobs, a cd who has worked for him at his last four agencies and joined him in May 2005 in the new position of head of art. “It’s a less isolated department,” adds Doug Pippin, a cd on Ameriprise who has worked for six creative chiefs in his 24 years at Saatchi.

This is not to say that everything has gone smoothly. In fact, Granger was hit by a crisis four months into his tenure when 17 staffers -—the core General Mills team, including eight creatives—walked out the door three days after longtime worldwide account director Mike Burns resigned. The exodus left the shop scrambling to finish more than a dozen TV spots in post-production, even while the agency was recruiting to fill key creative posts. “It certainly gave us a common purpose,” says Roberts.

The episode also gave veterans a chance to prove their mettle while Granger mulled personnel changes. He estimates that 60 percent of the creative department is new, but says 30 percent can be attributed to typical agency turnover. The department is smaller than when he arrived (75 staffers vs. 85) and among the 11 cd’s, six are new and five were hired by previous chiefs, including Seisser.

On Granger’s watch at Bozell, the Interpublic Group shop made an unexpected showing at Cannes in 2002 with an Agency of the Year ranking of No. 3. The agency produced Lion-winning work for Datek, “Got Milk?” and The New York Times, including a campaign in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001 that wove city imagery into Norman Rockwell posters. In early 2003, IPG folded Bozell into sister shop Lowe, leaving Lowe’s Gary Goldsmith atop the creative department—a move that Granger had anticipated. A few weeks before the merger, he accepted an offer to run Saatchi’s creative department in London.

Son of a Portuguese entrepreneur father and Spanish singer/dancer mother, Granger began his career at Grey in Johannesburg and then moved to several South African boutiques. He first made a name for himself at TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris in Johannesburg, where he worked from 1988 through early 2001. “The portfolio [before joining TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris] was pretty average, to be honest,” says John Hunt, TBWA worldwide creative director and a friend and mentor of Granger since 1988. “[But] you could see he was an ambitious guy who wanted to go places.”

Highlights at TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris included a 1991 BMW spot that depicts a mouse scampering over the car’s steering wheel and, with little effort, getting it to spin. “Now with power steering,” the ad explains. Granger was also creative director on a Wonderbra print ad in 1999 that features an overhead image of a woman’s bare feet, with the toes tan but most of the rest lighter, cheekily suggesting a shadow-casting side effect of the uplifting bra.

Now, Granger is looking harder at media placement and creative delivery, and some current clients credit Granger with finding new ways to reach customers. Last fall, the agency produced four Web-only cartoons featuring the Lucky Charms leprechaun for the General Mills cereal. They appeared on Luckycharms.com, a site that has received 2.2 million unique visits in its first year, says the agency.

For Folgers, a P&G coffee brand seeking to reach twentysomethings, the agency created a 90-second film featuring a throng of chirpy people singing “Happy Morning” to groggy young adults that was posted on YouTube.com. Since June, the film has been viewed more than 230,000 times.

And for a TV campaign for Novartis’ Theraflu, guys grow progressively more ghoulish until they take the cold medicine and return to their normal selves. At the end of one spot, set in an office, a manager dropped stacks of work on the back-to-normal guy’s desk rather than some Hollywood happy ending, says Jose Rodriguez, vice president for North America, OTC, at Novartis Consumer Healthcare in Parsippany, N.J. Since the ads began in October 2005, the brand has seen its market share grow to 4.3 percent for 2005, up from 4 percent for 2004, and to 4.4 through Aug. 6, according to Information Resources data.

In Granger, Isherwood sees a “passionate and restless” leader who’s “always striving to do better.” And while the early results are good, “this is the beginning of a journey,” he says. “An agency this size requires quite a lot of patience, tolerance and careful management.”

Granger, for his part, is hardly complacent. “What’s appropriate today was not appropriate eighteen months ago” he says. “It’s a game that keeps evolving. … I guess I’m just kind of an optimistic, up guy to start off with. It’s like the whole cliché of do something you love and you’ll be a child forever.”