Blunt and opinionated, Lowe N.Y. CCO and chairman Mark Wnek is charged with growing the agency and reigniting its creative reputation after years of mergers, leadership churn and client exits. Since June, when the 45-year-old U.K. native and former CCO at Euro RSCG in London arrived, he has been busy meeting with clients and boosting his creative team; Lowe has continued to suffer losses (A&P, Century 21, part of Macy's). Lowe has been seen as IPG's problem child in recent years, and now the parent company plans to improve it by streamlining the network to focus on 11 key offices. Q: What attracted you to Lowe?
A: One [reason] was that I'm an alumnus. I worked for Lowe Howard-Spink in London when it was arguably the best agency in the world, in the early '90s. So Lowe in my heart and in my soul is a highly creative, uncompromising, brilliant agency. And, the question I got is, it's not really being translated into this building and this group of people. And that challenge is just irresistible.
Before coming here, what advice did you get?
People warned me about the political correctness thing because I tend to shoot from the hip. And I think even the most buttoned-down Londoner could get into trouble here if they fell foul of certain things.
What has been the biggest surprise so far? How eager a lot of people seem to be for IPG to fare badly.
Why does that surprise you?
I don't know. I suppose I'm a bit naïve. It's not like WPP, or whatever, it's not an English [company]. It's a homegrown company with all homegrown agencies. There just seems to be an eagerness, a kind of glee, around its misfortunes. None of which I understand, by the way. Because every single person I meet is better than the last person. I like them.
How do you deal with account losses?
As opportunities, not problems. You mourn them and, for that, you're allowed nothing more than 30 seconds. And you double your efforts to add some new ones.
How would you grade yourself thus far?
Mad keen, but unproven.
What were you looking for when you filled your ecd slot with Peter Rosch, John Hobbs and Fernanda Romano?
Because I'm going to be a hands-on creative director, I wanted people whose skills I did not have. I'm word-based; the guys are visually based. ... I was looking for broad-mindedness. I needed to know they were modern people, as opposed to old-school people.
What current work do you admire the most?
The only thing I uniformly notice and get a mental uplift [from] is Geico. ... This is a client who believes in advertising. They've spent a lot of money, they're consistent and they don't lose their nerve. And I think their prize is, here's an English guy who has only been living here for four months, and yet, it's in my system.
Which agency do you admire the most?
Before they won Bank of America, BBDO. They manage to be big and good. Let's not beat around the bush here; I don't believe in this kind of, "Let's be a boutique and have one account worth 5 cents." I believe in doing big business and doing it well.
Which is the most overrated agency?
Crispin Porter [+ Bogusky].
(Pauses) I'm not aware of that much they do other than [what I see at] award shows, which strikes me as being a bit suspect.
What three words would you use to describe yourself?
Neurotic, insomniac, dad.
What three words would other people use?
Abrasive, neurotic, closer.
Who has had the most influence on your career?
John Hegarty has been one of them. Not on purpose, but kind of almost like osmosis.
You never worked for him, right?
No, but you show him your book as a young person, and he invariably gives you great advice. I always admired the work of Phil Dusenberry—all that great Pepsi work, which, as a young Englishman aspiring to be all things American, I thought was fantastic.
What's Tony Wright like as a boss?
He tells you what he wants ... he doesn't tell you how he wants you to do it. He's intellectually the smartest person I've ever met.
What are you reading these days?
The Fat Flush Plan because I want to eat fat and lose weight. And The Contented Little Baby by Gina Ford, who is kind of a British Dr. Spock, whom my wife religiously follows. We've got a 7-month-old son.
What's the last CD you bought?
Randy Newman—"Rednecks/We're rednecks"—his greatest hits.
What's the smartest business decision you ever made?
Moving heaven and earth to get Brett Gosper to be my partner when I was at Euro RSCG in London.
What's the dumbest decision you ever made?
Going into business with Ben Langdon. Doing my start-up, which lasted 73 days.
What inspires you creatively?
My love of people. I'm not into this to write mini-movies, to be in the Hall of Fame and to be an artiste monkey. I'm in this because I love people. That's what I find the most interesting part.