Fast Chat: McCann Worldgroup’s Luca Lindner

Says advertising is about 'risk, tears and smiling'

Luca Lindner is in his first weeks of living in the U.S., having left sunny Sao Paulo for a recent spell of frigid New York winter as he digs into his expanded role as McCann Worldgroup’s president of Americas, Africa and Middle East. Last summer he added responsibility for North America and he's the first leader in the company’s history to run both that territory and Latin America, which together represent Worldgroup’s largest region by geography and revenue.

Lindner and his close colleague, Gustavo Martinez, assumed expanded roles last year during the tenure of former Worldgroup CEO Nick Brien. In addition to broader geographic mandates, the two added full oversight of McCann Erickson advertising. The affable, Italian-born Lindner, who has worked in Milan, Rome, Paris, London and Mexico City, chatted with Adweek about his new gig and life as a workaholic New Yorker.

Adweek: How involved have you been at McCann Erickson so far?

Lindner: McCann is my top priority, not just for me but for (new McCann Worldgroup CEO) Harris (Diamond) and for Gustavo. It’s the largest part of the organization, it’s the one with more heritage, is more famous, is the one everyone is looking at. If I get one phone call every three weeks about one of our other Worldgroup operations, I get 10 phone calls a day about McCann.

What about clients?

Gustavo, Harris and I are very close to the global clients and recently we had important workshops, sessions and meetings with all of our largest clients. They were all positive conversations. When you look at geography, at the top 10 markets, you see we are very strong in some like Brazil, India, the UK, the Middle East and Spain. But we are not where we are supposed to be in at least three of the most important markets in the world: China, Russia and, to a certain extent, here in North America. So, the attention now is to make sure global clients are not just satisfied, but to make sure they’re more than satisfied—engaged and happy. Secondly, we’re looking at initiatives, decisions and investment to make sure that over the next two years those three or four markets, where we are not sufficiently strong, become stronger.

Any more details you can share about those changes and additional investment?

When we speak with our clients we see the highest point in our relationships is that they trust our strategic thinking enormously and the investment we made in (McCann Erickson research unit) Truth Central. It has been a very significant investment and has increased our thought leadership in an impressive way. So, it’s important to keep doing that. Another area we need to invest more is identifying and attracting a new generation of talent. It can’t just be because we win some business and we need to hire someone. We need to have a plan where we become the natural choice of the brightest young people in the business and this will require investment.

How is morale at McCann Erickson's headquarters in New York?

When we redesigned our offices here we did a survey to find out how happy people were with the new layout. One of the questions we asked was "Would you be happy to show your office to your family?" Something like 80 to 85 percent of people answered with, (the most enthusiastic survey option) "Yeah!" So, if people believe our new office space is so good, that is good morale because space and morale are connected. If I combine the walks I make around the agency and the data from this survey my answer is, morale is significantly better than before. I think it is good but like every agency in the world we need a couple of wins and then this agency will drink champagne.

Have you contributed to new-business efforts at McCann Erickson?

It’s not the main reason I’m here but I’ve done a number of things. I asked the team to go through our credentials presentation for me as a sounding board and I gave my point of view. When there is a specific pitch I try to help to identify the (Worldgroup) operations in North America that are best suited for it. I’m trying to play a role that is more of a coach than quarterback. But I have not yet been directly involved directly in a pitch. Where I’ve been involved is in a couple of very important growth projects with our current clients, which are very relevant and would expand our business with them.

What have been your other initial priorities since assuming the larger expanded role?

I’ve been getting to know our business, people and clients. I’ve been to Dallas to see TM; Richmond to see The Martin Agency; Minneapolis to see Campbell Mithun; Detroit to see both our agency and Commonwealth; Atlanta to see Fitzgerald. I’m at 215 San Francisco this week and MacLaren McCann, Toronto next week. That has been probably 50 to 60 percent of my time, and the rest has been meeting clients and taking care of a couple of our largest global clients who are headquartered here, MasterCard and General Motors. In the second half of March, I'm meeting with Momentum, MRM, our healthcare companies and all the other operations we have.

Any surprises you’ve encountered in your travels so far?

The most positive thing I’m learning is there is a demand, a thirst for collaboration, knowledge sharing and training. A lot of (Worldgroup) agencies have been working very much on their own and they welcome it when I talk about "do more stuff together" in collaborating for clients. I didn’t expect so much willingness and openness to work together and I’m very happy about it.

In your former base in Latin America, was there more collaboration within Worldgroup?

In Latin America, the degree of collaboration amongst countries and offices is extremely high. There are a couple of reasons. First, the leadership decided to push a collaboration agenda in a very Latin American way which is more about getting people together to know each other, to show the work and to trust each other, rather than have a 200-page presentation about the benefits of collaboration. The other thing is … we started from our client needs. And, by the way, you need to be selective because some clients ask for integration and some don’t. When you move north to this market you have MasterCard, American Airlines, the U.S. Army, who are highly-integrated clients and seek McCann Worldgroup to deliver an integrated solution. Other clients like Nestlé and L’Oréal are interested, but it’s not on top of their agenda and they might look for integration in a different way which is not to have one company delivering everything.

Other changes you'd like to make at Worldgroup?

It’s still early. We are clearly good to play the McKinsey side, the Boston Consulting side. We are very organized, we are strategically very sharp and we can work with brands in a way clients normally get engaged and involved. So, we have a lot of McKinsey but we should have a bit more of Cirque du Soleil in some of our operations. McCann, the agency, should be a bit more joyful and smiling and irrational. We are so much into understanding our clients’ business that sometimes we lose out on the fact that marketing, communications and advertising are also about risk, tears and smiling. I’m not just talking about the creative product. I’m talking about how we live and how we go through everything. We are too serious. A bit more joy and smiles would not be bad.

How are you settling into America and New York?

The best thing is that we found a school for my kids—my 11-year-old twins—where they are happy and the school is happy with them. My kids were in an English school in Brazil but still it was a big change and for a family, for a father, that’s been the best thing that has happened so far. The worst thing is that I am working like a donkey. I’m working 14 hours a day and that’s not what I want in my life, but it’s what is needed in the beginning. New Yorkers work hard; if you’re going to be here you’re going to work hard.