New Head of Ogilvy New York Will ‘Aggressively’ Invest in Digital

Lou Aversano seeks influence rather than control


Name Lou Aversano

Age 47

New gig Chief executive officer, Ogilvy & Mather, New York

Old gig Chief operating officer, Ogilvy & Mather, New York  

Photo: Alfred Maskeroni

So how did you get into advertising?

My dad worked on Wall Street; growing up I worked on Wall Street every summer and that’s what I wanted to do. I was a Boston University finance major, and in my junior year I had to make up a class, so I took AdLab (a student-run ad agency) for the hell of it. The professor happened to be Walter Lubars [father of BBDO chief creative officer David Lubars]. It’s a great program and I took it again senior year for no credit. I graduated and got a job at Bear Stearns. My first week there I thought, “I’m 21 years old and I don’t want to live the rest of my life thinking woulda, coulda, shoulda.” So I quit my job without telling my father and interviewed at Chiat/Day New York. I didn’t get hired but got a job at N.W. Ayer as a secretary. After five years, I went to [what was then] Kirshenbaum Bond + Partners before coming to Ogilvy when it won IBM in 1994. It was all very much a happy accident.

What is it about Ogilvy New York that sets it apart from other competitors? How would you like to see it change?

We’ve heard in new business efforts that it’s our ability to create brand platforms which help marketers’ business. It’s how we look at their brands, the strategy we take, the work we produce. With Comcast, for instance, it isn’t just a campaign; our strategy actually became a business platform for the client. We’re going to drive investment in the emerging capabilities clients need.

What are your initial priorities?

I will aggressively invest in digital. Having been here as long as I have, I understand how the complete Ogilvy entity can come to life on behalf of clients. I’ve had the opportunity to help bring it together through collaboration. You can argue that it’s easier to do it through control, but that’s a trap. Influence is a far better way to get people to work together.

What did you learn about integration from running the complex IBM business?

Sometimes people look at integration as structural and organizational when it’s really about relationships, trust and opportunity. Small groups of six around the table are better than large meetings of 20.

How does Ogilvy New York move beyond the perception of being a business-to-business agency?

We have very strong b-to-b skills but we also have very strong b-to-c skills. There’s a lot more here in terms of what we’re doing with Nascar, Ikea, E*Trade, American Express, Tiffany. We’ll be pursuing the b-to-c side to balance people’s perception of the portfolio. I’ll be working closely with [new Ogilvy East CCO] Chris Garbutt. Our collective mission is to develop award-winning work that drives business results for our clients.

There seems to be a lot of senior executives at Ogilvy New York. Fair to say it has a top-heavy management?

It’s not top-heavy; it all just happens to be in the same building. There’s a lot of leadership needed to drive the size of our portfolio, our global engagements, the number of disciplines we have. My job is to help the leaders of the five disciplines, to support them in their plans and look at how things can come together to be stronger. My new role gives [Ogilvy N.A. chairman] John [Seifert] more time to work on North America and the priorities he has there. He’ll be able to spend less time taking care of New York, which is our flagship, a base for a lot of our global clients and Ogilvy’s largest office in the world.