Q&A With Euro RSCG’s Lee Garfinkel

Lee Garfinkel, Euro RSCG’s new chief creative officer for global brands, is known primarily for his past work on cars (Mercedes-Benz), beer (Heineken) and soda (Pepsi). At his new agency, he faces a heavy diet of packaged goods (Reckitt Benckiser, Kraft Foods), with a smattering of big oil (ExxonMobil) and a luxury car (Jaguar). In an interview with AdweekMedia senior editor Andrew McMains, Garfinkel shared what sold him on Euro RSCG, his thoughts on previous agency DDB and why he’s more digitally savvy today than he was two years ago.

Adweek: How do you define this role?

Garfinkel: When I first started talking to [Euro RSCG global CEO] David Jones, he said that they have over 70 global brands. I think it might be more than most agencies. [Jones wants me to] focus on raising the bar [creatively] on as many of those as possible.

This feels more like a purely creative job, as opposed to creative and agency management.
That’s correct . . . One of the things that appeals to me about this is [that] instead of spending 40 percent of my time on creative and 60 percent on management, this is more like about 90 percent creative.

How do you distinguish between what you’ll be doing in New York versus Al Kelly, the office’s chief creative officer?
It’s really working with the best creative minds in the network to just help make the work better whenever we can. And what I’m hoping for in this role is that I not only help inspire people but other people inspire me too.

Looks like WPP is the holding company that you haven’t worked for yet.
That is correct (laughs).

Not that you set out to do that. I guess if you’re around long enough, right?
It’s interesting and it’s a great learning process. There are a lot of differences with those holding companies. They come right straight from the people that are running them, which is good for me to learn from.

What attracted you to Euro RSCG?
There were three people that were really appealing to me about this. The first was David. I thought what a really bright and energetic [leader who] had a clear mission of what I can do at Euro.

Did you know him before this?
No, I met him through the second person that was important to bringing me here, Matt Ryan [Euro’s president of global brands]. Matt and I will be partnering on a lot of global brands. I met Matt in the early ’90s when he was at Ryan Drossman. We’ve known each other for a long time.

Who was the third person?
Colleen DeCourcy. When they told me [that Euro parent Havas was] going to take a stake in Colleen’s new venture [Socialistic, a social media strategy shop], I thought this is definitely going to be going in the right direction.

What did you take away from the DDB experience?
(Laughs) You know what? I had some great years at DDB, especially in the first three years working for [then CEO} Ken Kaess. It was a terrific time for me and a terrific time for DDB New York. We won an amazing amount of business in the first three years and we started making the work better. So, I look back on those days when I first came to DDB with fondness.

What did you make of the relatively short tenure (11 months) of your successor, Eric Silver?

Honestly, I don’t know what to make of it. I like Eric and I think Eric is a very talented guy. So, what can I say? (Laughs) How’s that for a sound bite?