Q&A: Saatchi X’s Dina Howell Talks Shop

Dina Howell, the new worldwide CEO of retail marketing shop Saatchi & Saatchi X, has spent her entire career at Procter & Gamble, lastly as vp of global media and brand operations. This week, she started her first job in the agency world, taking the reins from Saatchi X founder Andy Murray, six years after Murray sold the shop he founded to Publicis Groupe’s Saatchi. (Murray is now chairman.) In an interview with Adweek, Howell, 48, shares what she learned from former Walmart chief executive officer Lee Scott; how much she loves her iPad; and why she’s anxious about succeeding Murray.

Q: What drew you to this job?
Howell: I am passionate about shopper marketing. I have been working with retailers on the shopper marketing side since about 1995[.] . . . I’m actually one of the people that if you go out and Google [my name], [you’d find I] would be credited with creating the shopper-marketing industry. That’s one of the advantages you have when you work for a company the size of Procter & Gamble: It gives you a bit of a mantle or an opportunity to lead industry efforts.

What’s the biggest misconception about shopper marketing?
Many people, when they talk about shopper marketing, are only thinking about in-store materials. It’s an important part, but that’s only one part of shopper marketing. The way people think about it is how they prepare for their shopping trip and how they decide where they’re going to shop. Shopper marketing can have digital or Internet connections, mobile connections, [as well as] in-store. It can be out-of-store, taking you to one retailer versus another.

What will be your biggest challenge in crossing over to the agency side?
I don’t know yet, but there will be many!

What CEOs do you admire?
[P&G CEO] Bob McDonald has been a personal mentor of mine for many years. I had known him since 2004, when I worked with him directly for three or four years.

What did you learn from him?
What he believes in is very clear and he lives that every day. He has a list of 10 principles or 10 beliefs that he absolutely lives by. I had the pleasure of not only reading those, but [also] watching him live them every day.  

What other CEOs come to mind?
Obviously, I have great admiration for Kevin Roberts or I would not come to work for him. Kevin is an inspiring leader. I just really get a kick out of Kevin. He is what you see, and I always admired his candor and his absolute passion for his clients. I’ve talked to you about my relationship that I’ve had with Andy Murray since 1997. I would not be following Andy in this position if I did not have great admiration for what he has literally created from his kitchen table. Saatchi X has 16 offices around the world, more than 350 worldwide employees, and it is just incredibly impressive the type of business that has been built in a little more than a decade.

Anybody else?
I have had a number of opportunities to meet with many, many retailer CEOs in my time. I have not had as much opportunity to get as close to them. As part of why I have such interest in retail marketing, I value their interest in getting things done and getting on with it. For example, Lee Scott at Walmart used to be quoted as saying that he wasn’t entirely certain of every decision he made, but he could put something in 10 stores and figure out pretty quickly if it was going to grow his business.