Katie Rigg-Smith’s best of 2019: Baby Darcy meets WPP AUNZ’s new big boss, Jens Monsees

To end 2019 on a positive note, Mumbrella's Brittney Rigby asks a number of media agency chief executives to share their best part of the year, both professionally and personally. In the final segment, Katie Rigg-Smith, CEO of Group M agency Mindshare, shares her highlights.

When Katie Rigg-Smith was preparing to meet her new boss, WPP AUNZ’s CEO Jens Monsees, she told him he’d also be meeting Darcy. And the Mindshare CEO’s four-month-old baby was the first person Monsees made a beeline for.

“He came straight over and he’s like, ‘Hi, introduce me to Darcy, we need this, we need this diversity being shown in our business’. Darcy smiled at him, I’m like ‘good child’,” she laughs.

The Media Federation of Australia (MFA), of which Rigg-Smith is a board member, has been equally welcoming. She brought Darcy along to a board meeting, and was overwhelmed by how kind her fellow leaders – MFA chair and Omnicom Media Group CEO Peter Horgan, MFA CEO Sophie Madden, incoming CEO of IPG Mediabrands Mark Coad, APAC CEO of Mediabrands Leigh Terry, Group M CEO Mark Lollback, and others – were to the both of them.

“Horgs [Peter Horgan] was offering to sing to him and Sophie was hugging him and Coads [Mark Coad] and Leigh Terry are picking up his toys off the ground. Mark Lollback has been amazing. I’ve had budget meetings with Mark where I’ve cried, Darcy hasn’t,” Rigg-Smith tells me.

“Mark’s just been so kind about everything and the whole board was just phenomenal.”

Darcy is Rigg-Smith’s third child, after three-year-old Harlow and an almost two-year-old Coco. The girls love him – “Oh my God, they smother him. I’m like, ‘Okay, give the baby some oxygen. Just let him breathe'” – but so do her colleagues and clients.

“I have been floored. I’ve had Darcy go to so many meetings with me, because they’re days that I’m not working and I’ll be like, ‘I can come, but I’m gonna have my baby in my arms because all he wants to do is sleep, eat and be cuddled, let’s face it,'” Rigg-Smith says.

“[Clients are] just so welcoming and most of them are the male clients because so many of the CMOs I deal with are male, and they’re all like, ‘Yeah, bring him along’. So that’s been wonderful.”

Darcy, born on 17 July, is obviously her highlight of the year, but witnessing how the industry has responded to her, as both a CEO and a mother, has been a joy.

“I’m just delighted that I get to work in an industry where I can still be CEO, have three children under the age of four, do my job, create the flexibility I need, have teams that are so amazingly supportive. I feel very blessed,” Rigg-Smith says.

“It’s been very good and showing hopefully my staff that you can do it. It’s hard. I won’t lie, you have to be constantly on, in terms of trying to balance everything, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

As Rigg-Smith explains, it’s important for the Mindshare team to actually see her being a mother. Resurfacing at work, as a leader but also a new parent, doesn’t – and shouldn’t – render Darcy invisible.

“When I became CEO, six and a half years ago, people wanted me to come out and talk a lot more about being a female CEO, but I was like, I just want to lead by example,” Rigg-Smith explains.

“Rather than me coming out and beating the drum about it, I want to just show it and do it organically, or authentically, and that’s more how I am.”

Setting an example for her team is always Rigg-Smith’s number one priority. And that flows into how she speaks about the best part of her year professionally.

“Anytime I reflect on years, [I always ask] ‘What work have we produced that people are proud of, that our agency’s really proud of and gets everyone excited?'” she says.

“Winning the [Cannes Lions] Grand Prix for Volvo and just seeing that team and that client and that creative agency partnership, [I was] just super proud. Winning Tourism New Zealand, and we won quite a few accounts, which I love all of them. But that was the first global [win] from Australia so I’m proud of that work.

“And then extending our NAB remit into search and social because, again, it was about an existing relationship that went into more work. I get out of bed for the work. That’s what I get out of bed for and I love seeing my teams achieve it.”

She’s filled with pride for her team, but she’s careful to explain why that’s very separate from taking credit for their hard work and achievements.

“I would never sit here and say for me professionally [the highlight is, for example] being nominated for excellence. That’s just not me,” she says.

“Living through the work that we produce for clients and seeing the team achieve things that they can and be inspired by the work they’re doing that’s, professionally, always going to be my highlight.”


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