Sintras on full service, innovation and why young marketers cannot think like the old guard

Starcom was named the Global Media Network of the Year at Cannes Lions over the weekend. Mumbrella’s Alex Hayes caught up with the agency’s Australia chairman and director of global experience product John Sintras.

In this Q&A Sintras reveals why he want to rip up the agency model, why we need better training for our young marketers coming through, and the secrets to creating a winning culture in a global agency.

SintrasWhat do you get out of Cannes as a media agency representative?

I think this week for all its negatives about being too big and too much looking at our on navel its a tremendously important opportunity to come together listen, learn, network and do deals.

For me the awards are part of it, but not the biggest part of it, and it’s the client opportunities the networking nd big vendor deals that really make it commercially relevant and meningful for our company to be here.

A lot of people were critical of when media companies, the Twitters and Googles got involved, but for me that’s elevated its status and made it more viable. The fact more clients are coming is I think a really healthy thing for the industry.

Is there a tension between the creative side of things and the commercial side of the business? 

I think there is. There’s still a purist element of the creativity which is we are creating culture which is important and whatever, and I just think you can’t take this too seriously. We’re in the business of commercial creativity, this should be the festival of commercial creativity and let’s be honest with ourselves about what we do and don’t do.

Everybody in this sector has the ability to contribute to creative problem solving an to be creative and that’s the spirit of Cannes and the industry and that’s what we should be celebrating. It’s not just about who created the ad, who owns the strategy and all this turf bullshit that feels like yesterday.

One of the challenges and opportunities for me is you look at Cannes and it’s a ton of silos (for the categories), which is the way the world used to be seen, that’s not consumer land any more it’s one big experience and different people are coming up with these ideas all over the place, and we’re still trying to assign ownership of that IP to maybe one agency, one person or whatever and that’s just not the way work is done any more. I’d love the festival to find a way to get secondary agencies acknowledged, but wht’s primary and what’s secondary?

Look at Game of Phones for Virgin Mobile it was genuinely a collaborative piece of work. It was briefed together and ideated together and then Cannes becomes a negotiation of how are we entering?

So if one of the non-media agencies wins it then the stories are media agencies have been outplayed again, they’re not as good at their storytelling, but that’s not the reality of how the business relationship’s working.

There’s a massive client tension about media contacts have disintegrated, and it’s about re-aggregating those at scale, but relationships have also fragmented across the supplier spectrum and that too is about meaningful re-aggregation so it fits into a hole the client needs. We have to do a better job of doing that and not being so precious and being OK to share ideas and collaborate and it’d be great if the world’s leading festival called that out more.

It could be as simple as we’re going to credit every contributor and work out best agency across all these things, best digital, but that doesn’t help fill creative’s books which is why a lot of people are here.

You did a presentation to the Young Lions Academy, what did you make of them?

What was surprising was how already the same they are in terms of the older generation of marketers who are trying to change and thing to focus on the consumer first and innovation and they’re still feeling the same tensions.

A lot of them are with the big marketers like P&G,  but I still think we’re getting fresh people, millennials, and were assimilating them.  This is the way you think about consumers.

There were two things I wanted them to take away yesterday, one was you guys aren’t just briefing you guys are creative leaders and your job is actually to inspire people to come up with amazing ideas working collaboratively and you’ve got to set the stage for that and set the culture of collaboration and them you’ve got to inspire the consumers themselves and get their collaboration.

My second piece was don’t let them make you take your brain out when you get to the office and put in a different brain. It’s the biggest issue. People might be one way at home with their kids but then they think they’ve got to be professional and systemise and automate and ROI everything, but that’s not real life and that’s not the way it should be.

Just stay real you’ve got to be the consumer at the heart of your organisation. It’s the role of marketing on boards it’s the role of marketing everywhere and that’s the future and that’s what I hope the millennial generation will take on board and nail.

Global role – see it happening? You have a global role, do you see this collaboration happening?

It happens in pockets and some clients are amazing in terms of insisting on collaboration or whatever, and you’ve got to get it through your client system. There’s so many barriers to great work happening its a miracle anything happens.

It’s happening, just some of the time not most of the time. It doesn’t just happen in a vacuum you’ve got to put systems and kips in place.

This sounds like you’re advocating for a return to the full service model?

I’m returning to an advocation for full service that challenges ‘what is the right structure corporately to collaborate fully?’

This notion of putting the two halves back together again is wrong. The halves aren’t halves any more they’re two wholes. Stuff we have in Starcom now you don’t just shove that into a Leo Burnett or a Saatchis and say we’ve fixed the problem, I don’t think it’s that unless you’re starting from scratch.

If I was building an agency today absolutely I’d put it all back in but the you need to have that deep expertise, and when I think about the resources I’ve got off the back of Starcom its expensive its long term so it would be great to have that opportunity and see what that looks like.

But I’m advocating a return to consumer centric bipartisan service for sure. I have the benefit of having grown up in a full service environment I know what it’s like, I miss that but I also love where we’ve gotten to and the importance and sophistication of what your core media has become. That was never going to happen in the old system. The investments would never have been made, the sophistication would never have come.

Starcom in Australia grew 12per cent last year in a market going back, and 50 per cent of our revenue is coming from digital and data. 50 per cent of out revenue didn’t exist as recently as five years ago, that’s pretty exciting and terrifying at the same time.

How many creative agencies can say that?

Innovation has been much maligned this week in several talks, what do you make of that given you have a global role tom drive innovation with Starcom?

It comes back to what do you define as innovation? It’s just creative thought that problem solves in a way that hasn’t been out together before. It’s not about inventing the latest drone. That’s part of it but its entrepreneurial leadership and business creativity is the opportunity that leads to significant commercial outcomes.

The trap is innovation for innovation’s sake, stuff that’s stunts the sham stuff everyone’s going on about is not innovation, but its innovation that leads to more people caring about what you do and having impacts on their lives and it grows businesses.

All innovation is not successful because a lot of the time it has no relevance in people’s lives and no one showed them how to make it relevant.

Facebook didn’t happen because Mark Zuckerberg invented it but because it goes to the core of what it is to be human, we want to feel like we matter to people and we want someone to pay attention to our lives, we want to feel like we’ve left some sort of legacy on this earth and when you look at creating a digital version of me a part of me is left behind in my digital signature.

This goes to the core of what it is to be human and these are why smartphones are working because its still about connection and not missing out.

Human needs and drivers is the context for great innovation, and its ending in the comms space.

But you’ve got to commit to is. The whole notion of 70/20/10 is you’ve got to commit to it, or you end up being the next Blackberry and Nokia.

Starcom won media network of the year at Cannes, what brought that about and where does the network go from here?

We’re the biggest network in the world and have been for the last three years. Starcom won the American Effies last week and Ogilvy and the other agencies all sat up and asked ‘what’s just happened?’

What we told our guys celebrating is we’re only just started and we’ve got to keep growing and look for what’s next. It’s exhausting but its inspiring and invigorating as well if you take on that challenge.

You’ve got to set big hairy audacious goals and just go after it, and when you do that amazing shit happens and people want to make a difference and when you encourage them it’s incredible.

Success is no fluke, they don’t just happen. There was a headline about media agencies need to get better at writing entries, but to me its not about sham work and getting awards, its about amazing quality product and it starts and stops with people who are inspired to understand how people work.

We do a lot around inspiration and empowerment and here’s global interfaces, we’re pushing out a new electronic interface as we speak. It’s pulling it together every desktop in a meaningful way and there’s no excuse for not knowing what our 75 major resources are, who owns it where you use it in the process all that stuff.

On the other side you’ve got to package and storytelling and that’s the hard part. Our team of not many and created 70 two minute films plus all the other stiff that accompanies it, we’ve become a production company just to drive our own stories and build our reputation. Who would have thought that was going to happen? How many companies are putting up that sort of content about the work they’re creating.

It’s about people at the top saying KPIs are important, we’re going to benchmark you and put measurement in place but we’re also going to call out success and reward it and make sure people are noticing. We get that inspiration loop sitting at the heart of your culture and it keeps feeding itself.

We’ve grown and grown and the awards have just grown and grown and its nice moment in the sun and now what. It’s a day after but were already saying what next?

I love that about our culture and media people generally because we ere the little kid at the table no-one took seriously, and that fire in the belly we don’t want t lose. That’s what drives you.


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