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    Saatchis is a ‘shopfront’ for Publicis: Patrick Rowe on a year as CEO

    “What we do is the most visible,” Patrick Rowe tells Mediaweek of Publicis’ creative agencies, as he marks a year as CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Australia.

    I like to say that we are the shopfront window for Publicis Groupe, where our work is what’s seen and noticed, and clients might come in through a creative doorway.”

    Succeeding Anthony Gregorio in February last year, Rowe arrived as no stranger to Publicis, having spent 25 years within the holdco‘s ecosystem. Before joining Saatchis, he served as the managing director of team one, Publicis’ bespoke agency for Lexus.

    Rowe is one of many leaders settling into their new positions at Publicis, following a series of CEO-level appointments over the past 18 months, starting with Jason Tonelli at Zenith in August 2022, and followed by Matt Turl at Spark Foundry in December 2023. Most recently, Claire Pickens and Davy Rennie were named CEOs at Leo Burnett, and Digitas and Balance, respectively, in February this year.

    Dave Bowman also joined Publicis as regional chief creative officer in March 2023, working alongside Saatchi and Saatchi’s joint CCOs, Mandie van der Merwe and Avish Gordhan, who arrived in September.

    “There’s a real responsibility to maintain that standard of output,” Rowe says of the double-edged sword of creative agencies’ visibility and brand-building role. “That’s a key challenge, but it’s an amazing opportunity.” 

    ‘Creative agencies are living, breathing things’: Balancing heritage and modernisation

    Rowe brought with him a vision for Saatchi & Saatchi: “to continue to be famous for best-in-class creative and strategic thinking,” while addressing a need to expand its creative thinking across more customer platforms. 

    Building upon the founding ethos established by Maurice and Charles Saatchi in London in 1970 – “Nothing is impossible” – he introduced his own, contemporary version: “My mantra is that we want our creative thinking to have more impact, more often for our clients.

    “Best-in-class strategic and creative thinking applied to a client’s business problem or to help them achieve something they thought was potentially out of reach.

    “The key thing for us is to be great at what we do: we are a creative agency.”

    Since inheriting the baton at Saatchis, Rowe has been a staunch advocate for leveraging data and tech to elevate its critical and creative thinking. “Technology, tools, the shift in media attention span, all of those things means we are moving faster than ever. It can be exhausting at times, and particularly if you don’t have the right sort of resource mix,” he says.

    “Advertising and communications is a constantly moving forward wave. You have to keep up on the latest trends, data, whatever it might be, or you drop off the back.”

    Rowe believes in expanding the relevance and impact of creative work across a robust channel mix, and in the efficiency of leveraging clients’ existing platforms and systems: “The use of data, technology and tools to understand the full-platform thinking of any client is a big part of our business.”

    “We’ve made some significant investments since I’ve been here,” he continues. “Our creative thinking needs to be at home in social media, CRM, digital content activation, and in-store, as it is through traditional channels.”

    And in the search for the holy grail behavioural insight, Rowe explains: “data done well allows you to predict future behaviour, not just report on what’s happened. So it’s hugely empowering for creative teams. It helps you understand more about the customer, the insight.

    “Creative agencies are living, breathing things, and we constantly need to change as the industry changes. There’s always new ways of doing things.”

    During his first year in the job, Saatchis clinched the the 2023 Grand Effie for for the ‘How Little Moments Made Big Bickies’ campaign for Arnott’s, announced in November last year. Rowe describes the win as “a huge success story.”


    Rowe also names the September 2023 ‘In the Middle – An Unbreakable Connection’ campaign for Toyota HiLux as outstanding work. Directed by Tim Bullock of Scoundrel, the film portrays a divorcing couple who discover their enduring affinity for their split-custody HiLux makes it all the more difficult to part ways.


    ‘It’s fierce out there’: On attracting and retaining talent

    Rowe is acutely aware of pervasive industry challenges such as the battle for talent, managing operational speed and resources, and navigating an ever-evolving mediascape. He recalls the return-to-office struggle post-COVID. Capturing the energy in an era of hybrid working is an ongoing, collective challenge, he says.

    “The inherent value of our company is people and ideas, and the best ideas come from people working together,” he explains. “It’s been difficult as we make sure that all of our agencies and Saatchi & Saatchi in particular embrace a flexible working environment that still allows for optimised creative and strategic thinking by our people. I’m not the only person to face that challenge.”

    He sees attracting and retaining talent as a “major” challenge the industry is facing, compounded by a persistent allure for Australians to seek shinier opportunities abroad. Aussie talent is well-placed in the international market, he says.

    “We’re in a bit of a sweet spot in terms of the industry here,” he says. “Australians are generally very adept at fitting in anywhere. In Australia, your job in an agency is to think strategically, write the brief, play a role in creative development, oversee production and dispatch, and have a point of view on media.”

    He compares this to the situation in countries like the United States, where “some agencies are so big that people become experts at one piece of the process.”

    However, it’s not just the competition from adland that is fuelling the talent war, Rowe contends. “Once upon a time, advertising was the creative industry to get into, but now there’s so much competition from tech, entertainment companies, and others, that it’s fierce out there to attract the very best.”

    Bucking the trend, last September, Saatchis welcomed respected creative duo van der Merwe and Gordhan, who moved from their joint stations as chief creative officers at dentsu Creative. “They’ve had a huge impact; they’ve been inspiring to work with,” says Rowe.

    “I’m privileged to … work with an amazing bunch of people, many of whom have been here for years, but also being able to bring in new talent and fresh thinking.

    “We bring in new people and fresh thinking and new ideas, and it’s invigorating for everybody.”

    See also: Davy Rennie’s to-do: Give CMOs ‘unfair advantage’, get his agencies to ‘stop being so bloody humble’

    Top Image: Patrick Rowe

    The post Saatchis is a ‘shopfront’ for Publicis: Patrick Rowe on a year as CEO appeared first on Mediaweek.

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