|People & Places: Advertising Titan|
|Written by Anandhi Gopinath|
|Monday, 10 August 2009 00:00|
The global chairman and CEO of communications giant Grey Group James Heekin comes from a family steeped in tradtion. He is the third generation James Heekin. His grandfather began the tradition of being called James, his father is James II, then there’s him at level three. His son is part four of the saga, and is expecting a baby boy soon who is also in line for the name.
Heekin’s name is not the only thing that is tradition; his advertising career is, too. His father left Ohio for New York to pursue his passion for advertising, and became president of Ogilvy, reporting directly to the brand’s founder, David Ogilvy. Heekin spent a lot of time in his father’s workplace, absorbing the advertising industry in ways most people never get to do — it’s in his blood. “I grew up as an advertising brat. My dad used to drag me as a kid to listen to David Ogilvy speak and would comment about how amazing he was — I really didn’t get it,” he quips.
Well, he does now. Today, Heekin is at the top of a very fast moving pile of businesses and creative disciplines that are collectively called the Grey Group. Headquartered in New York, the multidisciplinary marketing communications agency has 432 offices in 96 countries, operating in 154 cities — including right here in KL.
While Heekin never set out to follow in his father’s footsteps, a psychology degree and a teaching stint did eventually bring him to the doors of advertising agency J Walter Thompson when he was 25. He later successfully headed McCann Ericsson and Euro RSGC for a number of years before joining Grey Group. By this time, Heekin had become an “I come, I see, I conquer” type of boss, leading his agencies to bag top creative honours and notable business wins.
This leadership quality emanates from his personality. His supreme self-confidence almost borders on cockiness but stops just short enough to make him genuinely likeable. His piercing eyes are a serious shade of grey, but the occasional twinkle in them does allude to a sharp sense of humour and being the kind of boss that cares about his people.
So how does he do it? How do you come, see and conquer? Both McCann Ericsson and Grey charted very different futures after Heekin came and shook things up there. “It has a wonderful history... my predecessor built it into a strong agency,” Heekin says. “Grey’s always been known for strong client service and the effectiveness of the work. But it’s never been particularly sexy or sparkling. So we decided to do this: take our strengths, magnify them, but let’s get radical about adding new areas of focus. One was creativity, and the other was digital.”
The digital age has affected communications in a huge way, hence Heekin’s direction was spot on. These days, the way the world works has made the consumer king — with all the information that’s available, consumers decide what they want and what they don’t. The swap of power from provider to consumer has heightened the need for compelling content more than ever before.
Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace have redefined communications and creativity, and these are just three examples of the new directions in which communications is growing. Charting your way through these unfamiliar waters is no easy task, no matter how established the agency. And it’s not just about going digital anymore, it’s also about harnessing the role of communications in the future — it’s going to be about informing and educating, it’s about telling consumers “I am taking you someplace else with this.” It’s a responsibility, as opposed to just a job.
However, Heekin is quick to say that as amazing as the Internet is, traditional media like print and television will never go out of style. Has its role vis-a-vis the Internet changed? Perhaps, but it is important to remember that it’s not “out with the old, in with the new” kind of mentality that will work — it’s learning how to integrate the two.
“An FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) company will not be able to cut its reliance on television advertisements, but it will have to add value to it by involving other communication channels,” Heekin explains. “What’s the role of television versus the Internet? What combination works? Figuring that out is what’s so much fun. A great campaign uses all the channels available to them, and that’s how it works.
“We get caught up in what medium is winning and losing; that’s clearly not the point. Use a particular medium for what it can do for you. We need to be mixologists today: how do you split the spending allocation to what medium... it’s a huge shift from how I used to work before, but it’s how things are going to work from now on,” he says.
Heekin’s advice especially works in times like these — if your eggs are scarce, why put them all in the same basket? Spreading your risk is about ensuring your money is as well stretched as possible — the challenge is to carefully engineer how that’s done. Household brands like Coke and Nike didn’t get to where they are from solely relying on TV advertising, although it may have been how they begun. Today, they permeate almost every possible sphere of our existence. They are pop culture icons, which is what advertising and communications aim to achieve.
“Advertising has always danced on the edges of popular culture, and great advertising always has borrowed from or become part of popular culture. That is precisely what we need to do,” Heekin says.
It is interesting to note that the direction Heekin sets today will be something that later generations of Heekins will benefit from. “The Internet and mobile technology are almost instinctive for anyone under 25. So the job I do really keeps me young,” he quips again. “People are more attuned to customers, creative ideas are increasingly creative. It’s hard to say sometimes what else the future will bring.”
Perhaps James Heekin the fifth will be talking about this future one day.
Campari’s annual calendars have become a collector’s item par excellence as stars from the silver screen and the runways are able to channel their own creative spirit in the unique way the shoots are planned. Last year, Jessica Alba (just months after delivering her daughter) was inspired by the heat and passion of summer and swimwear while Eva Mendes the year before explored fairy tales and fantasies as captured by Italian photographer Marino Parisotto.
This unique tradition has its origins in the passions of Kiehl’s founding family member Aaron Morse, who possessed an intense love for adventure and vintage bikes. The bulk of his collection was displayed in the “motorcycle room” of the brand’s East Village flagship for the enjoyment of patrons. Today, Kiehl’s is not only regarded as a modern-day apothecary, but also for owning one of the most exclusive collections of vintage motorcycles.
This collection received a very worthy addition recently as CEO of West Coast Choppers and motorcycle master builder Jesse James designed and constructed the custom Kiehl’s Chopper bike, parked permanently in the brand’s Santa Monica branch. James, who is married to Hollywood starlet Sandra Bullock, designs just 10 bikes a year – making for a rather lengthy waiting list for his coveted custom machines with trademark features like massive stretched-out front forks and 140-hp engines shaped from aircraft-grade aluminum.
In addition to the custom Kiehl’s Chopper, James has designed a limited edition Dopp Kit for men. The distressed pack, embossed with a one-of-a-kind emblem, includes essential Kiehl’s men’s products with tough-guy, macho man names for the complete package. Hard to resist the temptation of stuff like the White Eagle Ultimate brushless shave cream, Facial Fuel energising moisture treatment and face wash, Ultimate Man scrub bar and the Ultimate Strength hand salve.
This article appeared in Options, the lifestyle pullout of The Edge Malaysia, Issue 767, Aug 10-16, 2009.