Q&A with Kristi VandenBosch

By Egotist / /

It’s one of the biggest hirings we’ve had in San Francisco for quite some time – Publicis & Hal Riney bringing on Kevin Roddy as ECD to run both the legendary Riney office as well as Publicis Modem. And the woman behind that hire, Kristi VandenBosch, CEO, Publicis & Hal Riney talked to The San Francisco Egotist.

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You must be terribly excited about landing Kevin Roddy. What does this mean in a big picture sense for Publicis & Hal Riney?

I’m beyond thrilled. Those of us who have known and loved the Riney brand for all these years have an enormous respect for the legacy of Hal himself. He made an interesting observation when he retired: No one was going to come in and do his job. Because “his” job no longer existed. He expected to be replaced with someone who would make the role his own. Of course, it’s pretty typical for new leadership coming into any agency – whether on the management or creative side – to want to put your stamp on the place. But that’s another exceptional thing about Kevin: he believes a brand like Riney isn’t about re-invention. It requires only re-ignition – leadership to help it evolve into a modern version of the agency with the wonderfully emotive and beautifully-crafted work we all respected so deeply. Kevin has enormous appreciation for the history of this agency, and even more passion for its future.

We now have this ideal leadership team, the kind I’ve always dreamed about being a part of – with Kevin joining, and Julie Liss, our Chief Strategy Officer, who came up from Chiat in LA last year. They’re people who love brands, and love telling their stories. But they’re also really excellent human beings – talented and interesting and super-smart. Clients love them, because they care about the business problems, and have great capability to innovate on a brand’s behalf. And it would be such an honor to be at the helm of Riney as it regains the reputation as a creative leader that it so richly deserves. I’ve followed this company since I was a 25-year-old art director coming up in Detroit, and I have such pride in its people and product. I see a reinvigorated future for Riney – one that’s deeply respectful of its past, but a model for today.

What about Kevin made you say “He’s it. He’s the guy.”?

Mostly that it took so long to get him. Seriously – he makes no decisions lightly. So we spent a lot of time getting to know each other over the months that we talked about working together. He obviously had a lot of other opportunities to work at a lot of great agencies. But we share a lot of common ground – not just our appreciation for the craft of creativity, but our values and beliefs about what we owe our clients, our employees and our industry. And what we owe each other, as partners in running an agency. From early on, I had no “Plan B,” just an unshakable belief that he’d come to us.

And it also helped that his texts are funny.

So now that he’s on board, what’s on your 2011 To-Do list for Publicis & Hal Riney and Publicis Modem?

First off, helping our existing clients grow. We have some amazing clients, and can’t wait for Kevin to apply his magic to their business. Second, re-engaging in new business! You simply cannot pitch without a creative leader. It’s impossible. You’re like a compass with no magnetic North. I should say here how proud I am of the agency continuing on in the absence of a CCO. They did a heroic job. But now that our team is complete, our first order of business is growth.

Lastly, I’m really looking forward to exploring the model for Publicis & Hal Riney and Publicis Modem as partners. As you may know, I came from TEQUILA, the digital agency that once lived inside Chiat\Day, so I have a first-hand view of what works and what doesn’t. It’s very much about the leaders of the agencies wanting it to be good for both sides. Drew Meyers and David Shearer, Managing Director and ECD of Publicis Modem SF, are awesome guys, and have elevated Modem’s game in San Francisco a thousandfold. I’m excited to have their talents on our leadership team, and to shape an agency designed for our clients’ futures.

What are the biggest challenges you see on the horizon for both shops?

Shaking off the past few years and moving forward with fresh vision. When you find yourself in a lull, whether due to internal or external forces, it can be difficult to re-engage and focus on what’s next, rather than what’s past. The people we have in place have a keen sense of leading both agencies past that point – our history is incredibly meaningful, but it needs to be applied in a new way. Again: not re-invention, but re-ignition.

Why operate them independently? Why not merge them together and offer one cohesive experience for clients?

We believe this creates the best of both worlds. As long as there are clients who are looking for digital specialist agencies, there is a role for Publicis Modem to develop and manage its own client base. But as more clients recognize the value of an integrated team thinking about their brand holistically, having “Modem Inside” makes us not just shallow digital thinkers, but deep ones. I think what happens in the “merger” situation is you instead find a “submersion,” where the digital partner is pared down into something the general agency finds comfortable according to its own understanding of digital. I’d rather have the best talent in the digital space by our side, and invest it with a vision to remain leaders in their practice.

That said, the closer working relationship we’ll have will push talent in both companies. And I’m open to experimenting with meshing creative departments and/or skills, which certainly can make for a much more interesting, dynamic creative environment. At the end of the day, digital guys think its cool to create a television campaign, and traditional guys would be really psyched to create the next big digital phenomenon. When we put them together, the ideas get both bigger, and better executed.

From your point of view, how’s the San Francisco advertising market doing?

We’ve got incredible agencies in this city. I came up from Los Angeles, where the ad community is very fragmented and disconnected. But here, there’s a healthy respect for what agencies large and small are doing – a lot of the leaders of agencies are friends as well as competitors. Our proximity to Silicon Valley makes us a hotbed of innovation, and I think it’s reflected in the work that comes from this market. San Francisco continues to be a destination city for clients nationwide who are looking for a unique creative perspective, steeped in the possibilities of technology. And it’s obviously a vibrant proving-ground for start-up agencies. I’m in love with the city, and its advertising community, and just so proud to be here.

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