The Agency Interview: 27 Questions with Warren Griffiths

January 31, 2017

The Agency Interview

Warren Griffiths is EVP-Global Investments & Partnerships at Publicis Groupe. After spending his childhood in Zimbabwe and his early career in South Africa, Griffiths, who now works in New York, has a global outlook on business and on life. We asked him 27 questions. Here are his 27 answers.

1. What did you have for breakfast this morning?

I am not really a breakfast person. Generally, I kickstart my day with a large skim latte. This gets me through to lunch.

2. What’s the last great thing you binge watched and why?

I spend two to three hours a day on a train commuting between Connecticut and Manhattan, so do a lot of binge watching to pass the time. Ninety percent of my video content, I watch in an OTT/Streaming fashion. Recently I have been into British Crime series like “The Fall” (Netflix); “Broadchurch” (Netflix); “Paranoid” (Netflix); and “Peaky Blinders” (Netflix). I’m also a bit of a Sci-Fi geek, so I enjoyed “Westworld” (HBO); “Stranger Things” (Netflix); “Penny Dreadful” (Showtime); and of course “Game of Thrones” (HBO).

3. What’s the industry buzzword that annoys you the most these days?

In an industry overflowing with buzzwords, singling out one or two words is not easy. A few that immediately come to mind: big data, customer-centricity, omnichannel, and the acute overuse of the word, “Millennials.” We are also an industry that has a somewhat unhealthy love with the TLA (three letter acronym), which can be extreme at times.

4. What are your key responsibilities in your role at Publicis?

Global partnerships and investments. This entails identifying and defining investment best practices, driving quality standards, and architecting relevant partnerships for Publicis and our clients, that drive value. Value being defined in a variety of different ways, from commercial, to capabilities, to access, to deeply strategic. Partnerships range across publisher, technology, content, insight, data and innovation partners. As a global focus, we constantly look to find ways to scale these best practices and partnerships, across all the markets that Publicis operates in.

5. You were born in Zimbabwe, spent your early career in South Africa, and now work in New York: How has your international background prepared you for what you’re doing now? 

Yes, I believe my background definitely provides me with a unique set of tools. The foundation of my advertising and media career was in a substantially smaller emerging market, with a diverse audience set of cultural, demographic, political, and psycho-social layers. Having led three agencies in this environment, I had experiences that sharpened my ability to think across multiple audiences, to design multi-layered messaging to diverse groups, and to translate global brand storytelling in a way, such that the local audiences could relate and engage.

I also had an interesting experience of the Digital Revolution in the 1990s/early 2000s. In South Africa, we moved to Mobile way ahead of the USA, as very high percentage of first time connectivity was done through mobile, due to infrastructural and societal challenges. When I landed in the US, in 2008, I was amazed about how behind the USA was, with regard mobile — of course, since then Mobile has exploded, and is first screen across most of the planet.

Having now operated in a global role for the past nine years (out of the USA), I have built on my early experiences in South Africa, and believe I have a skillset that allows me to translate and scale US-centric approaches, across the globe.

6. What’s the last great book you read? Why was it great?

I am more of a sound and vision guy (see question No. 2), so I don’t spend much time with the written word, and when I do, it’s usually audio books. I prefer to dive into autobiographies: Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” Keith Richards’ “Life” (notice a trend?) or life planning books: Timothy Ferriss, Jack Canfield, Tony Robbins, Robin Sharma, Malcolm Gladwell.

7. What’s your favorite vacation spot?

We are a family of nomadic adventurers – we VERY rarely go back to the same place, so there is no regular favorite. This summer we had the incredible opportunity to spend two weeks in the Greek Isles — a bucket-list trip that we thoroughly enjoyed.

8. What’s the biggest change in the agency business since you started?

Having been in the game for the past 17 years, I have seen a variety of truly pivotal changes, including:

  • Media expertise, moving from a back-office creative agency function, to a standalone force in the industry
  • The birth and maturation of digital, as a truly viable part of the marketing mix… ultimately over-taking many “traditional” forms of advertising
  • The meteoric rise of social as a connecting platform across the planet
  • More recently, video becoming truly cross-platform
  • Over the past couple years the massive revolution seen through data and technology, giving rise to programmatic and truly addressable media

9. How have you (and your agency) adapted?

At the core, agencies and people within those agencies, need to be chameleons, being able to adapt to the new environments, opportunities, markets and evolutions, as they emerge. The ability to be comfortable with change, embrace it, get ahead of it, and ultimately lead change, is vital. We spend a large part of our professional lives assessing current trends, and forecasting the potential power shifts within those trends, and then investing ahead (people, technology, formats, new markets, partnerships) into what we believe to be the future.

10. What’s your proudest moment in business?

I have scaled a few mountains in my career that I am proud of, including:

  • Having early success in my career in South Africa, which opened up international opportunities and which brought me to New York
  • Joining Publicis (Starcom) in 2011, and being part of the team that drove the digital, next-gen, vision, across SMG (Starcom Media Group).
  • Five years on the Samsung business, globally. Helping drive the Samsung business from a somewhat known brand, to a truly global force.
  • More recently, joining the leadership team at Publicis Media, being a part of some of the industry’s brightest and most respected, building a truly innovative and consolidated capability, servicing across the many markets, agencies and clients within the group.

11. In life?

Again, many things I would look back on with fondness. The clearest moments of pride are:

  • Marrying my incredible life partner and wife (Mariet) 16 years ago.
  • The birth of our two incredible daughters (Sydney, 12 & Sadie, 4)
  • Immigrating to the USA in 2008
  • Becoming an American citizen in 2015

12. What’s the most important way the rise of social media, from YouTube to Facebook to LinkedIn, has changed the way companies tell stories?

Being able to truly engage with consumers in a one-to-one dialogue, packaged in deeply personally relevant context. Before social, advertising was a monologue broadcast; the rise of social was the rise of true addressability.

13. Digital ad spending is poised to surpass TV ad spending. Is this a problem for agencies or an opportunity?

I don’t necessarily see the headline of digital taking over TV, as 100 percent correct. “Traditional” channels are evolving to become digital, rather than being surpassed. As we move forward, TV will behave more like digital (more targeted, addressable, optimizable, agile, etc.), as will out-of-home, print, etc. It’s more a convergence than a takeover. And, yes, this is a further advantage for agencies to continue to apply engagement strategies, insight, and activation across platforms, media and channels in smarter, more effective, common currency, and measured ways.

14. Is content marketing an evolution or a revolution?

Evolution — storytelling (and promoting one’s story for gain) has been with us since the caveman. The medium has changed — no longer a painting on a cave wall — but the essence of what makes good content/storytelling, remains. A good story, presented to the right audience, within the most relevant context, and optimal timing creates the greatest interest, awareness, engagement and sharing, whether around a campfire, or on the world’s largest platforms.

15. How do you use LinkedIn — for networking? For content marketing? Searching for talent? For sales prospecting? For staying abreast of news?

LinkedIn is a permanent tab open in my browser (on startup). I use LinkedIn primarily for getting industry news, reading opinion pieces and POV’s, general networking across my industry peer-set, and gaining a perspective of who the industry influencers, and rising stars are. It is a resource I use constantly to keep connected within my business world. It’s also the largest peer set I have, compared to any of my other social profiles.

16. How do you use LinkedIn advertising for your clients, and what’s working well for them?

Historically, we have used LinkedIn as a strong connector for brands to speak with business decision makers. We leverage many of the great tools that the platform offers, including:

  • Targeting relevant companies identified as key prospects, through account targeting
  • Targeting conversations tailored to specific industries and verticals through Sponsored Content
  • Amplifying content to audiences, based on their job function within the B2B purchase funnel
  • Creating Private Marketplace deals to take advantage of LinkedIn data, when buying against specific job functions and industries

17. What is your top-secret superpower?

Calm persistence

18. What sports team has broken your heart most often?

The Springboks — South African National Rugby Team

19. Who should play you in the movie version of your life?

Bill Murray

20. What is your favorite Disney character and why?

Yoda (now that Disney owns the “Star Wars” franchise)…and why? Because, Yoda!

21. What do you have an irrational hatred for?

Problem highlighters rather than solution finders

22. Best movies ever. Go:

“Lost in Translation” — Bill Murray + Scarlett Johansson + Sofia Coppola + visions of Tokyo + that Soundtrack (!) … say no more. I also recently re-watched, “Saving Private Ryan,” a classic!

23. What did you want to be when you grew up?

From an early age, I wanted to travel — so nothing specific, but travel was always going to be a part of whatever I ended up doing.

24. What's your most annoying habit?

I tend to be an over-analyzer at times. I have a habit of needing to look at challenges/opportunities/scenarios from every angle. I have also been accused of being annoyingly unflappable, i.e. I never publicly lose my temper/cool/calm outer appearance, even in the most heated of scenarios.

25. How long would you survive a zombie apocalypse?

I think I would have a good chance of longevity. With my experience in strategic outlook, a veteran multi-tasker, and dogged persistence, I would like to believe I would get far.

26. What jobs did you have in your childhood and what lessons did you learn from them that you still put into practice today?

I spent a large part of my late teens and early twenties, working at restaurants and bars. This taught me early on the power and art of customer service. It also taught me early on how to work under pressure, and solution creation. Some of the most challenging work experiences I have had have been over an over-cooked steak, or a spilt drink.

27. What are you most looking forward to in 2017?

In the media world there is so much poised for acceleration in 2017, that I am excited about:

  • More media challengers in the market place (publisher, agency and technology)
  • The continual exponential advances in mobile and video
  • In the social sphere, the (largely) untapped canvas of the chat platforms – Messenger, Whatsapp, Kakao, Snapchat, etc.
  • How media is becoming more and more personalized and relevant to our audiences.
  • Defining and landing on common measurement standardizations across platforms — driven by agencies, the industry, and third party measurement companies …ultimately driving higher quality media experiences and performance for our clients.
  • The continual globalization and scaling of media as a whole.

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