Livingstone was the instigator and driving force behind .99 after he saw the potential for a specialist retail agency (chief executive Livingstone, client service director Jarad O’Hara and current managing director and executive creative director Craig Whitehead kicked it off in 2003 within Colenso BBDO). And while retail might not be quite as sexy as the other, supposedly more creative areas of the ad game, it's often where the money is, as evidenced by the fact that it has grown to become one of the largest advertising agencies based on billings in New Zealand (and very close to the top in terms of revenue for all Clemenger Group companies, ahead of 'big brother' Colenso).
After meeting with him last year, it was clear his bio wasn't just hyperbole: he really does have "a real passion for the brand, what it stands for, and most importantly what it delivers for its clients and business". And that's reflected in the impressive list of clients on .99's books.
His 33 year career in the advertising industry began in 1978 with Colenso Wellington, when Livingstone (then marketing manager for one of Colenso's biggest clients) was offered a job with the agency as an account director. While he initially approached the move with some trepidation, it was to mark the beginning of more than three decades with the Clemenger Group, which included three years as general manager of Colenso Wellington and 20 years as managing director of Colenso in Auckland (after starting .99 and sharing some clients, notably Air New Zealand and Vodafone, but now Westpac, it's fair to say there has been a little bit of friction between the family members at times).
He has also been a past president of the 3As (now CAANZ) and was named chief executive of the year at the 2008 Fairfax Admedia Agency of the Year Awards.
Jim Moser, chief executive of Clemenger Group New Zealand says Livingstone resigned in November last year.
"Neil has devoted eight years to growing .99 into the success story it is today and felt he'd got the agency to a point where he was ready to hand over the reins," he says. "After discussions I asked him to stay on in a non-executive role as chairman, which he accepted. In his new role he will assist the management team, maintain contact with key senior clients and help with new business activity."
Livingstone says his number one priority was to ensure a robust succession plan was in place before he headed off to start whittling sticks on the porch. Whitehead will take over as chief executive while retaining his creative role as ECD, while O’Hara remains as Whitehead’s right-hand man.
".99 is in the best shape it has ever been in, but it is time to continue looking to the future to ensure the agency remains best-in-class in the retail space," he says. "I've been working closely with Craig over the past few months to implement a new structure which will be well and truly bedded in by the time I step down from the CEO role in June."
This includes further boosting .99s significant in-house production capability with the appointment of a new operations director which will be announced shortly. 99's creative offering has also been strengthened with the recent appointments of Paul Hankinson to creative director and Nic Hall to deputy creative director, which might be an indication the agency hopes to keep moving into the brand ad space, a realm traditionally inhabited by the 'creative agencies', not the guys who make the catalogues.
"I am immensely proud of what the team at .99 has achieved over the years. We've built a very successful, unique business with a great organisational culture and a client list any agency would be envious of. The time is right for me to take a step back from the day to day running of the agency and I do so knowing the agency, its people and its clients remain in the very best hands under Craig and Jarad."