Crawford’s local leadership acknowledged with global FCB role

Break out the sultana pasties*, because Bryan Crawford, chairman and group chief executive of FCB New Zealand and Australia, has been named as the vice chair of FCB’s global network. 

In typically humble fashion, when we popped into his office for a chat Crawford said “there’s not a lot to say, really”. But it is a ringing endorsement of the role he has played in taking the New Zealand arm of the newly rebranded FCB network from middle of the road to top of the pops. 

He says it’s business as usual from a New Zealand perspective and he doesn’t have any extra P&L responsibilities over and above those he already has for Australia and New Zealand. It’s not client facing either, so it’s more of a support and mentoring role for new management teams that’s aimed at sharing best practice between offices. And rather than dealing with the creative product, he says this new role (global chief creative officer Jonathan Harries is the other vice chair) will be more business focused and will cut across things like agency strategy, HR, finance and new business models. 

Like any network with a portfolio of offices, he says some are doing better than others. And while “it’s not like I’m on a rescue mission,” FCB’s leadership team, led by relatively new global chief executive Carter Murray, is keen to get them all cranking. And, as a release from HQ in New York says, Crawford’s “business acumen and an ability to build strong agency culture” means “he is uniquely positioned to support and offer guidance to the senior leadership in major markets, especially to those who recently joined the agency”.

Crawford, who joined the agency as chief executive in 2006 after a long stint client side, is very proud of what he and the “very stable management team, many of whom have been here for a very long time”, have achieved. That required plenty of planning. And he says the only reason he has been able take on this new role is because he has such a good safety net in place.  

“There’s been a very deliberate, planned way we’ve gone about the last five or six years. My feeling is that agencies are run a little bit more by the seat of their pants [than other businesses]. But in a creative business when you talk about bringing in some more structure, that doesn’t seem that good because it’s seen as a whole lot of rules and constrictions. But what we did is build a business and have an idea of how we were going to go about it; we figured out what the sequence of events and investments might be, and what might have to change as we evolved, perhaps because of scale.” 

The agency has had a few big wins in recent years, both in terms of clients and awards (he has also won Ad Media’s chief executive of the year twice). But he’s fully aware that can turn into “arrogance and complacency” if you’re not careful. 

“Basically we’ve got to have a hunger to be better. And we haven’t lost that hunger.” 

Not surprisingly, that performance obviously hasn’t gone unnoticed and Murray says Crawford has an outstanding track record in taking agencies from good to great.

“He’s been a pillar in our Asia Pacific region for some time and we are capitalising on his talent and ensuring the wider network benefits from his expertise and leadership,” he says. “Bryan’s been the driving force behind the success of the New Zealand operation. His extensive experience within and outside the advertising sector will benefit our global team and clients.”

In the days when Saatchi Wellington was world-renowned, a number of its staff were given global roles that saw them move overseas. But Crawford says it’s not particularly common now. And the thing he loves about this role is that he gets to do it from New Zealand. 

“It’s the best of both worlds,” he says. “As an agency, we’re connected in to the network through this. The reality is we’re a small, isolated market, so anything that gets us a bit closer is great.”

While it’s often talked about, the benefits of being part of a global network are not often that apparent, possibly because each agency has its own fires to fight without worrying about fighting those from other offices. But Crawford says it tends to happen in the background. And the resources available can sometimes help some of the smaller agencies realise big ideas, like a campaign for Canal+ by its Spanish office that called on some help from its Los Angeles office. 

“When you’re in New Zealand, that kind of thing can be quite hard to tap into. So that’s the plus side.” 

From a planning and creative point of view, he says it regularly dips into the pool of global IP and it also gives some knowledge back, with the likes of head of planning David Thomason regularly talking to planners in other markets. Global briefs also get shared into the network, mostly for pitches, with different agencies being named as leads.

He also says doing more global work is the next logical step for an agency that’s already doing well in a small market like this and he feels it’s a “self-limiting belief to think the limit of your potential is New Zealand”. 

“It’s almost a necessity for big agencies. When you get to a certain scale, where do you go next?”

He says FCB is “more of a local global company than a global local company”, and while he says adding more global clients is a key goal (it already looks after Mondelez and Beiersdorf​ in Australia), it will continue to focus on its local clients. 

“We’re a network with a lot of local offices that have a lot of local clients that choose us. 99 percent of our clients are autonomous. That’s why the new FCB branding has been developed like it has. The brand is not complete without the local office added on as a suffix.” 

For the clients, having a footprint in other markets is also a major benefit, he says. And through its network it is able to host clients looking to explore those markets, attend conferences or go on study tours. 

So, with his new-found power, will Crawford ensure the ‘no wankers’ hiring policy followed by FCB New Zealand will now be a global dictate?

“The words might change, because I’m not sure how it will translate across cultures, but it is very FCB. It’s a family, and it’s a no bullshit culture.”  

*Crawford’s favourite biscuit, which will now presumably be provided at all the global meetings he attends. 

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