Why the local chief of $300 million global ad giant M&C Saatchi says tall poppy syndrome doesn’t really exist in Australia

Jaimes Leggett M&C Saatchi

In December, the Australian arm of global advertising giant M&C Saatchi unveiled a collaboration between NRMA and “innovation” operation Tricky Jigsaw to create a bushfire detection technology for Australia that “sniffs” the air to alert an area for signs of smoke. 

It’s an example of how the agency is moving towards producing work that goes beyond a standard digital campaign. Leading this push is the group’s Australian chief executive, Jaimes Leggett, 36, who was previously managing director of Ogilvy in the UK. Having spent his entire career in the world of communications, Leggett is at peace with digital disruption in the industry. 

Globally, M&C Saatchi Group turned over £178.9 million ($302.5 million) in 2015, and its Australian operations turned over £22.8 million ($38.5 million) over the past six months. Leggett has been at the wheel since March 2013 and has led M&C Saatchi Australasia’s to win the Woolworths contract earlier this year, as well as securing the likes of eBay and Menulog as clients. He spoke to SmartCompany about why tall poppy syndrome doesn’t really exist in the local communications business landscape.

I was running Ogilvy in the UK, and when I moved across [to Australia], I was living in central London, with two young kids, not enough space and wanting to move.

If you’re going to move, you might as well look at what moving more broadly means. I wanted to be somewhere that was punching above its weight creatively, and I wanted to be in a market where you could develop culturally.

This is a country that produces great creative work but we’re [around] the world’s 10th largest economy. Australia is a big country, a big market, and it’s got big brands.

I studied law at university and law was amazing; you have a problem to solve, you go through a process of discovery, and then you have to deliver an argument to convince others.

The strategic process in advertising is the same. Law wasn’t for me because it was stuck to a time sheet, while advertising happens very quickly.

I don’t think there’s one job that’s been the most valuable [to my current role], but there is a set of skills that have learned along the way. One is [mastering] brutal simplicity of thought [one of M&C Saatchi’s core values]. The world is so complicated [and] we know that simple solutions enter the brain quicker.

I think advertising is an art – and it’s a skill. Like any skill, it’s learned over time. It’s passed on from one generation to the other.

You don’t start off by making great advertising, you learn the skill over time. Over the years I’ve progressively got better at it.

If you could make it a formula, everyone would be creative—and that’s not the case.

The notion of jealousy [in advertising and creative work] is really interesting. Having come from the UK, I’ve heard a lot about “tall poppy syndrome” in Australia. But here there’s actually a sense of wonder—there’s a bit more of a mutual support, though it’s a highly competitive industry.

We are more in awe of other people’s creativity, rather than envious.

Passion and empathy are two really important words in our business. If you have a love of something and a drive to self-improve, you start to pick up on the things that other people are doing.

I have the absolute belief that every business and industry either has been disrupted or is being disrupted. That’s just a function of the world today, and I absolutely see that as an opportunity.

If there are technologies that we can bring into our lives to do more of the magical, colourful things, that’s wonderful. Technology can mean that our ideas can connect with people.

I think if you create an environment where people can be the best version of themselves, you are more likely than not to get the best work out.

You’ve got to have the talent present and give them an environment where they can prosper. You can’t force people, there’s no formula.

In the future, I fundamentally believe that business success will be about the quality of their people [but] talent is a big challenge. 

One of the tensions in Australia in business is that it’s harder and harder to find great talent.

For us in advertising, it’s typically about the portfolio. People will show you that either through real ads or fictional ads. Then, we need to evaluate their ability to think.

In my mind, the most valuable asset [for an employee] is to be strategic. They need to be able to have a view on what the future holds.

Secondly, they need to be leaders and galvanise people on a journey. They need to have a dogmatic focus and drive; it’s hard, and you need to keep going.

Then, they need to have curiosity about themselves and their improvement and the world.

I think advertising is a fairly simple business when you spin it down. 

For other businesses [planning advertising], I’d say the first thing you need is a brand platform—a big pervasive thought that runs through your business. Something you stand for. It has to be based on the truth.

Your second thing is to be talked about. What can you do with that brand platform? How can you reach people in such a way that they want to do something with it?

How do you get people talking about that brand? You might produce advertising, or evolve your products or your packaging. Maybe you redesign your bottle so it’s more useful to sit in the fridge better.

Make some content or make ads, [but] you don’t have to spend [lots] of money.


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5 years ago

What a buffoon.

5 years ago

Tall poppy syndrome is much less in the big cities, in the outer suburbs and lower socio-economic areas its in full swing.