Chris Kay has had a truly global career that has led him from London to Sydney to Los Angeles to Asia Pacific, and now back to London as the CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi.
He has consistently led brands and companies into exponential growth, most recently doubling the size of 72andSunny LA as it became one of FastCompany's most creative companies globally and founding 72andSunny in Sydney and Singapore.
Chris has a wealth of global sports experience. He was previously the Head of Marketing for Manchester City Football Club and helped expand the club's global footprint. He has also led the Adidas business globally, worked on the 2012 London Olympics for Cadbury, and helped build the brand proposition for LA as it won the 2028 Olympic bid.
Creativity Without Frontiers available at all relevant book retailers
Stay in touch with Unknown Origins
Music by Iain MutchSupport the show
Hello, I'm Roy Sharples, welcome to the unknown origins podcast. Why are you listening to this podcast? Are you seeking inspiration? an industry expert, looking for insights, or growing your career. I created the unknown origins podcast to provide access to insights and content from creators worldwide with inspirational conversations and storytelling, about art, architecture, design, entrepreneurship, fashion, film, music and pop culture. Chris Kay has had a truly global career, but has led him from London to Sydney, to Los Angeles to Asia Pacific. And now back to London, as the CEO of Saatchi, and Saatchi. He has consistently led brands and companies into exponential growth, and most recently, doubling the size of 72 S. La, as it became one of the Fast Company's most creative companies globally, and funding 72 s and Sydney and Singapore. Chris has a wealth of global sports experience. He was previously the Head of Marketing for Manchester City Football Club, and helped expand the club's global footprint. He has also led the Adidas business globally, worked on the 2012 London Olympics for Cadbury and helped build the brand proposition for LA as it won the 2028 Olympic bid. Hello, and welcome Chris, one spired and attracted you to pursuing your career and creative agencies in the first place. Chris?Chris Kay:
it's funny, I don't have one of those stories of a moment in time that I discovered my creativity. I was actually doing a university degree Management Science at the University of Manchester. And it was a brutally dull university course. And advertising was the most interesting bit on it. And so I very lazily gravitated towards the most interesting part of my very dull university course. And I've quite enjoyed it. And then I did what most people do, who were growing up 25 years ago in the industry, I tried to get on the graduate milk round, which they called it at that time, which was where you had to apply for the agencies you want to work on with another 2000 people, you had to do a very rigorous process to get down to 25 people for interview, and then you'd have to do a day and then you get down to the last three for interview. And then you were hoping that you got the final job. And so I did that came to London, and my dad bless him brought me to London for three different interviews. I got all the way down to the final four. And maybe it's because I was wearing a corduroy suit, which I thought was incredibly cool. But I think looking back probably made me look like a bit of an idiot. And I just didn't get a job. And so I had to reevaluate. But through that journey, I just met people that I felt were really interesting. I met people that I felt could be inspiring, potentially to work with at some point. And so I thought the lazy choice that I'd made it University was right. And so I, I went back to the north of England, because that's where I'm from, I was at University of Manchester. And I hustled my way around Manchester, to a very, half decent agency, where I worked on things that weren't that great, but it got me an opportunity to learn a little bit. I stayed there for six months. And then I swung into London again and said, I'm going to try this again, I'm not going to do a middle ground. I'm not going to do the graduate program. I'm just going to reach out to people and companies that I really admire. And so I did reached out to TBWA I got a call to come down and meet them. Maybe because I've done six months of work experience type work, it put me a bit more in good stead. And I did that came down met them and I got a job on PlayStation, which for anyone who knows great work from 20 odd years ago, PlayStation was the account. So I'd gone through the formal process. I hadn't managed to get a job. But six months later, I had the gig that I really wanted to so that sort of paid off but again, wasn't a destiny choice was just something I fell into and luckily I fell into the best job at the best time for someone who was 22 years old. And it made me love the thing that I thought I might like.Roy Sharples:
What is your creative process? In terms of how do you make the invisible visible by dreaming up ideas, developing them into concepts, and then bringing them to actualization?Chris Kay:
Yeah, I think And interestingly, because my background is more brand management versus art director, copywriter. And so my creative process is surrounding myself with people that are way smarter than me. And listening and learning and helping them get to the right place based on where we think the opportunity is. For me, actually, I hope that that is a good creative process for anyone trying to step out and make ideas in today's world, I don't think anyone in a room on their own anymore can get to absolute genius that can be delivered in all corners of the world that we need to make work for. You know, I'm a firm believer in many hands make better work. And so the more brains around the table, the more conversations, the more opinions, the more dumb ideas, you know, I'm a firm believer in say something even if it's really stupid, because sometimes stupidity gets you to greatness. And so why process and the process that I see in the best agencies that I've been lucky enough to work at, is just having those conversations early and nascent enough in a process that just allows you to try things that you wouldn't normally do when you're really weighed down by context and circumstance, and really push opportunities to a place that maybe others don't, just because you have a naivety and ability with groupthink to try and deliver something that maybe others can't. So yeah, more conversations, more hands, I think gets to better work,Roy Sharples:
What are the key skills needed to survive and thrive as a creative leader in run a successful creative agency?Chris Kay:
I think that's really interesting, because I think that's starting to change over time. And I've been lucky to work at some really influential places, and at times, I've worked at places that have struggled. And I actually think everybody needs to do that I don't see you can always be on an upward curve, I think it's really helpful for sometimes for success not to be as immediate as maybe it would be other places to really understand what what drives creativity and how to run a creative organization, I think first allow people to come to work and be their creative self. And what I mean by that is, our organization, because it's a people based organization and a people based industry is only as good as the capability that people have when they come to work as their true selves. And what that really means is, they can stand in a room, look at a wall with work on it and say something stupid, or radical, or imaginative, because they feel comfortable about being in that room. And so I think if we can create a culture that allows people to express themselves creatively, I think that's the first step. Because that's where you really start to push work to different places when all opinions are heard and valued. And then second, I think absolute clarity of purpose. And I think this is more important coming into this new world order that we're all coming out of, we're all going through a moment of really trying to analyze what we're doing a moment of reset, a moment of re articulation about what our lives should be. And I believe that it is a role of every company. And I think it's really interesting for our industry, because sometimes Rangely we're not that good at this, I think it's the role of every company to just give their people the why really given the understanding of why they're coming to work and what they believe in. And so really delivering that purpose and being clear. And then with that purpose, making it come to life in everything that you do. You know, your space should land what the purpose looks and feels like, who you hire should land that purpose and what they believe in and do the clients you work with should land the purpose. And I find it interesting sometimes I don't know if agencies are really good at landing their why I think they're really good at landing clients wise. But sometimes I think it's now more important for us to look inside to ourselves, and really find a reason that the next 25 Three year old like myself, trying to find an opportunity in this industry, looks at the company and sees that it can be an extension of them. Because in the old days when I came into the industry, there was as much about TBWA had a bar and it was cool to have a bar in an office because no one had a bar and you could socialize and do crazy things together. Whereas now I believe that there needs to be more depth in the why of why I want to work for with an organization.Roy Sharples:
So true. The purpose of organizational development ment is to provide a leading edge thinking practice and programs, you cannot curate a culture of creativity by subscribing to it or buying it off a shelf. Because as a social system about values, skills, craftsmanship, and our way of doing that needs to be embraced and practiced throughout an organization, and to nurture people to create without fear.Chris Kay:
That's interesting thing, isn't it? Because we've all been there when we've stood a wall, and we're looking at work, and we think we can make it better. And we think we can push it into a different place. But sometimes, there's something inside that says, Well, I don't know if everyone's gonna like that. Yeah. Or, or I don't know if that's as smart as I think it is. And I think as long as the surroundings and the culture is supportive, it's still challenging. This doesn't mean it's a weak organization, it's positively challenging. Yeah. But what it means is that it just allows you to nakedly be confident and say, what you think could be an opportunity for change. And as you think you were gonna say, that's really what gets you to greatness is that ability to maybe open a door that others don't, but someone else will take you to a different place.Roy Sharples:
That point you made about self doubt, and being reserved from expressing your ideas and point of view, no matter how a pic they may seem, at the outset, could be the spark that ignites a revolution that leads to greatness, and overcoming those things that have been ingrained, my parents are through education around or don't be ridiculous by you doing that. That's, that's crazy. So having that autonomy and confidence to express yourself without fear of retaliation is key. And given time and space for creativity, and an unstructured way, is key to free thought and innovation. And also, as well, ultimately, one of the most fundamental things in life is the need to create next to air water, food, shelter, safety, sleep, clothing, and belonging. Creativity is a core discipline, just like reading, writing, and arithmetic is not incidental, and nice to have. It's a way of life. And your point about where you work should be an extension of you and your values is spot on. Architecture and Design influence how people feel, think and behave. So the creative space you work, needs to embody this, because it's a design and an expression that mirrors and inspires a culture of creativity that allows people to interact in meaningful ways. And so setting the right conditions, atmosphere and environment inspires creativity, art, beauty, that people adapt and react to, and reflect in their life and work.Chris Kay:
It's interesting to try and work out, especially in this new world order where people potentially are only in two, three days a week. Yeah, how do we create a space that when they come together, they can properly collaborate, they can properly push each other, but also they can come in and be inspired. Because if they're just going to be sat at a desk, in a long line of chicken factory computers, there is no way that that is more valuable than sitting at home and your home comforts doing exactly the same thing. Exactly. And so we need to re articulate space, really, and really understand what we can do to create something that people want to spend time in, that people want to spend different moments in self throughout the day. You know, we're we're trying to look at moments versus days for our people to come in. So what are the key moments that people can spend time together and build with each other? And then frankly, just more reasons for them to come to our place versus somebody else's interest in here. So Archie's you know, the foundation of the office that we're in, it's, I think it's like six years old. We have our own pub, and it's a proper puppets pump. It's open to the public, but we own it. We've got a gym downstairs, we've got a great cafe breakout space. And they for me, are foundations of potentially what you'd start to build now if you were starting from scratch. And then if you overlay that with, how do you then create creative spaces for people to spend time in conversation, that's where you might get to a modern officer, I feel very, I feel very lucky that science has made some decisions a few years ago that might actually help make us feel more attractive from a space perspective today,Roy Sharples:
The point you made earlier on the importance of purpose, Chris, I just want to underpin that people are increasingly socially conscious, and particular about the companies they work for, to be an extension of their value system and moral compass. Even in interviews. I've been grilled by candidates on what's our stance on things like bye Diversity, climate, environmentalism, activism, and they are sincere and intentional about it. I'll flip the term organization to a brand which Saatchi and Saatchi clearly are and have a strong purpose and brand cachet. Brands Mar because they matter to people. And when a brand connects emotionally to its audience by providing meaning and delivering unforgettable experiences, that's when alchemy happens. Because brand love is created by having a purpose, establishing trust, and making people feel good. And connected to something greater.Chris Kay:
It's a value exchange. Yeah, you know, people have given us eight hours, 10 hours, 12 hours, 20 hours, how many hours people work in a day. And so we have to give clarity in return. And so one thing we did, I've been in role now for nine weeks. One thing I did in the first week was be really clear on what I thought The mission for the company was. And so I stood up in front of a company with what I felt was a might right mission, which was a mission for Saatchi and Saatchi to be the most influential creative company in modern Britain. And what that means really, when you dig underneath it is there's a really key word there, which is influential. And first and foremost, it's been influential in the lives of our people. Because if we can help them unlock their best creativity, then that's really value valuable for us. But that's about how we create a space create the conditions to allow them to be influential. Then the second thing on influential is being influential in the businesses of our clients, the deeper we go, the more valuable that we can be. And then the third influencer is has been influential in culture. If we don't, if we go deep with our clients and really shaped consumer behavior, then we're shaping culturally, what is going to be happening in the UK and in a market. And then the next influential is influential within our industry, in our industry, like all industry still needs to evolve and change, a lot of great work has been done. But a brand name like ours should be leading and be a standard bearer for what change can be. And then finally influential is influential in the creative agenda of modern Britain. You know, Britain feels like it's lost its identity a little bit. And maybe that's okay for me to say, because I've been away for 12 years. But the days of cool Britannia in the 2012 Olympics, it doesn't feel like we're currently having our influential creativity moment. And so for me setting up a brand mission that allows people to really understand why they come to work, and really see how it affects them affects the things they do in the day with their clients, but more importantly, affects culture, and affects what this country can be creatively. That to me feels like a mission to hold on. And I believe we've all got to give as much clarity in why we want people to give us their 810 1220 hours a day.Roy Sharples:
That's inspirational. And being inspired by an influencing industry developments and culture, and connecting emotions and imagination to being part of something greater. There's an inspiring and purpose led, mission driven way to be as a brand.Chris Kay:
Interesting thing for me, to me about this company, which is why I took the job, you know, this company was influential creatively. And when you think about Saatchi and Saatchi, it's 51 years old. And it feels to me like it's half time in its history. And what I feel that I can help do is help re articulate the next 50 years. And that doesn't mean that it's broken. What it means is our world is going through such a chiropractic moment of change, that every creative company needs to work out its role in a new world order. And if I can do that, and help the team here, then maybe we can still be as relevant. Maybe we can we can still be as well known. And definitely hopefully we can be as influential.Roy Sharples:
As you reflect back upon your career to date, Chris, what are your lessons learned in terms of pitfalls to avoid, and the keys to success that you can share with existing and aspiring creative leaders in the agency world?Chris Kay:
I think first don't take life too seriously. You know, I, I worked quite hard for a long part of my career. I worked in the US for five years. And that was a very hectic way of working and sometimes maybe I took my role and took the business a bit too seriously. And sometimes when you let your shoulders down, and you relax a bit, that's when good fortune fortune comes. That's when great ideas come and so maybe just take a step back, take a breath, don't respond to that email that you know you need to respond to. And sometimes just look at the world from a slightly different angle. And may we sometimes look at it through less serious classes and everything will be okay. So I think first thing don't take yourself too seriously. Second thing and someone always It is to me, surround yourself with people way smarter than you. That's not hard for me. And so I always feel that I have to have a team that can push can drive and take to places that I can't see. Because that really is how you get through creativity. So don't take yourself too seriously surround yourself with people way smarter than you. And then third thing is just be really open in how you allow people to be part of a journey. You know, when someone thinks it's their company, they'll do everything for you, when they think they can shape the direction of what that company can be, they'll really push and change and challenge. And again, that's what for me is true creativity, which is many opinions driving what a great business can be. And then final thing, just do stuff with people. You know, I've been at my best when I've had my crew of people that I really believe in. And so if you can get those 510 1520 25 group of people that you feel absolutely connected to, you feel absolutely, you believe in them, and you feel like you're unbeatable, then that's when you really winRoy Sharples:
Tilting forward, what's your vision for the future of creative agencies and the role of creativity?Chris Kay:
I feel like we're going through an incredible moment of change. So I, you know, we all know where we've been in the world. And we all know that it's a moment of reset. And I really believe in that. And I feel that usually coming out of these moments of drastic change in the world, that's actually when creativity comes to the fore. You know, I'm sure if you look back in time, Great Depression, roaring 20s, the things that came after really deep shifts, and psychological challenges in the world have been when we've been creatively at our best. So when I look forward, I look forward with rose tinted spectacles, I look forward with an absolute optimistic posture for what can be possible. And I hope that the role of creativity is to shine a light on where the world can go again, because that, for me is the most important thing for creativity, agencies like ours, and the brands that we work with, is there's a new world order, and consumers are going to shake off the shackles of where they've been, they're gonna look to brands for slightly different ways of partnering and being. And so I feel like we've all got to step up to a new era of creativity. And that creativity is where we're gonna have to bring more meaning, where we're gonna have to bring more purpose but not purpose from a pessimistic perspective, but more an optimistic, lean forward point of view. And we're just going to have to bring some positive energy back into the world. And that, for me is the most exciting thing for creativity because I think that's when creativity can truly be at its best.Roy Sharples:
Creative leaders possess a distinctly engaging and inspirational leadership style, because they truly put people first are perceptive about their needs, are inclusive of an empathetic toward different cultures, promote diversity and difference and have a purpose led, mission driven approach to making people's lives better, and advancing society toward the greater good. They hold themselves accountable for their actions, and have a social conscience and empathy for the environment by continuously managing innovation that powers the products they design, make and sell and the businesses they run. Do you want to learn more about how to create Without Frontiers by nourishing your creative power? Then consider gettingCREATIVITY WITHOUT FROONTIERS:
How to make the invisible visible by lighting the way into the future. It's available in print, and digital and audio on all relevant food platforms. You have been listening to the Unknown Origins podcast. Please follow subscribe, rate and review us. For more information go to unknownorigins.com. Thank you for listening.