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Back Chat: TBWA\Chiat\Day CEO Rob Schwartz talks capitalism, talent and the 'Disneyfication' of New York

We check in with TBWA\Chiat\Day New York chief executive Rob Schwartz, who is back in his home town and loving it. Here's what's pushing his buttons.

So, how are you and what’s been keeping you busy?

I’m doing well. I’m optimistic about the brands we’re working with and I’m seeing all kinds of good stuff inside the agency. I’m a New Yorker, and it’s a good time to be in New York, so all is good. The thing that’s keeping me busy is making sur e we have the best talent applied to the biggest opportunities. We have to find clever ways to bring them in. We could pay a lot of money but there are other things that we are trying to do to make it clear that this is a good move for their career.

What’s keeping you up at night?

Probably the sausage pizza I ate last night, haha! No, the thing really keeping me awake is talent. Do we have the best talent for the opportunities that we have, and are we maximising these opportunities?

What’s your biggest gripe at the moment?

My biggest gripe is the obsession with quarterly earnings; the fact that as much as we obsess with the creative product, we also obsess over the financial outcome. It’s not just our holding company or our industry, it’s the obsession with quarterly remuneration across the board in capitalism. It’s killing great companies... some stuff needs two quarters.

We can’t make the miracles happen every quarter – we try, but sometimes you need two quarters to ensure that a person is right for a certain opportunity or see whether we have to move on something.

What’s great about life?

Living back in New York is great. I’m a New Yorker, I lived in New York for 20 years and I came back, and the Disneyfication of New York is really good. A lot of people say it’s grimy. I don’t. I think it’s amazing, you can go to Hell’s Kitchen and not get beaten up any more.

The fact that you can go down to the financial district a t night and there is stuff happening or you can go north of 86th Street both east and west side. In some ways I feel as though 50 per cent of the city is brand new to me.

If you had unlimited resources, what would be the one thing you would do?

We need to democratise education more. It seems that the more you know in a holistic way , the more you can address a lot of the other problems we have in the world, so I would get more people learning more stuff and lowering the cost of access to education for more people. That would be my act of God. That and doing something about the traffic on the way to JFK Airport.

Which project do you wish you had been involved in?

I wish I had done something with ‘Just Do It ’. The Nike phenomenon of the last three decades is the still the brand we talk about. That’s remarkable.

What inspires you most?

I love advertising and the potential for what we do. And in spite of the programmatic media buys, the big data obsession and all the distractions that get away from the big ideas and telling big brand stories, this is still a cool business.

You can still write a beautiful line with a beautiful picture and it may be a gif in a social post or a beautiful 40-second film, and it can affect someone. That’s still the magic of what we do, and I still like waving that wand. One of my biggest sources of inspiration has been Jay Z. I love the mood of the music which is all about hustle, swagger and possibility.

Lyrically, I took the song ‘Empire State of Mind’ and used the chorus as a key piece to inspire folks here. That New York-dream-big-and-make-that-dream-real has inspired me and is inspiring this agency.

How can marketing change the world?

Something bubbling on my radar is the presidential election in the States; if you look at what Obama did in the last election, marketing changed the fortunes of the world. He was a great candidate, but the way that he was marketed was really smart: to get Shepard Fairy with the Hope poster and do the micro canvassing through social media.

When you look at the end result of that marketing initiative, it was pretty good. This guy killed Bin Laden and saved General Motors and he’s generally gotten America back to a good place. That’s one way marketing has changed the world.

Rob Schwartz was appointed chief executive of TBWA’s flagship New York office in January. He oversees a robust roster of clients that includes BNY Mellon, H&M, Hearts on Fire, McDonald’s, Michelin, NBCUniversal, Kenwood Vineyards and Thomson Reuters.

This feature was first published in the 16 September issue of The Drum.

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