'I hate the word content' – Back Chat with Saatchi & Saatchi NY chief exec Brent Smart

From a love of beer and football to his hatred of ‘content’, we find out what’s pushing Saatchi & Saatchi NY chief executive Brent Smart’s buttons.

How are you and what’s keeping you busy?

I’m doing good. We’ve been very busy with our whole digital offering. Our London agency bought Outside Line a few years ago and it went from 60 to 170 people – amazing growth. The two guys that started it and who had a lot of options as to what they wanted to do next are going to move here and effectively have a digital startup inside Saatchi & Saatchi New York. That’s been keeping us really busy, figuring out how to restructure stuff and integrate it in the right way.

A lot of traditional creative shops have been grappling with how we compete in this digital world, and with digital agencies who have talent and tools we don’t, and this is a step change for us.

We have also been very busy trying to do our best work for our biggest clients and we are very focused on that as we are very blessed with big clients. We want to do our best work for them, not for pro-bono charity stuff or for startups.

What’s making you happy?

I’m very happy about how the renovations downstairs in the agency are going at the moment – it’s going to be a really cool space. It’s been a pet project of mine. Every detail I’ve obsessed over. It’s been my baby. I’ve renovated every agency I’ve run so this keeps the streak alive. It’s going to be great.

We are blessed with amazing views here and we spend a lot of time looking outside rather than inside, where the offices could be a little more modern, creative and cooler. You can force collaboration based on where people sit and how they interact and we will make sure that happens, but people are excited for the culture.

It’s been a giant pain in the arse as we’ve had to share space and cram everyone into not-enough-space and deal with all this noise from constant drilling and banging. What is it they say about renovating a house? Three, two, one? It’ll take three times as long and twice as much only to do it once.

Space is really important to creative cultures. It sends a message about the type of company and the brand you want to be. It creates culture and it’s really indicative when you walk into a place what type of company it is, what its culture is and what it believes. You pick that up straight away. Space is critical but it’s challenging within holding companies because space is expensive. You need a business reason to do it as well though.

What’s pissing you off at the moment?

I hate the word ‘content’. It’s an excuse to make any old crap that we think the world needs, but in most cases the world doesn’t need more content. Just because you could make it doesn’t mean you should make it.

Most content is pollution. It’s a waste of people’s time; it’s interruption. And even though we have said we have moved from the interruption model, we are still trying to attract people, we’re just interrupting them in new and cunning ways. It’s still interrupting. It’s not stuff that is worthy of people’s time. Great content is, but most of it is shit.

P&G is not competing with Unilever, General Mills is not competing with Kellogg’s, and Wallmart is not competing with Target. We are competing with culture for people’s time and most of the stuff in culture is way more entertaining and useful than advertising. Advertising at its best can get into culture in many forms but at its worst it’s not even close. I hate that word!

Football or soccer?

I love soccer but I call it football. I’m a massive Liverpool fan. My grandmother was Scouse and going to Anfield was one of the most religious experiences of my life.

Water or beer?

Beer, but Guinness mainly, and from the Near Inn, which is the best pub in New York. I’ve taken up boxing three times a week because I’m trying to get fit, but the guy who’s training me is trying to get me to give up beer for a month. I’m allowed to drink any clear spirits I like and I can drink white wine, but no beer. I don’t think I can do it. That’s just a huge sacrifice I’m not willing to make.

Brent Smart is chief executive officer of Saatchi & Saatchi New York, leading the agency’s work on several iconic American brands. He joined Saatchi & Saatchi in 2011 as worldwide managing director on the General Mills business and leading integration across the Publicis Groupe. Prior to that he spent seven years with BBDO leading Colenso BBDO in New Zealand, then transferring to the US to head BBDO’s West Coast operations.

This feature was published on the last page of the The Drum's 28 October issue.

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