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So You Want My Job? From global COO Simon Sikorski’s dreams of architecture to real Craft

Simon Sikorski, global chief operating officer of Craft

Welcome to So You Want My Job? Each week we ask the people working in some of the industry’s coolest roles about how they got where they are. Along the way, we dig into their philosophies, inspirations, processes and experiences. Hopefully our interviewees can inspire you to pursue (or create) a job that’s just as exciting.

This week we talk to Simon Sikorski, global chief operating officer of Craft.

What did you want to be when you were growing up? Does your job now resemble that in any way?

As a kid, I had my heart set on becoming an architect. I loved the calculations, the drawings, the precise detail that went into creating the plans. I suppose I ultimately was attracted to the idea of creating homes that would make people say ‘wow’.

While I would definitely struggle to draft architectural drawings today, I still enjoy the mapping out of how Craft works. Where do our tools intersect with our people? How does an asset respond to and create useful data? Now that I think of it, I’ve become an architect of production.

How did you get your job? Tell us the full story.

While I’ve always been in marketing, my journey has taken a lot of twists and turns. I started my career working for a small agency in Toronto, where I was lucky to be thrown into account management, media planning/buying, strategy, PR and production management parts of the business. I really learned so much in my first few years in advertising.

But I had the itch to travel, so I went to Vancouver and ultimately found myself in the UK working both client- and agency-side. At my first UK agency DLKW, our offices overlooked the alley behind the theater where The Lion King was being performed. You get a strange sense of inspiration by seeing costumed giraffes, zebras and lions taking a cigarette break outside your window as you tackle new ways to solve client briefs.

I eventually landed at McCann London in 2006. I was [current McCann chairman/chief executive officer] Chris Macdonald’s first hire when he joined McCann and found myself in my first international role, leading the Intel and ExxonMobil accounts for McCann Worldgroup. The best work I never got to make was a fantastic feature film we had proposed about the world inside an Intel processor. Nanopolis would have been an exciting world if we had ever brought it to life.

It was while in London that we saw a new trend emerging – decoupling production from the creative agency. At that time, McCann had phenomenal studios around the world, but it wasn’t connected in a way that allowed us to offer truly decoupled global production solutions. So we created Craft (which was originally called WGEXP). In hindsight, the fact that we were never mandated as an internal in-house studio made us work harder to win the confidence of our agency partners and, in the long term, has meant that we have great relationships with the creative agencies we work with.

In 2011, I came to New York to set up Craft more formally. New tools and technologies helped us tackle the ever-increasing number of channels in which our clients were active. And we were winning. With a client list that included (and still includes) Microsoft, L’Oréal, Mastercard and Nestlé, we were constantly breaking new ground and expanding our teams around the world.

But then my production remit changed. I was given the opportunity to head back home to Canada to lead McCann Worldgroup – McCann, Craft, Momentum, MRM, McCann Health and Commonwealth are all great agencies in Canada and I was lucky enough to join them at a time when they were all establishing themselves as great individual agencies. “Brilliant individually, unbeatable together” as [current president McCann Worldgroup UK and Europe] Mark Lund says. In Canada, I worked with some of the best talent with whom I’ve ever had the privilege to partner. And as we managed through the impacts of Covid-19, it was great to have them along for the journey. But I do laugh when I think of the optimism of our thinking that we would be back in the office by Mother’s Day... 2020.

In January of this year, I moved my family back to New York from Toronto – an international mid-pandemic move that was definitely an adventure to navigate. In my two-year absence from Craft, it has further evolved its data and content offerings, so I came back to a more wonderfully ambitious and modern production agency than I had left previously. Intelligent content and data-led production had become the norm for our 25 Craft studios.

Would I do anything differently? Probably, but I’ve spent my entire career looking at what can be, rather than what could have been, so I’ll stick to looking forward.

OK, so what do you actually do? How would you explain your job to a taxi driver?

I guess I would tell a taxi driver that I run a network of production studios around the world that can pretty much create any kind of marketing asset that you can think of – social media content, TV ads, print ads, e-commerce imagery and content, point-of-sale materials, websites... you get the idea.

What do I actually do – I make sure all of our studios are set up properly to be able to respond to whatever our clients ask us to create. Not every studio needs to do everything, but across our network and through our curated partnerships, we need to solve all of our clients’ production challenges with the utmost creativity and efficiency.

Do your parents understand what you do?

I think so, but I’m now going to tell them what I would tell a taxi driver and see if it makes more sense to them.

What do you love most about your job?

Working with creative problem solvers. There’s no single solution to anything we do. Each client is different, with different tools, expectations, demands and resources at their disposal. I love that our teams can solve the unique challenges of each brand we work with by coming up with the best production strategies for our clients.

How would someone entering the industry go about getting your job now? What would be their route?

I don’t think there’s a formula. I came from a client management background, which gave me a client-first perspective on what I do, but equally we have people that have joined us with media, data, creative and of course production backgrounds. I suppose I would encourage whoever wants to get into production to build up an appreciation of all of those areas. Production sits at the intersection of many disciplines because, at the end of the day, they all need assets. Understanding the role production plays in their ecosystem will make you a very powerful ally.

What advice would you offer to others entering the advertising industry, especially at this weird time?

I look at those entering into advertising now with great envy. The traditionally linear thinking of advertising is no longer the reality... the industry has opened up the possibility for creativity in so many directions. Experiences, social engagement, entertainment and hyper-personalization have changed the way we think. Help clients drive demand by embracing the potential for creative ways to engage consumers in every aspect of their life, and you’ll have a very fruitful career.

What would you say is the trait that best suits you for your role?

Listening. I try to hear what my agency partners need. I look to embrace our clients’ challenges. I get more out of listening than always being the loudest voice in the room – although I can sometimes be pretty loud.

Who should those who want your job read or listen to?

Covid-19 has really turned me on to listening to podcasts. I mostly use podcasts as an escape from work and I’ve been learning a ton. One of my favorites is Business Wars. I love hearing how businesses battle it out to fend off competition. It’s a great reminder that we should all appreciate the broader challenges of our clients and help them address their business as well as marketing challenges.

Last week Beckie Underwood, head of studio at Azerion UK, was in the hotseat.

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