Advertising Week was quick off the mark in securing an online interview with the new IPG chief, Philippe Krakowsky. He talks pretty openly about his background and his current life, and comes across as an interesting guy.
He has got to be as new a breed of man as it’s possible to be if you are in your 50s, educated at Harvard and have worked in advertising for 30 years.
Perhaps his perspective is helped by the fact that he grew up in Mexico City, speaking Spanish as his native language. He says that Alfonso Cuarón’s Oscar-winning film, Roma, which depicts a middle class family in the city in the early 70s, is very “nostalgic” for him.
When he was nine, the family moved to San Francisco. His mum was an interpreter, first for the United Nations and then in business. His father, who died five years ago, he describes as “a complicated guy” who was “gregarious but chaotic,” a talented artist who only found the right job in his late 40s when he worked in the US Forestry Service.
As a child, Krakowsky wanted to write mystery novels, but in fact his early career involved setting up an AI company, which was sold to Apple. He started at BBDO in 1991 and then moved to Young & Rubicam before joining IPG 19 years ago.
Back in the early 2000s when IPG was in trouble, Krakowsky says that he and Michael Roth (the outgoing CEO) made a strategic decision to invest in talent, reward talent and build talent. He claims that this has been the secret of IPG’s relative success in recent years, and that it has also helped integration, because collaboration between individuals and teams has always been such a priority at the group.
On the future of the IPG, Krakowsky says he won’t be taking a “rear view image” of the sector, and the challenge is to get word out about the breadth of capabilities at IPG, selling it as a company that solves business problems rather than as a marketing services provider. Which sounds a lot like fending off competition from the consultants.
Krakowsky has a reputation as someone who is thoughtful and empathetic, and talking about the turbulence of the last six months, he said: “It’s most useful for clients when we are quiet and we listen without any agenda, so that we can really hear what the issues are, and be very present for them.”
Not that he likes to spend too much time musing. He says that the pandemic has convinced him more than ever of the need to act quickly. “If you know it needs to be done, even if it’s a hard thing to do, be courageous about doing it, because things are only going to move faster.”
He also stresses the importance of team work, and listening to people within the group. “It’s one of the things we push our leaders on. How flat can you make your organisation? How fast can you move and to what extent can you make sure that all your voices are heard? The people closest to the coal face, the more junior people, should be heard more because they have their finger on the pulse.”
Talking about how his own personal experience of 2020, Krakowsky says he seeks out “things that give me perspective and keep me honest.” It seems his wife is helpful here – she’s a theology professor and a priest, who spends time “truly administering to all those realities and being confronted with real problems.” He adds: “I’m by far the least interesting and accomplished person in my home.”
You can watch the full interview here.