After orchestrating G8 summits and Olympic ceremonies, Lois Jacobs faces a different set of challenges at the helm of Fitch. Alexander Garrett reports
Running the show at Fitch
As BRAND experiences go, you don't get a bigger opportunity than the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games. With the message from the host city reaching a global TV audience of more than four billion, every tiny glitch, any small imperfection will be amplified and relayed around the world. Yet Lois Jacobs, who produced the Athens 2004 ceremony - as well consulting last year in Beijing - says: "It's wonderful when it goes right. Of course it is absolutely terrifying, but there is literally no bigger communication opportunity and so it provides a huge adrenalin boost."
As the new global CEO of Fitch, WPP's multi-discipline design consultancy, Jacobs is preparing to face a different set of challenges. After a career spent in experiential marketing, most latterly as international president of Jack Morton Worldwide, she will be involved in a different offer, embracing branding and design with a strong specialisation in retail, alongside a continued interest in live or experiential marketing - through FitchLive.
|"We're increasingly working for the same clients in different geographies and there is an opportunity to make processes and ways of working more consistent throughout the world"|
It's a challenge she is ready and eager to take on. "I left Jack Morton because I decided I had done all I could there," she explains. "I was looking for a global CEO job and when this came up I was immediately attracted, because Fitch is a brand name of such resonance. This agency has produced some stunning creative work for clients like Harrods in Heathrow Terminal 5, Vodafone, Marks & Spencer, Asian Paints in India, Dell everywhere and the Asian Games in Doha. The thing that's special about Fitch alongside its strong retail credentials is the ability to work seamlessly in 2-D as well as in 3-D: to translate thinking and strategy to print, on screen or within a controlled environment."
Jacobs' route to the top has not been the most conventional career path. Growing up in North London, she left school at 17 and travelled to Italy, to become a DJ where she was known as Lolo di Londra. She came back to London after two years - via North Africa - and became PA to the managing director of Fiat in the UK, thanks to her new-found Italian language skills. When they hired a live marketing company to launch a new model to several thousand dealers from all over the world, it opened her eyes to the potential of event marketing - known at the time as 'industrial theatre' - and she left for a job as a production assistant with one of the agencies involved in that business, Purchasepoint, learning the ropes from scratch.
Within four years Jacobs had gained sufficient experience to become a founding partner of agency HP:ICM, where she continued to work after it was sold to Saatchi & Saatchi. She then switched to another leading experiential marketing player, Caribiner, in 1997, before it was snapped up by Interpublicowned Jack Morton Worldwide. "What I liked about the business was that whereas advertising seemed to be very delineated, and you were either a creative or a suit, in our less evolved business you could be everything," she says. Although she was producing live communication for employee, B2B and consumer audiences all over the world she also squeezed in a diploma in marketing at night school to complement her hands-on experience.
At Jack Morton she was responsible for offices in Europe and Asia Pacific with billings exceeding $100 million a year, from operational and financial management to establishing new offices in Shanghai, Beijing and Singapore.
At Fitch, there is obvious scope to expand in that region: "We're not in China at the moment, but we're doing work there from our Singapore studio, so we're looking at how we can grow our business in the region," says Jacobs. Her pressing strategic priority, though, is to ensure that Fitch works better as a global organisation. "We're increasingly working for the same clients in different geographies and there is an opportunity to make processes and ways of working more consistent throughout the world, and also the expertise that Fitch offers."
She adds: "Each of our studios has particular strengths, for example London has the longest history in retail, Paris is superb in fashion and style, while Seattle is expert in packaging. In Dubai we have the strongest hospitality and leisure credentials. We don't need to have a full practice for every type of service everywhere, but we do need to be able to offer everything everywhere, so we can deploy our expertise when it is needed." Part of the same picture, she says, is making the transition from a localized project-based business to one that develops longer-term relationships with global clients. "It's already happening without much focus being applied, so I'm excited by the possibilities if we concentrate more closely on this," says Jacobs.
Another challenge, especially in recessionary times, is to develop measurement tools so that Fitch can demonstrate the value it is delivering to clients. And while her experience in live communication will certainly be a bonus to FitchLive, she plans to give equal attention to all the company's businesses.
Since her arrival, Jacobs has been busy meeting as many people as possible around the world, and says she has been overwhelmed by the welcome she has received at Fitch. Her early impression is that WPP has a more collaborative culture than in the two other parent companies of her previous experience; within WPP, Fitch is part of WPP's B to D Group of branding and design companies and she has enjoyed meeting with her peers in that grouping.
Jacobs has a wider interest in management: she lectures regularly at the Judge Business School in Cambridge on working in diverse international cultures; and she is also on the Executive Committee of AIM (the Advanced Institute of Management Research).
And beyond her working life, Jacobs cites travel, theatre, soaps and the Argentinian tango among her interests, while her escape is a second home on an island near Bangkok. Building Fitch's global credentials will present no shortage of opportunities for clocking up air miles - and her experience of running major events should ensure that she puts her feet in the right place.
Source: The WIRE - Issue 33