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Career Profile: Patrick Pitcher

By: Kate Mallord

 

Age: 62
Nationality: South African

Position: Investor and director of multiple companies

Journalists rarely get to write candidly about people in advertising agencies. They are, after all, the ones holding the purse strings of some of the world’s biggest brands. As such, one misplaced, snide remark could see a title’s revenue dive faster than Jürgen Klinsmann in a World Cup Final. So when the opportunity came to profile a bigwig no longer in the business I packed my sharpest pen, most accusatory quips and an intensely critical attitude. I was armed and ready to protect myself against what was sure to be a career history so polished I could see myself in it.

The man who I met wasn’t what I expected. He looked nothing like Don Draper; his hair wasn’t gelled, he didn’t talk in slogans (though one or two did creep in later on) and at no point did he try and get me drunk. Who is this man? Patrick Pitcher, a former CEO Asia-Pacific and Africa of the indomitable Saatchi & Saatchi.

 

Born in Swaziland but brought up in South Africa, Patrick has a light Anglo-African twang, silvering hair and a subtle confidence that’s nowhere near as brash as the Afrikaner stereotype. With a surname like Pitcher and a degree in marketing it’s no surprise that Patrick’s first role was won because of a fluke telephone call to Unilever. Someone had resigned that morning so, after a quick interview, the job of brand manager was his. Finding success working on Surf, Lux and Skip (the world’s first automatic washing machine powder) he then moved on to baby products at Johnson & Johnson followed by a role as marketing manager at the Tongaat Food Group. “The company was a big African food supplier. We bought a few trout farms up in the hills so I used to have to hire a private plane and fly up there fairly regularly. It was the only way you could get up there and back in day. There were some hair-raising moments landing in the mountains.”

Little did Patrick know that the aviation industry was about to become a key player in his career. After three years at Tongaat, aged 34, he moved to an advertising company that eventually became Saatchi and Saatchi South Africa. “Advertising intrigued me, you either need to be creative or in marketing. The marketing guys deal with the clients and I love dealing with people so it was a logical move.

“Back then Saatchi & Saatchi used to handle the British Airways account. That was in the days when BA was one of the biggest advertisers in the world. I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of the five global representatives to be on their worldwide advertising board. It meant I got to fly first class to London every eight weeks and attend advertising meetings. That was fantastic, a wonderful experience. Saatchi & Saatchi London had the reputation for being one of the most creative agencies in the world so I learnt a lot.”

Advertising for equality
One of the most important projects Patrick would probably ever work on came into his life in 1992 when he was 42. “Just before I left South Africa, Saatchi & Saatchi worked on the white referendum to decide if we would give up apartheid by moving to one man, one vote. We were the advertising agency for F.W. de Klerk’s Nationalist Party, who had decided that it was time that we became a democracy. We were up against the very, very right wing white African party and it was very, very ugly. F.W. de Klerk had to win more than 60 per cent of the vote to change the constitution. We worked on all of the advertising for eight weeks, trying to convince South Africans that this was the right thing to do. We had to hire extra people. It was eight weeks of just chaos.

I don’t think you could’ve worked on that campaign unless you were behind it; there were so many people in South Africa who feared what that would really mean. Moving from apartheid to one man, one vote was very polarising but we all absolutely believed in it. We were tugging at people’s conscience and emotions, and it was a really interesting time.”

The Saatchi & Saatchi-backed Nationalist Party campaign won 68.73 per cent of the vote and the following year talks led to the creation of an interim constitution. In 1994, South Africa’s first non-racial elections were won by the ANC and Nelson Mandela become president.

“On the day of the referendum,” Patrick remembers, “we just sat in a room and watched the results. It was very emotional. Shortly afterwards, Mandela was released from prison, it was an extremely proud moment.”

Due north
Despite the success, Patrick didn’t harbour any dreams of going into politics and shortly after the referendum he was offered the role of president of Saatchi & Saatchi Canada.

“Many people were emigrating from South Africa then because they hated the politics, and at the time they felt the country had no future. That wasn’t me. I just wanted to work overseas.”

It was a tough initiation. Within the first three months of arriving, Saatchi & Saatchi Canada’s four biggest accounts were up for renewal. “I came home to my wife and said don’t unpack anything because we could be going back soon. Coming from another country and having to defend the business was really difficult. But we did manage to retain them all, which was huge.”

It was during his time in the Toronto office that Patrick realised that hiring the best people was a key part of making a business success. “I don’t think people realise how hard it is to get advertising briefs everyday and come up with something really magical. Good creative people are really special, I always backed them one thousand per cent and I always made sure that everyone knew that. One of my first moves in Canada was to hire a top creative director from the US; that took us to another level and we started doing really well.

“When I got there, the company was losing a fortune and in four years I managed to turn it around so it became very profitable.”

One of the biggest wins for Patrick was the Disney World account which every agency in Canada pitched on. “We had a huge big atrium in the office and after the Disney pitch I got the entire agency to go into the lobby wearing Mickey Mouse ears singing Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho It’s Off To Work We Go. The client loved it.”

The truth is Patrick did too well in Canada and just five years after arriving the Pitcher family were shipped to Hong Kong. The worldwide CEO had just made Patrick CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Asia Pacific and Africa, looking after 15 offices in 10 countries, all of which were losing a fortune – a pretty daunting task for a 47 year old with no experience in Asia.

“I just said to myself stick to the principles of building a strong company. Hire strong people and concentrate on creativity.” Patrick hired the then 27-year-old Dave Droga to be regional creative director. Within 18 months of Droga heading up the Singapore office it was named the most creative agency in the world. Droga has since gone on to be one of the most awarded creatives on the planet.

“When I arrived, many of the office heads were saying to me, ‘Look what great work we’re doing’ but they weren’t making any money. So we needed to change that. I wanted both creativity and money and when they said ‘You can’t have both’, I’d say ‘OK, I’ll get someone else’.

“You have to decide what’s important and you have to stick to it. Unfortunately I had to let quite a few people go because they couldn’t accept what was really important. Making money and delivering a good product was what I was employed to do. On top of that came teamwork and having fun – that’s an incredibly important ingredient – and it’s a fine balance. The expression we coined in the region was ‘It’s not either or, it’s and and.’ There’s also an accounting term called FIFO (First In First Out), ours was Fit In or F*ck Off.”

It worked. When Patrick arrived in Asia in 1997, Saatchi & Saatchi offices there were losing several million. Seven years later they had a 20 per cent margin.

Falling out
Patrick says he only left Saatchi & Saatchi because he had a falling out with Kevin Roberts, the worldwide CEO. And Patrick isn’t the only one who didn’t like Roberts’ management style. A bitter and publicised rivalry in the New York office lead to a prominent executive resigning and 17 of his staff quitting shortly afterwards.

“I lost respect for him and didn’t believe in the way he managed Saatchi. He’s a very polarising person. We had lots of fights, and it wasn’t fun anymore. It was quite sad because I’d been with the company 20 years, probably the best 20 years of my working life. And I’ve still got many, many friends at Saatchi today.”

Patrick moved to Singapore in 2004 to head up J Walter Thompson in Asia Pacific. “I joined JWT and that’s what bought me to Singapore. It was an impressive company but having a worked at Saatchi which had a fun-loving creative culture I found working at JWT very difficult. The culture didn’t suit me so after three years I decided to retire.”

At 57, not knowing what to do with himself Patrick wrote to friend Simon Israel who was then chairman of the Singapore Tourism Board to tell him he had retired and ask him for a coffee. “I met up with him and he thought I’d be a good director for the STB; a week later I was approached. The scary bit was when they told me the position had to be approved by parliament. I thought ‘Who in the Singapore government has ever heard of me?’ but that somehow happened and I stayed there for four and a half years. I was hugely impressed by the quality of the management of STB and the directors. And I think it’s a testament to them how strong Singapore is as a country; they play a large part in what happens in Singapore.”

During that time Patrick started getting approached by people with business ideas looking for his involvement. “I realised this was the ideal thing for me to do. So I’ve invested in several companies and I now work in them. I work harder than I’ve worked for a long time but I absolutely love it.”

As you can imagine, Patrick hasn’t strolled far from the media brotherhood, one of his first investments was Edge Marketing a social media company, a 70 per cent share was bought by STW Group, a big Australian marketing communications group, earlier this year. He also holds the Southeast Asia license for MMS messaging service Archer Mobile. On top of that is the Endless Reward Group, a company that builds social media loyalty data and data mining. “We’ve just signed a global cooperation deal working with Ogilvy management across Asia-Pacific to offer our products to their clients.”

There’s also a fund management company, and I suspect a few other boards that he sits on. There’s no doubt that Patrick can turn on the charm but his version of it is more subtle than you’d expect from an ad man. It’s telling that he is an avid sports watcher and a Springbok (the rugby team) fanatic. Patrick is highly competitive and knows how to play business; he’ll make tough decisions and keep his eye firmly on the results but he clearly tries to have a lot fun doing it.

Patrick’s tips for success in advertising
Be a logical thinkerHave basic business common senseLook at the big picture and know what the important factors are for successBe a decision maker – even if you make two correct decisions out of five you will still move the company forwardBe patient Be positive but firm. It’s important that people know that if they don’t perform there are going to be consequencesAlways stand up for what you believe in, even if your client doesn’t. It’s too easy in advertising to want to please your clients. At Saatchi we said we’d drag our clients screaming to success. You’ll feel a lot better if you stand up for what you believe inAlways have good manners and tell the truth.  

Patrick’s Management Tips
By 2004 Patrick had over 1000 people working for him. He attributes much of his management style to a talk he was invited to watch while he was in Canada. The speaker was the late Stephen Covey, whose The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has sold more than 25 million copies

Have a clear vision of what you want to achieveCommunicate it. You can never communicate it enough Always hire the best peopleDelegate so you allow them to do their own thingRemember that teamwork and fun is really important If people say they’re going to do something then they must do it.

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