Marketing Excellence Awards 2023 Singapore
Meet the CEOs: Havas Media HK's Andrew Cawte

Meet the CEOs: Havas Media HK's Andrew Cawte

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MARKETING-INTERACTIVE is bringing its "Meet the CEOs" column to our readers in Hong Kong. The new series is created to spotlight on the hardworking leaders behind the suits running agencies, and shaping ad land's culture. The series was created to not just showcase the work ethics these leaders possess but also showcase the journey they took to reach the top.

We kick off the series with Andrew Cawte, managing director at Havas Media HK. Cawte started off as an apprentice TV buyer at Grey London, where he met his first supervisor aka mentor Peter Shaw, and from there groomed his skills in the art of negotiation. Cawte joined Havas Media Group as managing director in 2015, where he has successfully turned Havas Hong Kong into a regionally focused, full funnel marketing agency, with a particular expertise in industries such as fashion and luxury, banking and financial, sport and entertainment and travel and tourism.

Describing himself as an open and honest leader, Cawte believes that trust and responsibility is crucial when he advices his teams. He is also a big believer in learning from his employees, and receiving open criticism to better his leadership style for the future generations.  Find out more about Cawte's journey in advertising thus far and his inspiration.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What was your first role in advertising? 

At 18, I was employed by Grey London as an apprentice TV buyer. I didn’t have a desk for the first six months and my role was to look after the Green Book library. In the pre-digital days, the weekly Green Book listed all of the ratings data for every ad-break, every day, across fourteen TV regions and was essential for TV buyers to measure the success of their campaigns and to predict future ratings in a fully pre-emptible marketplace.

When I was eventually allowed to start buying airtime, they gave me Playtex bras to buy on Border TV, the smallest TV region in the UK, populated by many more sheep than women. There was no training in media then, just caustic humour and the expectation that you would learn from those around you.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What was your first impression of advertising? 

I joined the industry in the mid-80s, at the very end of the Mad Men era, when advertising was still a glamourous business.

The media vendor and agency parties were spectacular and it seemed that everyone was driving around in sports cars and dining in the finest restaurants, at least to my innocent 18-year-old eyes. Compliance has since put paid to most of the entertaining in the industry and we now operate in a much more accountable environment.

Back then, in the days of full-service agencies, the media team were generally wheeled in at the end of creative presentations, just before the creative team took the client to lunch. Then in the late eighties, a few independent media agencies popped up in London and began the break-up of the full-service agency model. After all, if clients were spending 80% of their budget on media, it was probably a good idea to get that right first, rather than as an after-thought.

I’ve always believed that the best work is produced when creative and media are working closely together though.

so I’m delighted that things have now come full circle and Havas are the first agency network to bring media and creative services back together under the same roof.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Who was the mentor who influenced you the most and how? 

I’ve been lucky to have a number of brilliant mentors over the years, each of whom have influenced me in different ways. Peter Shaw, my first boss at Grey London, who taught me the art of negotiation but more importantly having fun while doing it.

Bill Kinlay, when I was at Mindshare Dublin, who was a master in all aspects of running a media business.  Michael Zhang, CEO of Mediacom China when I worked in Beijing was an enthusiastic, tireless and inspirational leader, from whom I learned about managing under intense pressure.

And finally Aga Giedroyc, who employed me to run Havas Hong Kong and from whom I learned the skill of P&L management and the art of managing up.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What's the harshest criticism you've received and how did you cope with it? 

All criticism is valuable, be it harsh or constructive. I generally believe there’s no smoke without fire, so if I’ve been criticised, I’ll ruminate on it and ultimately try to use the feedback to improve or change the way I do things.

Worse than harsh criticism though, is the feeling that you’ve let someone down, in which case I am wracked with remorse and self-criticism for ages, so I really try my utmost to avoid doing that.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Describe your own management style now as a leader 

I like to be as open and honest with all of our team as I can be, sharing business targets and regularly updating them on our progress so that everyone feels invested in our success.  I give people responsibility and trust them to make their own decisions, learn from their own mistakes, express their own opinions and manage their own bit of our business, being there to advise them when they need it.

In my experience, people respond to trust far better than they do control, which I guess comes back to my previous point about not wanting to let people down.

But then it’s important that we employ the right people in the first place. My team at Havas Hong Kong are brilliant and I love working with them all. 

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What's one thing you wished employees understood about being a leader? 

That we’re on just as steep a learning curve as they are and that we don’t have all of the answers. That’s why we employ them.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What do you do during your free time? 

I have two teenage boys, so for the past 19 years a lot of my free time has been taken up by them, driving them about, coaching their rugby teams, shopping with them, taking them to movies. They’ll both be continuing their education in the UK from September though, so things are going to be a lot quieter.

I have an old Triumph motorcycle that I am going to rebuild myself using the wonder that is YouTube. I might also take up sailing again. I used to race but gave up when the boys came along, as it wasn’t fair to disappear for the day and leave my wife to look after them on her own.

We have recently acquired membership of M+, Hong Kong’s amazing new art hub, so we’ll be going along to as many exhibitions as we can. And apart from that, we take long hikes with the dogs in the mountains behind our house and enjoy village life in the small beachside community we live in.  

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Where do you find your inspiration? 

Inspiration can be found anywhere; the key is to be continuously curious.

Read lots, watch lots, do lots. Don’t pass on an opportunity to get out and see new things, travel to new places or experience new activities.

Ideas are generated by making connections between things that you’ve already loaded your mind with, so the more you stimulate it, the more connections you’ll make.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: If not in advertising, where would you be? 

To answer that, I’d have to go back to my early twenties, where I reached a fork in my life. I’d left Grey and taken time out to travel. A ski season in New Zealand was followed by a ski season in France, at which point I was seriously considering training as a ski patroller. My dream job would be avalanche control; getting up before dawn, skiing fresh untracked snow as the sun rises and setting off avalanches with explosives to clear hazards and make the resort safe for skiers.

andrew lifestyle

Ski patrol is not a well-paid job though and like many people do, I went through a life-style v financial reward dilemma. By the time the following winter came around, I was already back in advertising in London, living the city life and having a great time, my plans on the back burner. To this day though, standing in the queue waiting for a chairlift to open, hearing the echoing cracks as ski patrollers clear the alpine of avalanche danger before skiing down and giving the lift operator the signal to start the chair, I have pangs of envy.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What advice do you have for someone looking to start a career in the industry? 

If I was writing a letter to my 18-year-old self it would probably go something like this:

"Your advertising career is going to be a ride. Along the way you’ll experience some amazing highs and some shattering lows. You will travel to and work in some amazing places. You’ll meet incredible, inspiring people, with whom you will share indescribably intense times. You’ll feel the ecstasy of winning new business pitches on which you’ve been working for months and the appalling deflation of coming second, after a long, drawn-out review.

You’ll work with some of the world’s most brilliant brands and with some of the least but you will be constantly challenged by new categories, new markets, new audiences, new insights, new channels and new clients. There are very few jobs where you’ll need to rely as equally on creativity, psychology, analysis and technical understanding, as you will in advertising. You will never stop learning, no matter how far you progress. And you’ll rarely be praised for the work that you do but instead take satisfaction in your ability to change human behaviour for the benefit of the brands for which you are temporarily responsible." 

meet the ceo

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What issue would you like to see the industry change in 2022? 

Maybe this is wishful thinking but the biggest issue facing us as an industry, is the seemingly inexorable reduction in agency fees, being driven partly by procurement and partly by unscrupulous agencies, desperate to win business by undercutting their competitors. The net result does no one any favours.

We are regularly hearing from clients who are fed-up with being under-serviced by an agency who promised the earth but who clearly could not afford to deliver it on the fees they were paid. Not always, but all too often, it seems that procurement are seduced by the cheapest proposal, without rigorous analysis of the cost and overhead of the headcount promised, leaving the marketing team to pick up the pieces. Bargain basement fees and quality service are incompatible and the only thing that can give in that situation is people, in terms of experience and time.

I keep reading articles in the trade media about the slipping of trust in client/agency relationships, but the solution is simple.

Instead of constantly trying to drive down fees with every review, try paying a fair fee for the unique combination of insight, analysis and creativity that media agencies can deliver.

Related articles:

Havas Media Group SG promotes Russell Lai to newly-created role

Dolce & Gabbana hands Havas Media Group global duties


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