Publicis Communications’ new CSO Steve Walls gets real about the state of creativity

Publicis Communications has promoted Steve Walls to chief strategy officer for its Singapore operations, effective immediately.  In his newly-created role, Walls will oversee the strategic planning function across Publicis Communications agencies in Singapore.

He will report to  Lou Dela Pena, CEO of Publicis Communications.

Dela Pena added that Walls has the uncanny ability to get to the heart of a client’s problem in an instant, articulate it with clarity, and inspire some of the sharpest ideas to address these issues. As the group continues to shift from silos to interdependence between agencies, it will become increasingly critical for the planning and strategy teams to be able to look at a brief and access our full range of expertise and specialties in order to solve the most complex issues faced by clients.

“Steve is a great example of a creative strategist who sees the big picture and can inspire others to do the same. Plus, he truly is one of the most authentic people around – it’s incredibly fulfilling and fun to work with him.”

Speaking with Marketing about his appointment, Walls said he hopes to internally keep the momentum of the agencies going given the huge changes within the Publicis Groupe over the last six months.  Since its formation at the start of the year, Publicis Communications Singapore’s strategy and development team has doubled in size in the last five months. He said:

Some of these changes have been painful, but the strategy group has emerged really strong.

“I’ve always wanted to be part of the circus, and what I love about the strategists and planners across Publicis Communications, is that they’re as weird as they are wonderful. Diverse, dedicated, driven and deviant, this is a bunch of people who I think can raise the bar not only across the groupe, but across the country. I’m looking forward to helping them get their freak on,” Walls said.

Walls who was last executive planning director at Saatchi & Saatchi Singapore has been in the industry over 20-years  and has led the strategic thinking behind household names such as Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff, Ford, JetBlue, Unilever, Blackberry, SingTel, BMW Singapore, ABN AMRO and CNBC Asia.

According to Walls, despite all the talk of uncertainty plaguing the creative industry of who is really eating who’s lunch, it is “an amazing time to be in the business” if agencies have a vision for how the business should work. He added:

It’s a terrible time to be a generic shop, turning generic work for ever decreasing fees.

Talking about what clients today want, he said that the last decade the exciting, out of the box ideas that emerged in the ad world have been mostly media related. The focus has not been on the communication on messaging in ads but rather clients have been busy experimenting with new media, content and social strategies.

But he thinks this is about to shift as clients and consumers are slowly starting to realise that smart strategy mixes media and message. One cannot survive without the other.

The creative industry is now just coming out of a decade of 50 shades of beige.

Tech, he added has allowed creative agencies to deliver the speed that clients demand, without sacrificing quality. Technology isn’t just changing the way that creative agencies and marketers deliver messages, it’s changing the way that  ideas are creating.

However what has been most “pernicious” according to Walls is the obsession the industry has with self awarded creative gongs and award seasons.

“It has led to a lack of focus on real client issues, to an increasingly accepted idea that there’s ‘client work’ and ‘award work’ and to some of the most jaw dropping instances of cynicism I’ve witnessed from any industry,” Walls said adding:

In the last five years it’s gone from embarrassing to shameful in too many agencies.


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