One Year Laterby Annie Longsworth on January 9, 2013
A year ago today I walked through the doors of the old pie factory in Potrero Hill as the new CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi S. It was a big day for me and, I’ll admit, a little scary for a few reasons. One, some people in sustainability can be intimidating with their well-traveled, principled, science-based points of view and absolute conviction that they know how to save the world. And I already knew my new team was all that, plus slightly cynical and worn down by the market. The idea of figuring out how to be their colleague, not to mention their leader, was daunting.
Second, I was joining a company with legacy. Saatchi & Saatchi S has amazing people attached to it – Adam Werbach, Bob Isherwood, Kevin Roberts just to name a few – and I knew I needed to make my mark while honoring theirs.
And, third, it’s Saatchi & Saatchi for God’s sake! Remember reading about the Saatchi brothers in the ’80s when they were doing radical things like hoteling and amazing culture-shocking ads? I honestly had fantasies as a child about being part of this company that not only embraced new ways of doing things but actually demanded them.
So now it’s one year later, and the things that daunted me then feel like comforts now. The team is tight, we’re doing interesting and meaningful work that we can be proud of, and Saatchi is still amazing. But now I am scared for totally different reasons. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) just announced that 2012 was officially the hottest year on record (since 1895) for the lower 48 states. Combine that with massive drought, whacky (and deadly) weather events, a divided and slow-moving government, and a public that generally likes its lifestyle and hates change, and it’s easy to think we’re pretty much screwed.
And nothing fires me up more than refusing to believe we’re doomed. Here are five ideas that we’ve embraced in the past 12 months that we’re carrying forward into 2013.
- Better Together. We each have our agendas and goals, but ultimately we’re fighting for the same outcome. So Saatchi & Saatchi S operates under the idea that we’re all one big team. For example, in 2012 Sustainable Brands moved into our building as a tenant in our open office environment. Believe me, sharing a kitchen leads to better collaboration. We also introduced an internal program called Irresistible Minds, which allows us to connect with interesting sustainability leaders and organizations to explore how we might learn from each other. In terms of sharing, building relationships, collaborating and testing solutions, more is better in our minds.
- Take it Personally. Long ago I had a colleague who commented that if she heard one more sustainability executive cite their kids as the reason they work so hard, she’d be sick. She didn’t get it: If we don’t think about our kids (or our pets or friends or hobbies or whatever makes us happy every day), we won’t change our own behavior. Here’s the deal: while it’s absolutely necessary to work towards slowing glacier melt, the results are far away and it’s challenging to be motivated by the intangible. If we chose to walk instead of drive tomorrow, however, we feel healthier and collect a few little stories along the way to share with friends. This year Saatchi & Saatchi S hosted a fund raiser for Sustainable Surf, which was started and supported by passionate surfers who know that sustainability is critical if they want to continue riding the waves every day. That’s the personal motivation we’re talking about.
- Progress Comes in All Sizes. If Neil Armstrong had tweeted his famous “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” my guess is it’d be retweeted around with the world with comments like “ppl plz moon is so over – what about mars?” And I get it – it’s easy to be cynical, especially of big brands that want you to buy their stuff. But isn’t a toothpaste tube that’s made of 30% recycled plastic better than one with none? What about the bank that develops 2020 goals and starts working towards them versus the one that has yet to discuss the future? Or the fast food restaurant that communicates calorie counts on the menu – isn’t that the transparency we’re asking for? These are first steps – small ones that have taken years to accomplish. Celebrate them so they lead to leaps.
- Make it Irresistible. One of the most fun parts of my job this past year was resparking what Saatchi & Saatchi S was first known for – making sustainability irresistible. I love the word “irresistible.” Go ahead, say it with a little roll and an accent. It’s emotional and it’s actionable. Marketers get it because irresistibility makes product move. The C-suite gets it because it translates to money. Sustainability people get it because they’re doing the same thing. Irresistibility has become our benchmark, our mantra and our strategic guide. And it works.
- Aim for Extinction. The other day I yerdled an Easy Bake Oven for my daughter, who was beyond thrilled. We got it home and realized that what “cooks” the mini cake is actually a light bulb – a good old fashioned bulb, not a twisted CFL that produces no heat. Huh? Where are we supposed to find one of those? And it then occurred to me, briefly, that perhaps, because the heat source had gone dinosaur, Hasbro would no longer produce the toy at all! How awesome would that be? One less plastic toy in the world, kids learning to cook normal sized cupcakes…
Alas, that was a brief fantasy – the Easy Bake is alive and well and now available in “boy colors” – but it underscores my point. My goal is for Saatchi & Saatchi S to go out of business. Not this year or next, or even ten years from now. But if we succeed, there will be a day when we go from irresistible to irrelevant because the smartest brands will be operating in whole new ways (and the ones led by CEOs who don’t see the opportunity of the century will be buried).
For now, I will take it one year at a time. Happy 2013.