Fast Chat: Initiative CEO Jim Hytner

On pitches, first impressions, the boss

In two weeks, Jim Hytner starts as worldwide CEO of Initiative, replacing Richard Beaven, who held the job for four years. Unlike Beaven, Hytner will be based in the U.K., where, as regional president of fellow IPG shop UM, he most recently oversaw work in 14 countries in Europe, Asia and Latin America. The 47-year-old Manchester native is relatively new to the media agency world, having joined UM in 2009 after more than 20 years on the marketer side (Barclays, ITV, BSkyB, Coca-Cola and Kraft). This week he reflected on Initiative’s strengths and weaknesses, pitching and losing business and why it’s good to have a restless boss.

Adweek: What are your perceptions of Initiative on the way in?

Hytner: It’s a surprisingly brilliant agency and it’s a very well-kept secret. And I intend for it not to be a well-kept secret (laughs).

What else?

The second impression was given to me. I saw a very, very, very senior client from a very, very senior organization a couple weeks ago because we wanted to talk to them about how I was going to take over. I said to him, “What’s brilliant about Initiative?” And he said, “World-class tools used by world-class people.” I must say that made my heart sing.

What does the agency need to work on?

To communicate better with people like you [about] who we work with and what we do for them. But that’s secondary and that just comes with success. Firstly, I would say, continuing to constantly refresh and reinvigorate oneself. The beauty of coming from a client background and having done 20 years of that is that I’m about as tired of the agency world as a newborn baby is of the world. I do see that in the agency world if you’ve been in it for 10 or 15 or 20 years, you can get quite tired of another brief from this client or another marketing director from this client. And I’m not bored with that. Quite the opposite. I see the opportunity to constantly—especially in the digital world—be refreshing, constantly be reinvigorating oneself and actually, me and my leadership team, be constantly discontented. And I mean that in a positive way.

How would you rate Initiative’s chances in Unilever’s global media review?

A pitch is a funny old thing. I welcome them, actually, particularly this one because there are three agencies (Initiative, Mindshare and PHD) and we all work with Unilever. When clients call a pitch sometimes it’s for fiscal reasons, sometimes it’s for fiscal and strategic reasons. With Unilever, they’re going to want the whole package. That gives us the opportunity to show Unilever what we’re made of. And from what I’ve seen so far, we are incredibly strong and have an incredibly good attitude about Unilever—what they do and what they'd want. 

How significant were the 2011 losses of Bayer and Home Depot?

I’m not going to go there because it’s A, history; B, I don’t know the details; and C, obviously it’s not something that I’m going to dwell upon.

Okay, but it relates to the challenges you’re facing. There are two holes where there used to be clients.

When you run a global network or when you’re part of a global network, no matter who you are, clients come and clients go. Every week one big network is winning something and one big network is losing something. So, the truth is I look at the Initiative business and it’s in rude health with or without losses because also have generated wins around the world. The benefit of a global network is if you lose an account in Germany, then suddenly Spain steps up to the plate. You lose an account in Malaysia and suddenly Thailand steps up to the plate. So, my focus is showing clients that we can drive their business results. 

How soon will the North American CEO be filled?

I have somebody in mind. It will be imminent. There will not be a significant gap between Tim (Spengler) leaving to Magnaglobal and my naming a successor.

So, within a month or two?


You must have a lot of clout to be able to do this job from the U.K. Would moving to the U.S. have been a deal-breaker?

No, it wouldn’t have been. I was quite happy to move to New York. But given that Unilever is based in the U.K. and that I am at GMT zero hours, we actually thought it would be pretty cool and more effective for me to do my job sitting in the middle of the world rather on one side of the world. That’s not to say that a global headquarters shouldn’t be based in America. It’s just that we decided that, on balance, there might be an advantage to me being based in London.  

What’s Matt Seiler like as a boss?

He’s inspirational because he’s restless. Restlessness is wonderful trait to have in a human being and in your boss.