larissa vince


'To err is human but to arr is pirate': celebrating TBWA\London's Larissa Vince

In the latest in our series on brilliant account people, this buccaneering leader shares her wisdom

By creative salon

"Why join the navy, if you can be a pirate?" is the mantra of the TBWA network. A naval career is one that Larissa Vince, the chief executive of its London outpost, has never considered - although her background provides a far deeper richness.

Early ambitions for a career in law were abandoned (although few doubt her natural sense of justice would have meant great closing arguments), in favour of another job in pursuit of the truth: journalism.

Her hard work and exuberance rapidly propelled her to the position of deputy editor of Campaign, where her talents were quickly spotted by the industry she chose to write about - and they chose her back. After PR and marketing positions at Fallon and then Saatchi & Saatchi, the then global chief executive Robert Senior was so impressed by Vince’s energy and drive that he quickly offered her a new business position.

In 2018 she became managing director, working with clients such as Direct Line, Britvic and GSK, and one year later John Townshend, the founder of Now, recruited Vince as his agency's CEO.

It was only a matter of time before an even bigger job came along and in 2021 Vince boarded the TBWA pirate ship (which had been in need of steadying for some time), where she has established a well respected leadership team.

Her CCO Andy Jex - who also spent many years working with Vince at Saatchis - says she has an innate understanding of clients, their business and their problems - often way better than clients themselves do. "She always knows what is best for them, how to get the agency to generate it and then how to get the client to realise it’s the right thing to do," Jex says.

"She’s just a natural, instinctive advertising person. Perhaps this comes from the deep love and understanding she has of all the disciplines within an agency or from her multi-faceted past in journalism, PR, new business etc? Either way it’s as impressive as it is rare. Her creative instinct is perhaps the one thing that I appreciate the most. I listen to a lot of opinions on the work but no one’s consistently added more value than Larissa’s," he says.

Jex attests that Vince also has an empathy that brings the best out of those around her - and probably explains why she is so respected by those who have worked with her. "On a personal level Larissa has made me better at my job," he says. "She’s taught, guided and counselled me to be way better than I would have been without her there. I’m confident to say I wouldn’t have got and done the jobs I’ve done in the last 10 years without her. Our business has always been full of smart people. Most of them are brilliant at one specialism. Larissa is one of a handful of people that is just brilliant at all of them."

Richard Huntington, CSO at Saatchi & Saatchi, who also spent many years working alongside Vince, joins Jex in his adoration for her. "I love Larissa, always have done," Huntington says. "She is one of my favourite advertising people and was a wonderful partner when we sat together and worked together at Saatchi & Saatchi. She has an irrepressible energy, knows absolutely everyone and makes things happen – that’s what us strategists crave most. She also has that wonderful talent of making you feel great about yourself, so you want to deliver for her – we quite like that too. And she is fucking funny to work with, like properly funny."

Too funny for law - that's for sure.

Larissa Vince On Being An Account Person

Tell us about one experience you’ve had as an account person that made you really proud.

I have had loads of proud moments around the work – whether that’s selling an idea, solving a particularly tricky challenge, or seeing a great piece of creative come to life. Plenty around winning business, and around seeing people flourish in their careers. But the one that always sticks in my memory is when Mark Evans (at the time, CMO of Direct Line) was talking to me about the impact that our work had had on their business. He said that we had given the whole organisation its confidence back. What a brilliant achievement for an agency to be able to do that for a client.

What’s been the biggest learning you’ve had in your career?

We live in a world where rational decision making is often valued above the emotional. Being emotional gets a particularly bad rap at work, and instinct, or “feelings” are often dismissed. I’m naturally a gut instinct person, but I was taught early in my career that instinct was not enough. Of course, you need to check your instinct and back it up - but I’ve now learned to trust the feeling you get, even if you can’t quite explain it. It usually comes from experience and observation, and it’s invariably a good indicator of the right path.

What’s that one skill that the best account people you know have?

The ability to walk in someone else’s shoes. Whether that’s your client, your team, or your creative partner. Understanding other people’s perspectives, concerns, and drivers and having empathy (not sympathy – that’s very different) is what makes us great account people. It means we can see ways forward that others sometimes can’t. And it makes you a great salesperson. Sales can be seen as a dirty word, but I have no idea why - we are all in sales in the end, whether selling our clients’ services, or our own.

What makes for a strong, productive client/agency relationship?

Trust is at the heart of all great client relationships (and all great relationships). Knowing what each other brings, respecting that, and trusting that both parties have each other’s best interests at heart. Trust gets you through difficult times together and gets you to better work together. It also builds credits in the bank that give you the permission to ask for the unreasonable from each other!

What advice would you give to people wanting to be a brilliant account person?

Great account management can be weirdly hard to define but you’ll know it when you see it – and you’ll definitely miss it if you don’t have it. Great account people know their role in the process. You need to understand your client’s business as well as they do. Empathise with their issues. Work with your strategic and creative partners to come up with incredible creative solutions that will drive their business, and work with your clients on which solution is the right one. Resist the inevitable temptation to attempt to write strategies (or god forbid, creative). Great account people are conductors of the orchestra. They don’t need to play the instruments, rather get the best out of the brilliant talent that does.


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