Meet the new CEO
Larissa Vince: always disruptive
In the first in our series on new agency leaders we talk to Larissa Vince, the freshly minted CEO of TBWA\London
01 February 2022
In common with many people, I suspect, I remember well the first time I met Larissa Vince (or Bannister, as was).
Twenty years ago we'd both decided on a career change - she initially thought she wanted to be a lawyer while I was a failed media sales monkey - and we became junior journalists at Haymarket Publishing at roughly the same time.
As it turned out, it wasn't quite the Fleet Street experience that we'd both dreamed of. Our offices at the time were based in the cold basement of a disused hospital in Hammersmith, where we'd huddle in our coats as the heating seldom worked.
Even though the magazine we first worked together on was one of the most unglamorous in Haymarket's stable of titles, Larissa breezed in, all shouty confidence, fun at work and fags and wine and more laughs down the pub afterwards. She kept everyone's spirits up.
But she also had a competitiveness that gave that long-defunct magazine a bigger profile than it probably deserved. It was clear even then that she was going to move up trade journalism's greasy pole at relative pace and what's more do it on her own merit and without backstabbing any colleague. And so it was proved when she became deputy editor of Campaign.
Her move into agencies was perhaps more of a surprise, but her ascension not. What started as a PR and marketing job at Fallon and Saatchi & Saatchi (and my God did the former need it at the time), rapidly evolved into a new business position after she impressed its then global chief executive Robert Senior.
Larissa says that the skills that are inherent in the best journalists - inquisitiveness and a thirst for knowledge - are equally essential in new business. Moreover, having worked in a "creative" discipline as a journalist, she says she has an empathy with the agency output and the process of getting it signed off in the first place. Her forthright personal qualities probably helped her get noticed too (and maybe the fags and the wine and the fun too).
In 2018 she was made managing director of Saatchis, also overseeing clients including Direct Line, Britvic and GSK. John Townshend, the founder of Now, came knocking shortly after looking for a steadying hand to rejuvenate his agency. Mission accomplished, it was TBWA's turn and Vince started at the agency, replacing Sara Tate, at the end of last year.
So what can we expect of Larissa now?
Why did you take the TBWA job?
I’ve always loved the TBWA brand for its beautiful creative heritage, and I think Disruption is such a powerful tool for client growth.
The Collective is full of inspiring, intelligent and kind people, and gives a quite unique mix of support and autonomy to its local agencies. That business model leads to happy teams and great performance, which is why we won Global Agency of the Year.
What are you most proud of in your two years at Now?
Hard to pick a single thing – I’m really proud of leading the agency’s best financial performance in its history (during COVID) and of retaining the BT account against some pretty stiff competition in Wunderman Thompson and the Publicis Groupe.
But I guess I’m proudest of recentring the agency around what’s important, which is obviously the creative work.
And what do you hope to achieve at TBWA\London?
Bit of a lofty ambition, but I’d like us to be the agency that demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt the crucial role of creativity in driving disruptive business growth for clients.
What do you think of TBWA\London's reputation to date?
It’s on the right track, but we’ve still got some work to do.
What are you planning on doing first?
I’ve been here three months now, and spent that observing, and listening. I’m now pretty clear on what needs to be done but I’m not giving it away to you!
You've worked with Andy Jex [TBWA's chief creative officer] before - how would you describe him?
He’s pretty much the opposite of me, so he gives me a completely different perspective on so many things. I love that.
What/who inspires you?
I’ve always really admired sports managers for their ability to get the best out of talent and for creating teams which are more than the sum of their parts. Clive Woodward for revolutionising the game of rugby. Alex Ferguson for understanding how to get the best out of different personalities with different motivations. And (I’m a Forest fan) obviously Brian Clough for being mad and a genius all at once.
How do you see the UK agency landscape changing even more in the next two to five years?
The fundamentals of what we do – creating demand for brands, driving growth through creativity – won’t change. But no doubt we’ll see more change in how we deliver that. The opportunities in technology and experience are a real potential playing field for great creative.
Which agency/agencies do you admire and see as being influential?
In the UK, I’ve always had an agency crush on Mother, for their attitude, unwavering belief in the value of what they do, and because I love their work. Outside our market, Translation has an interesting business model which has ended up in some brilliant ideas. And within the TBWA Collective, I really admire the creativity in product development that you see from markets like Finland and Japan.
What are you most excited for in 2022?
The best thing about my job is seeing ideas that make me laugh, or look at something differently, or scare me a little. So more of that please.
What are your top three favourite ads?
Mr Wind is a brilliant example of how humour can transform the way you think about a serious subject like the environment.
I was very jealous of Engine’s Kiyan Prince campaign last year – not only is it genius, it’s also the kind of idea where the media and the creative are inextricably linked.
And I have to pick Sony Balls, because it was the ad that made me want to get into advertising, and watching it still makes me happy.