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5 Minutes with... Rupert Runewitsch



Leo Burnett’s Head of Social and Mobile on San Francisco, drones and staying nimble

5 Minutes with... Rupert Runewitsch

As a 13-year old, Rupert Runewitsch spent his time building websites about South African skaters and playing around with Macs. The bright, blinking lights of the digital world beckoned. That early experience has certainly paid off - these days you’ll find him hanging around in San Francisco with tech pioneers in his new role as Head of Social and Mobile for North America at Leo Burnett. LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Rupert as he settles into his new job, helping one of the industry’s biggest brands navigate the ever-changing digital landscape.

LBB> You’ve recently become Head of Social and Mobile for North America at Leo Burnett – what was it about the role that appealed to you? 

RR> Leo Burnett’s commitment to building out Creativity Without Borders presented a fantastic outlet for some long-lasting and meaningful campaigns with social and mobile at the heart. That and the opportunity to work with the world’s biggest and best brands alongside some of the best marketers in the industry was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down. I was particularly excited to take on the challenge in a market the size of the U.S.

LBB> You’ve been part of the Leo Burnett family for a while, having been at Leo Burnett UK and Holler – what is it about the Leo’s culture in particular that you’ve enjoyed? 

RR> The working environment that Leo Burnett creates is by far the best I’ve ever experienced. Whether you are in Sao Paolo, Chicago, London, Dubai, New York, etc., you get a real sense of passion for the industry and the work that is being done. Our HumanKind focus and quarterly self-critiquing at the GPC means that we are all, on a global level, trying to achieve greatness in our output. It is this professionalism and commitment to great work that I’ve enjoyed the most. 

LBB> How have you been finding the culture in San Francisco? 

RR> Having lived in London most of my life, apart from a couple stints in South Africa and Hong Kong, it is a great change of pace in San Francisco. However, the slower pace is definitely made up for by the obvious excitement and energy that exists around the start-up culture and daily rise of exciting new platforms. In chance meetings at coffee shops in San Francisco, I have already met the person who built the iPhone camera app and the person who was the lead engineer for Gmail. It is this exposure to the new and the innovative that makes being here so exciting. 

LBB> Leo Burnett is an agency with a big legacy and massive historical as well as creative weight within the industry. How do you think agencies with that sort of heritage and size can best navigate the agile and ever-changing tech landscape of today? 

RR> Key to this is carrying the horizontal weight of a global network but adopting an agile and almost “small agency” team structure mentality. This allows us to be nimble and respond to briefs in the most appropriate and forward-thinking way. We always need to play to our strengths of brand building and long-lasting, memorable communications but at the same time, ensuring that we have the right talent and resources to make things happen. 

LBB> Smartphones have been mainstream for what seems like forever (in these days of diminishing attention spans, six or seven years certainly feels like forever!) and yet it seems that mobile advertising and creative has really just come into its own in the past year or so. What do you think has caused the mobile moment? And why didn’t it happen sooner?

RR> You are so right, I remember people talking about the “year of mobile” in 2009. What that basically meant however was that smart phone penetration was around 40% and it was worthwhile buying media there. Smart phone penetration is now more around 70/80% and I’m still reading in Forbes that only 12% of CMO’s globally feel like they have a mobile strategy. There are of course a number of factors here, some having to do with technological enhancements in devices; some having to do with developments is mobile accessibility. For me though, the key to this recent “mobile moment” is mobile’s shift from our second screen to our first screen. This has really been demonstrated by the recent commercials from Facebook and Google, where the former gains 70% of their revenue via their (infant, in comparison) mobile platform and the latter is experiencing Q1 losses all down to consumers shift to mobile based inventory. A big focus for me in this role is really trying to understand the role of mobile for our clients, above and beyond just the device itself. 

LBB> How did you get into digital – was it something you were always attracted to, or did it come about by accident? 

RR> It’s an interesting one. My dad bought me one of the VERY early Apple Macintosh computers as well as Macromedia creative suite (now Adobe) for my 12th birthday. At the time, I really did not want a Macintosh as no one else had one, but I managed to utilise it and built my first website about skating and promoting young skaters in South Africa by age 13. This was made using Flash and Photoshop, both of which I would probably struggle to use now but gave me an insight into the world of digital and its capabilities. Once I’d grown out of skating, as you do, the next personal venture into digital was starting up a music promotion site in London called Over the course of about three years, this became the biggest independent music site in the UK. I had a lot of access to venues and events and it made me very aware of the role that “bloggers” and “influencers” could make on brand development. Naturally, or perhaps accidentally, after graduating from University of Bristol, I looked to digital advertising, as this was something I seemingly knew something about without really knowing it but, most importantly, I was quite passionate about it.

LBB> You studied Social Politics at university – do you think this has given you a particular perspective on the bigger picture of the digital revolution? I’m thinking about the mobilisation brought about by Twitter, phenomena like the Arab Spring and #BringBackOur Girls… 

RR> Indirectly, my degree gave me a huge insight into the importance of communication and its role in making change. At the time of my degree, there was little use of digital to make these communications, but the importance of communications definitely resonated with me.  

LBB> How do you personally keep abreast of all the new platforms and social/tech developments – and how do you filter those with staying power from the flash-in-the-pan gimmicks? 

RR> Lots and lots of reading! I have a little ritual that I’ve always adopted to ensure that I’m reading the right things and always from multiple sources - from digital-specific outlets to the FT and Business Insider. My background from planning into client services means that I naturally try and strategically find a role or purpose for the tech or platform that I’m reading about. I’m never about tech for tech’s sake and so it will always come down to the uniqueness of platform and of course the audience.

LBB> And which new digital trends/developments have been getting you excited at the moment?

RR> I’d say the two trends that I find the most interesting at the moment and I am the most curious about in terms of their development is drones and the role they are going to play in ever-developing, connected lives and the so called Internet of Things i.e. mobile connectivity. Both are making the news in the last year or so, but both are still finding their feet in terms of the real role they are going to play in our lives. 

LBB> Which pieces of work have you been involved in recently and have particularly resonated with you and why? 

RR> For me the pieces of work that have really resonated are those that have seen the entire agency group working together and creating a really 360-degree campaign. Identifying which agency within the group is best suited for a certain part of the campaign and then being able to successfully tie it all back together and present it back as Leo Burnett Group. Vitamin Water Shine Bright campaign out of the London office did this exceptionally well and showed great depth to our capabilities. The #EsuranceSave30 Super Bowl idea out of Chicago was another recent campaign that was exceptional from a media and strategic point of view but also did an incredible job in telling the story of what the brand stands for. 

LBB> What does the rest of the year hold for you and Leo Burnett USA? Is there anything in particular that you’re looking forward to getting up and running or seeing come to life? 

RR> We are working on a number of different projects at the moment that involves working with new emerging platforms and also some mobile innovations of our own. These developments are all really exciting, and I’m looking forward to seeing where they are going to take us creatively for the different brands that we are taking them to. 

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Leo Burnett Worldwide, Wed, 21 May 2014 16:40:23 GMT