Now based in London as the group CEO of UNLIMITED for the past two years, the majority of Tim Hassett’s career was previously spent on the client side of marketing on the opposite side of the Atlantic. In the past he’s transformed brands for the likes of Procter & Gamble, Kellogg’s and Beam Suntory. As a result, developing strong strategic client agency partnerships is an important priority of his and now he’s driving brand development and client services into the next phase through the agencies in the UNLIMITED Group.
Guiding the group through a pandemic can’t have been an easy task to land on his desk less than a year into his new job, but being surrounded by clever brains with expertise in data science, human behaviour and neuroscience, the group had resources that came in particularly handy for its agencies and their clients over the past year. LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Tim to find out more.
LBB> You're coming up to the two-year mark of working at UNLIMITED. The pandemic hit just about at the end of your first year. How do you reflect on those years leading the group?
Tim> Is it really two years?! Wow, it’s been an amazing ride, from the moment I first landed. Almost immediately, my leadership team and I took it upon ourselves to reimagine our future, with a focus on what made us special and how we could best serve our clients. In turn, that led to a significant overhaul of the business - it was in fact, a bit fortuitous in that we were in full execution mode when the pandemic hit.
Like most, we re-evaluated our operating model with a focus on culture and wellbeing. As a result, we made the commitment to train everyone in UNLIMITED to become mental health champions. Initiatives like these set the foundations for a successful business with or without the pandemic to contest with. An environment where people are content and enjoy their work, will have a direct impact to the results they produce – and happy employees make happy clients. This, coupled with the resilience of our people during these adverse times, are the reasons I truly believe we were able to rebound so quickly and build momentum in a time when many others have struggled.
LBB> What most surprised you most about the job once you got your feet under the desk?
Tim> On a personal level, I was a bit surprised by how seamless the transition from client side to agency side was. On the highest level so many of the requirements are the same, setting direction, building a team, connecting – with clients, consumers, the UNLIMITED family, etc. Perhaps the biggest difference was instead of being responsible for my own set of brands/businesses, I had this glorious, broad portfolio of brands, businesses and partners. I felt like I was in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory – the opportunities were endless and, above all, exciting.
From an UNLIMITED perspective, my team surprise me every day. They are ambitious, with a crazy passion and commitment for their clients. I was also overwhelmed by the brilliance of our Insight and Analytics team. Before Covid, when we were all in the office together, there were more data scientists, behavioural scientists and neuroscientists (literally) walking around in lab coats, than I ever could have dreamed of. Their expertise is why we have put insights at the core of our USP and have our Human Understanding Lab.
LBB> And what's it like working for a global group with its HQ in London as an American? Do you feel the cultural difference?
Tim> I tell my friends on both sides of the pond – there is little NOT to love about London. The history is beautiful, the monarchy and political system is unique, the diversity is wonderful – and (when not in lockdown) the cuisine and cultural options are limitless. One of my favourite differences is the communication style. Americans tend to be very direct. Right or wrong, they’re clear on sharing what they feel and think. The style here is much more indirect, maybe even “stylishly nuanced” as I have come to appreciate! The only thing that could be improved is the passion for American football, but luckily, we have a partnership with a great sporting agency Integrity 9 who, like myself, are determined to change that!
LBB> I read that you didn't exactly have success handed to you on a plate. What was your childhood like and how has it shaped you?
Tim> No, it definitely wasn’t, but that turned out to be such a blessing – as it made me hungry, fuelled me to work hard and made me appreciate every step along the way. Academics and learning from people around me were built into my childhood, and while we didn’t have a lot, there were key moments that hugely impacted me to this day. When I was younger, I was lucky enough to join an exchange programme which allowed me to travel to South America and that alone sparked a huge respect for differences in both culture and provoked a thirst for even more global experiences, whether that be personal or professional.
LBB> Why did you end up working in marketing?
Tim> On graduating from university, my first employer was Procter & Gamble, whom I ended up staying with for 15 years. They are one of the greatest marketers/brand developers in the world. I started at P&G on the sales side – which I enjoyed, but quickly realised the real action and pace was on the marketing side. I wanted to be on the strategic front end of influencing consumer choices and “moving people” to action rather than focusing on the execution end. P&G’s approach always started with the science and psychology of consumer behaviour, which intrigued me as well.
LBB> What did you love about the industry from the get-go, and what did you learn to love about it?
Tim> What I loved about it from the beginning was understanding that the best marketing is born from great insights. Getting to the core of consumer truth and how that connected with the core essence of a brand - that symmetry to me was magical!
Not to mention how marketing’s evolving, and I’d argue (finally becoming) a force for good not just necessity. Brands are standing for something, and we all have a responsibility to not just do well but do good for society and for the planet. I’m a glass half-full kind of person, and as a result I believe that there’s something inherently wonderful about trying to make the world better while doing work that we love.
LBB> You've worked on so many iconic brands. Which one taught you the most about what is important in marketing?
Tim> Some of the more iconic, multi-generational brands like Campbell’s Soup and Jim Beam taught me a few lessons. First, that you play a role in peoples’ lives that transcends brand features and benefits. You are there – right there – in key moments of their life that evoke such warmth, human connections and even traditions. It’s a massive responsibility. Second, great brands have such great history that can be timeless. Marketers need to truly understand a brand’s roots – and yet at the same time contemporise those brand values. Finally, for multi-generational brands, marketers have to be humble in the knowledge that they are merely custodians to help carry that brand’s brilliance to the next generation - so don’t screw it up (or as you Brits might say, “don’t take your eye off the ball!”).
LBB> In your time client side, what was your proudest achievement?
Tim> I am always torn on this question. When you are on the brand side and get the opportunity to create/launch a new brand, it is akin (on many levels) to having and raising a child. As a dad of four, words cannot describe how amazing it is to watch your children grow - while there’s no doubt that it’s scary at the beginning, you are undoubtedly full of pride and fulfilment as they develop and prosper. I’ve been fortunate enough to launch many brands and products in my career and I feel an emotional attachment when I see them at retail and/or e-tail.
With that said, I had the great privilege of being the custodian of the iconic Jim Beam brand in the Americas when the brand had lost its way. We were losing in the marketplace, and worse, the image of the brand was eroding. My team was able to not only reinvigorate the brand performance, but more importantly elevate the brand stature in the minds of both its core consumer and new consumers that we had introduced the brand to. We went from losing share in the marketplace to being one of the fastest growing brands in the US – tough to do for such a large and iconic brand. That was fun – and I should mention, coincided nicely with my love for Bourbon, too!
LBB> Coming from that part of the business, how do you think it affects the way you do your job?
Tim> I hope the most obvious way is being a strategic partner for our clients. UNLIMITED already had a client-centric approach before I arrived, which we are always looking to build upon. When I was on the client side, my agency partners had to be “bigger than the brief”. Any credible agency can execute a well-written brief, but I was always looking for an agency to be a true strategic partner. They had to understand my biggest challenges, share the same desire to beat competition and keep me abreast of changes in the market and consumer sentiments. That’s what separated the good agencies from the great ones. I am proud to say that we do a rigorous annual review of client feedback and we consistently rate at the very high end of the spectrum for client delivery and satisfaction, with those ratings increasing year-on-year.
LBB> What work have you been most proud of recently and why?
Tim> I am certainly proud of my team for their resilience, agility and diligence throughout the pandemic. It has not been easy, they have made great sacrifices and as a consequence we have more than endured at UNLIMITED, we have thrived and grown. With that said – I think I will be even more satisfied with the work we have done, and will do, on “future-proofing” our business, from a human and cultural perspective.
Our priority as a business is to ensure advertising reflects everyday communities, which means acknowledging that people are individuals who cannot be categorised. For decades, we’ve fallen behind (and that’s me putting it kindly) when it comes to issues of diversity and inclusion. I’m pleased that these have now been given the spotlight and I am part of the journey to ensuring our company delivers real, tangible change and accelerates our efforts. With that being said, I’m very aware that belonging is also critical to this being successful. Belonging is fundamental to everything we do and, for me, justifies urgent efforts to get it right.
LBB> I read that you feel strongly about valuing human insights, rather than putting creativity on the pedestal it's often raised on in this industry. Where do you feel some agencies get that balance wrong? And how do you get it right?
Tim> The ad world has shifted quite dramatically from placing all the onus on creativity to starting to understand the science of human behaviour. That’s why we created our “secret sauce”- the Human Understanding Lab. It allows us to provide our clients with strategy that is baked in insight and offers the opportunity to apply a forensic approach to understanding how customers are acting, reacting and living in real-time, as well as the future. I jokingly tell people that this is the ‘rise of the geeks’ - but they are the new marketing superheroes.
LBB> You're an endurance sports guy. What are you focusing on at the moment? And if everyone else took up running during the pandemic (like me), what did you start?
Tim> Congratulations on taking up running. For me, living through a time like this means you either end up being super healthy and extra constructive with your time, or you end up eating or drinking your way through the pandemic. I think I’m trying to balance both!
Ironically, the pandemic has also broken down barriers for me in forging human connection despite us operating in an even more remote world. I get the opportunity to connect on a more personal level via video chats to meet teams and their children - even their pets! It’s been nourishing to reaffirm that connection as we evolve as a society. And when lockdown comes to an end, I intend to ensure that we keep “humanity” as a cornerstone of our culture. I’ll admit - I’ve also enjoyed the occasional Zoom “Happy Hour” along the way…did I mention I like Bourbon?