Pursuing a Game-Changing Business Idea. Interview with Linda Sawyer

Linda Sawyer, a 27 year Deutsch veteran, including 10 years as CEO and most recently as Chairman, has made the dramatic, transformative announcement to leave the agency at the end of 2016 and start her own ecommerce company. 

According to the press release, Sawyer “has played an instrumental role in contributing to Deutsch’s rise as a top-tier agency and industry leader with revenue increasing more than ten-fold since joining in 1989” during her tenure.

For many of us, the idea of leaving a secure corporate job where we have attained great success is  anathema. So what prompted Sawyer to make this decision? I sat down with her and asked the following questions:

Charlene Weisler: Linda, why the move?

Linda Sawyer: I get asked that question a lot. I currently have a dream job and have been with the agency for a long time. I have been in the business for 33 years and at Deutsch for 27.  I became CEO in 2005. I became Chairman two-years ago and I implemented succession plans at that time. The agency is in a strong place so I felt that it was the right time for me to pursue a new challenge.   And I believe I have an idea that is a real game changer.

Charlene Weisler: What are your plans?

Linda Sawyer: I haven’t publically disclosed the nature of my new business but it is in ecommerce. I will be capitalizing on all of the things I learned throughout my career. This will be a business that I can craft and create, making all the right business decisions from inception. The advertising business has been great in preparing me for this next chapter.

Charlene Weisler: Why go into ecommerce?

Linda Sawyer: Ecommerce is part of every business experience to some degree and will provide convenience and ease to the consumer as a benefit. 

Charlene Weisler: Can you share some details of your new business?

Linda Sawyer: I want the element of surprise and excitement, so what I can share is that this category has a significant void that is ripe for a fresh and new solution. It is a category buster.

Charlene Weisler: What have you learned as a female executive that you can share with other female executives who are interested in advancing?

Linda Sawyer: There is some irony in my answer. My rise at Deutsch was performance based. I felt gender was a non-issue here. But when I was appointed CEO and became more involved with the industry, it was profoundly obvious to me that I was a minority. My advice is to give yourself permission to believe and expect that when you attain your goals, you will ascend and gender will be a non-issue.  Work for a company where the metrics to success are clear.  

Charlene Weisler: How has the agency world evolved since you first started?

Linda Sawyer: There have been two dramatic changes in our industry – the media itself in how we reach consumers and the technology we use to reach them. The fundamentals of developing big ideas and the creative we bring forth hasn’t changed. But it has been influenced and informed by how we need to engage with them. Today’s consumer is driving the relationship and is changing the way the dialogue happens.

Charlene Weisler: What is the state of creativity at the agencies?

Linda Sawyer: The competitive framework is vastly changing. Media agencies are now competing with creative agencies and also compete with companies like Google with in house capabilities. Agencies need to differentiate what makes them stand out. They need new resources, capabilities, and partners to help them evolve. They need to be ahead of the curve.

Charlene Weisler: How do you see the agency world changing in the next three to five years?

Linda Sawyer: I continue to see the need for new types of thinking in media, marketing and the role of technology. Media and technology need to be further embedded in the creative process and move away from the traditional agency model. This shift will influence the type of people that will work at agencies – they may not be from a traditional agency background.

Charlene Weisler: What advice would you give to a college student who is considering a career in media?

Linda Sawyer: Follow your passions, things that you love doing and areas where you have a curiosity. Look at the bigger context of pop culture and be interested in the world at large. Develop a bigger perspective and make yourself stand out.

Charlene Weisler: Do you have any advice for those in the middle of their careers?

Linda Sawyer: I was always very thoughtful about my career and viewed it as a portfolio of experiences. It is important to step outside of your regular work duties and see what will inform your next steps. My career consists of building blocks that were very purposeful. Think through your career path. You may not know exactly where you will wind up but you need to be challenged to continually develop new skills.

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