Josh Krichefski sets out to be MediaCom's change agent

New chief executive Josh Krichefski says clients are impatient for digital transformation and that fits with his ambition to make Britain's biggest media agency the best in the world.

Krichefski: ’We live in constant change. It’s when it ain’t broke you need to think about what needs changing’
Krichefski: ’We live in constant change. It’s when it ain’t broke you need to think about what needs changing’

The Lowdown

Age: 40

Lives: Highgate, north London

Family: Married to Deb, an architect, with two children, Ruby (eight) and Leo (six)

Interests: Music, cinema, theatre, playing all sports, watching Arsenal. I am also a trustee of two charities that help young people from deprived backgrounds get into work Favourite media TV

One thing people don’t know about me: I meditate every day

Josh Krichefski grew up in north London watching a lot of commercials because his brother starred in one of the most celebrated ads of the 1980s. In the BT spot, a boy calls his grandmother, played by Maureen Lipman, to explain he’s failed all his exams apart from sociology, and she exclaims proudly: "An ‘ology’! He gets an ‘ology’ and he says he’s failed!"

No wonder Krichefski and his brother liked to play "guess the brand" during the ad breaks when they watched TV.

He is from an artistic family. Krichefski’s father produced TV dramas such as Taggart. Jacob, his brother, is an actor and Tash, his sister, works in music. And his sister-in-law, Abi Morgan, is a screenplay writer. "I’m the only who isn’t a luvvie," Krichefski chuckles.

The "shy" middle child was keen on advertising and, as a teenager, undertook work experience at an agency, KHBB, which later became part of Saatchi & Saatchi. Still, a media career wasn’t a certainty. Krichefski went to Sussex University to study an "ology" – social anthropology and development studies – and seriously considered looking for a job working with refugees after graduation.

But advertising won the day and, two decades later, he is the UK chief executive of MediaCom, Britain’s biggest media agency, which has more than £1bn in annual billings. He is also co-chair of Media360, Campaign’s conference for brands, agencies and media owners, which takes place next week.

Evolution of change

Krichefski has become used to the spotlight. One of his first acts after being promoted to the top job in January was to hire a West End cinema for his 1,100 staff to explain his vision.

He says: "I’m quite aggressive and very ambitious for the agency. I want us to be the best agency in the world. We don’t have a God-given right to be number one. We have to work hard in this industry. That means setting out things we can all improve on very clearly – as individuals and as a company."

Krichefski stresses that change must be an "evolution" . MediaCom has been on a strong run, winning Tesco last year, and is known for its long-serving and loyal senior team. The past four chief executives, including his predecessor Karen Blackett, who is now chairwoman, still work for MediaCom. "People see me as a relative newbie," Krichefski admits, because he only joined in 2011.

However, he believes it would be a mistake to adopt an "if it ain’t broke it, don’t fix it" approach. "We live in a state of constant change. It’s when it ain’t broke you need to think about what needs changing." And clients, from Sky and Tesco to Direct Line and Coca-Cola, are demanding change. "I have a lot of conversations with clients who are looking for digital transformation," he says. The agency has shown in the past year it can be radical helping Tesco slash its print spend by an estimated 80% and switch resources to social media. Facebook is "taking the market by storm", Krichefski says, explaining where a lot of clients’ money is going. However, he remains a fan of the author Byron Sharp’s theory of "reach-based" marketing and the value of broadcast media.

ISBA, the advertisers’ body, recently accused agencies of not working in clients’ "best interests"

Krichefski has a corporate air, yet his past suggests otherwise. After starting as a TV buyer at Initiative, a global network, he moved to Klondike, the digital arm of St Luke’s, a free-spirited independent. Krichefski then set up a search agency, KWord. It was little more than a one-man band but it was profitable, and he learned a lot about digital. He sold it in 2006 to BLM, another independent, and stayed for five years during which it became part of Havas.

Krichefski joined MediaCom as chief operating officer for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, before becoming UK COO. Being chief executive is different as it means "giving control to other people".

The father of two has introduced a "no email" policy after 7pm and at weekends. He is also pushing for more career development and mindfulness training. Krichefski’s mother is a coach who teaches mental toughness and he meditates daily. A word-cloud picture in his office gives further clues about his personality – "caring dad", "motorbike", "holidays", "cheeky" and "Arsenal".

Clients like his modern outlook. Stephen van Rooyen, UK and Ireland chief executive of Sky, says: "Josh is smart, easy-going, calm under pressure and has a strong business understanding." Mark Evans, group marketing director at Direct Line, agrees: "Josh has moved effortlessly into the top job. He has the gravitas to lead with authority, without feeling the need for grand gestures." He recognises the importance of a "partnership" between the agency and client, Evans adds.

Driving change

ISBA, the advertisers’ body, recently accused agencies of not working in clients’ "best interests" but Krichefski rejects that criticism. "I don’t think we could be any more audited; I don’t know how we could be much more transparent," he insists, noting MediaCom’s parent, WPP, follows "stringent" rules such as Sarbanes-Oxley. "If we were to run a business that focused on our own commerciality ahead of our clients’ businesses, we’d struggle to deliver the results that we do for our clients."

His priority is driving change. "If you look at the agency of the future, there’ll be a lot less departments and a lot more collaboration," he says, explaining how he has already got the planning and investment teams to work more closely. There will also be "an increasingly polarised talent base" as staff need more specialist skills in creative and data.

"In media, we are very evidence-based because we’re dealing with our clients’ budgets, but brands and agencies are also about persuading," adds Krichefski. "Leadership is about persuasion too. You want to take people with you, and that’s better done through inspiration and storytelling."