The Ideas People: On the Record - Peter Magnani

The knack of inspiring others to follow is a crucial quality for a successful leadership. Peter Magnani, OMD's director of international clients, describes a key role in today's business.

The director of international clients across OMD's EMEA region learned his trade at the sharp end of creating and selling ideas. Stints at Lowe Howard-Spink, Western Media and as the European account director for Sony Electronics have prepared Peter Magnani for a key OMD position that is more about great teams than "tortured loners who have eureka moments of inspiration".

These days, Magnani's role is dedicated to maximising the quality of service, creativity and effectiveness across the OMD EMEA network. No wonder, given this brief, that he comes out as a "catalyst" in The Economist's Ideas People quiz - someone who knows which elements to bring together for magic to follow.

- Tell us about your inspiration.

I am constantly inspired by this business, by the fact that it continuously changes and that I'm always learning, by my colleagues' passion and by the diversity of our clients. I also have an almost compulsive obsession to research random topics that grab my attention. Recently, I have been inspired by Cicero, polar exploration and Warren Buffet. Over Christmas, having watched Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with my kids, I had to research locations, the production process, soundtrack and cast.

- How do you make your working environment work for you?

When I'm working on operational or commercial issues, I need an uncluttered workspace, and anyone who has visited OMD Europe's offices will understand why I tend to go off-site for this. Long-haul flights and Eurostar help. When we are creating ideas or pitching, I need all the relevant information at my fingertips, which leads to a messy environment. I prefer shared space to my own office.

- How do you turn a good idea into a great one?

You can't. Good ideas are simply good ideas and are relatively easy to create, which is why they aren't worth much to clients. In my experience, great ideas are more difficult and come from a team working within a framework to a clear brief. Tortured loners who have eureka moments of inspiration are rare and, generally, their ideas have been borrowed anyway.

- How do you unstick an idea when it's stuck?

It's a group effort. Logic tells us to do something else and come back to it but we never do. We obsess, argue and generally drive each other to distraction. It becomes a collective challenge to produce great work. On a personal level, I review the brief, go swimming or ask my colleagues, who delight in telling me to "start again" whether the thinking is on track or not.

- Give us a real example of how you came up with a good idea.

I'm proud that I've been involved in some groundbreaking work for world-class brands as diverse as Smirnoff, Sony and McDonald's. In some cases, I had a core thought that was then developed collaboratively. And, in others, I have helped drive an initial insight towards a great idea. In all cases, the creation, realisation and validation of the idea was ultimately a group effort.

- Great ideas are often so risky that frequently they are hacked to pieces. What's your advice for nurturing a gem and selling it to a client?

We have a culture of testing our thinking internally. We use techniques such as the "elevator sell", where you need to be able to sell your idea to someone who has no involvement in the project in 60 seconds. We also continually challenge each others' work to assess its worth (not for the faint-hearted) to ensure that it is refined into a powerful and compelling argument.

Selling this thinking is an enormous challenge and every time we think we've "cracked it" and understand the secret formula for selling big ideas, we have a client meeting that brings us back down to earth. You need to be flexible and continually learn from your experiences. Put yourself in the client's shoes, keep it simple and avoid jargon.

- What are your creative trade secrets?

It's "we", not "me"; it's 100 per cent "perspiration".

- Tell us about a turning point in your career.

It was in 2000 when I joined OMD to run the Sony business across Europe. Entering the world of "international" media and business, I learned the difference between management and leadership. It opened my eyes to how clients run their operations across markets and how cosseted I'd been locally.

- Name the most inspiring person in your working life.

Number one is my mum, who, 20 years ago on my first day at Argus Specialist Publications selling classified space on Woodworker magazine, called me to say "make sure you enjoy what you are doing and don't take any shit from your boss".

Number two is Colin Gottlieb (I will never live it down but it happens to be true) for his continued passion for this business.

- You have 24 hours away from professional responsibilities and a brief to re-energise yourself. What will you do?

Spend time with my family and hear my kids laugh.

- What motivates you?

Getting better at what I do and contributing to the creation of something new. We were one of the last networks to be developed, we had a blank canvas to work with, which was both inspiring and scary.

- What idea should we be taking more seriously?

Anything that is consumer rather than campaign-centric.


The Ideas People is drawn from major research conducted by The Economist in 2007. It's built on essential truths about the world we live in and The Economist's readership. One is that ideas, not products, are the currency of the modern economy. Another is that Ideas People are the stars of the 21st century. They produce and implement new thinking, they influence others, they have stamina. They are turned on by new ideas and opportunities. Are you an Ideas Person? Go to the quiz at www.theideaspeople.economist.com and find out for yourself.

Peter Magnani is a ... Pioneer Catalyst Builder