John Sintras: “You Have An Obligation Not To Be Lazy”

John Sintras: “You Have An Obligation Not To Be Lazy”

In the first of a new series, B&T sits down with John Sintras on behalf of the Experience Advocacy Taskforce (EAT) to talk about the invaluable benefits that the more experienced members of the industry offer.

Lead image: Sintras and (as it was then) Starcom MediaVest Group staffers winning the inaugural Media Network of the Year Cannes Lion in 2014.

Sintras, currently president, US and multinational, at martech firm Mutinex, began his career with Leo Burnett in 1982 before serving in a variety of local and global roles for agencies and clients.

Take the pledge and show support by signing EAT’s petition. 

B&T: Why is it important for adland to embrace experience when there is often such a focus on newness?

JS: The first thing is there is no substitute for lived experience. It’s one thing to study the theory of things but having the lived experience just gives you a different perspective and depth of experience. It means you don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.

We also no longer work in a full-service environment where marketing and advertising agencies work as one holistic team. Those of us who grew up in a full-service environment understand the whole picture and how the pieces fit together. When you know that, you do a better job of contributing your piece of the puzzle.

John Sintras.

Retro is cool now too! So much of what is culturally cool comes from generations past, so I don’t understand why that shouldn’t also be the case in marketing and advertising. Marketing is not just targeted at people under 30, either. We’re living longer and the over-50s are a huge demographic with more disposable income. The average age of people in marketing and ad agencies is just over 30 so having more experienced people in the team gives you insights into what’s relevant for those markets.

I understand that you want to generate new users that create lifetime value but you’ve got to keep the funnel going all the way through the age groups.

B&T: You started at Leo Burnett in 1982. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given over the years?

JS: It comes from [Maltese physician and author] Edward de Bono. I was lucky enough to take part in a workshop with him and it came at a point in my career when I was already in management, but my daughter had just been diagnosed with cerebral palsy which changed our lives hugely. I was devastated. The family didn’t know which way to move forward. We were depressed.

I went along to this workshop with a client of mine and de Bono had a whole thing around “changing the frame”. We’re often presented with circumstances or situations that we cannot change or control and, as a manager, it’s really difficult to accept that you cannot fix something or something shouldn’t be the way that it is. His advice was to change the way you’re looking at the issue and change your approach because you can’t control the thing itself.

It may sound so obvious but that advice was so powerful to me. My daughter is now 26 and she’s gone on to inspire so many people. I’ve gone on to become Deputy Chair of the Cerebral Palsy Alliance and we’ve raised over $30 million since I started working with them. It all came from that moment. We can’t change her diagnosis or condition but we can change the way we choose to live with it, we can change how we help others not to be in that situation or have a better experience as a result of new research and interventions.

B&T: You’ve worked across Australia and in New York in both global and local roles. What have these experiences given you?

JS: The first thing is that it’s surprising how similar people are in every country in every part of the world. Basic core human values and desires don’t really change that much across geography.

The second thing is that imposter syndrome exists in every market at every level. So I would say that you can be as good as any other person, at any level, anywhere in the world. It’s just about having the right attitude and experience. There is no question working at the highest levels of companies, whether marketing, advertising, tech, or whatever, is invaluable. You’re able to see how decisions are made at the top and that improves your ability to sell decisions and make decisions yourself. Working at global HQs is invaluable.

Read more – John Steedman: “What’s Age Got To Do With It? Everything!”

You also get a sense of global best practice. Something you think is amazing might not be that good by global standards. Your ability to benchmark and see what is great work or a great insight compared to other markets is really important. So is being able to work across cultures and markets with really diverse teams, whether that’s ethnicity, work specialisation, gender, sexuality, culture, or age. It’s incredible how much richer and impactful your work becomes.

You also have access to a global network. That means you can reach out to other people who can help make things happen and solve problems. I treasure those assets and life experiences in my job today.

B&T: With your experience of working through global downturns including Black Monday and the GFC, how would you advise others at the moment?

JS: When you’ve had a long career, you’ve seen the cycles and you know for sure that downturns and recessions are always followed by an upturn. You know that the people who work really hard and put the effort in during the downturn get a disproportionate upturn ahead of the market and make gains. I’ve seen that over and over again, through one downturn and after another.

You are what you think. If you think it’s a downturn and you start to get into that bunker mentality, you start to behave and act that way. Knowing that, my teams and I have delivered some of our best results during recessions. We’re up against it. We’re in a battle, we’ve got to work harder and think smarter than everyone else.

Whatever sort of business you’re within, you have got to come up with great thinking and convince people to be brave, to invest when they’re terrified and when you’re dealing with fear as the predominant emotion. Take advantage of the fact that everyone else is terrified and shutting down. Keep investing, keep innovating and keep coming up with greater ideas, because less money will go much further because everyone else is spending less. What’s more, our Mutinex Growth OS platform now provides the statistical evidence to back up my lived work experience.

B&T: What’s next on the horizon for Mutinex?

JS: We’re very excited this year because we are scaling much more aggressively in the US and around the world. We’ve been really successful in attracting lots of clients across every major category and in attracting top-level industry and VC investors

Henry Innis and Matt Farrugia have done a great job building a platform that the industry desperately needs and uses the best of marketing theory and science combined with the AI that we have available today, giving marketers answers and being able to prove investment in marketing makes a valuable difference. But it also ultimately acts as a decision engine, helping businesses make the right decisions to grow faster. And that’s what I love. My obsession has always been helping clients grow, helping companies grow and helping people grow.

B&T: What change in the industry has surprised you most?

JS: I was in an agency environment for the first half of my career and the thing that surprised me most was the breaking apart of the full-service model into specialist divisions — the Great Schism of creative and media agencies into separate companies, even though they were largely within the same holding companies.

Having grown up in a full-service environment, [Leo Burnett] fought that division for ages and we were one of the last agencies to split. But when we did it, we learned from the mistakes that other people made. But I just couldn’t understand having been in a full-service agency where media, creative and strategy all serviced clients together, how it would be a better solution.

We did end up with far deeper expertise in media agencies with a far broader range of services but I still think we’ve lost something with the lack of alignment and holistic approach. It was also very inefficient. The number of times I’ve had to brief and re-brief the same project as an agency leader and as a CMO with different teams working in isolation.

The other thing is the over-reliance on Performance Marketing for the last five years at the expense of brand building. People are paying the price for it now. No one is enraging desire any longer or focused on the top of the funnel as much as they should be. It’s very myopic.

B&T: Where is your career going next?

JS: The first thing I’d say is that I’m very grateful to still have a career! I’m very grateful that I’m still working. I’m not very good at sitting on my backside and I enjoy being involved in great teams and great work.

I’m very excited about Mutinex. There are years of opportunity left with this company for me, but my focus is always on helping clients and companies grow. I love that. I love leveraging humanity and human insight to create work that moves people and therefore creates better sales, better work and better cultures.

I’m obsessed with continually improving and innovating. I love the fact that there’s always change — lots of people hate change, and I get that — but when you lean into it, and keep learning and transforming yourself without compromising your authenticity, that is tremendously stimulating. So I’m always going to be looking for those sorts of opportunities.

But you have an obligation to not be lazy. It’s tremendously difficult to stay employed in our industry when you’re 50 and older. That’s why this taskforce has been created and we’re having this conversation because ageism does exist. But you have to lean in and contemporise your thinking and, at the same time, leverage that tremendous life experience and network.

It’s a two-way street. It’s not just offering old people jobs. It’s about staying relevant and connected, wanting to make a positive difference and learning from young people too.

Take the pledge and show support by signing EAT’s petition. 

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Experience Advocacy Taskforce John Sintras Mutinex

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