Veteran adman Tony Clewett lands new gig at independent agency

Veteran advertising creative Tony Clewett has bounced back from redundancy disappointment to land a new gig at an independent agency.

Clewett confirmed to the Herald this week that he had been appointed chief creative officer at Auckland-based ad shop Federation.

This marks the end of a short stint of consulting for Clewett, whose 12-year tenure at FCB ended during the lockdown.

Clewett, who found out during the first lockdown that his role was being disestablished, was one of many high profile casualties in the advertising industry, falling victim to a decline in revenue as corporate New Zealand ground to a halt.

“It’s no one’s first choice in the middle of a lockdown, but I like to think things happen for a reason,” says Clewett.

“For me, it felt like a healthy time to make a change. Generally, creatives are off to a new gig every two or three years, but I had a great run at FCB, moving up in responsibility and position over the years.”

As a free agent, Clewett spent some time freelancing and started working closely with Federation founder Sharon Henderson.

He says it wasn’t a difficult choice to join an independent agency for the first time in two decades, rather than returning to the more familiar territory of one of the multinationals.

“It felt like the right time to join an independent,” he says.

“When I’m having a coffee with Sharon, I have the ear of the most important person in the business. That’s really quite empowering and refreshing.”

Clewett says there’s a level of enthusiasm around the local agency scene he hasn’t witnessed for years.

He points to the decision by the owners of Stanley Street to buy back their business, Special Group’s recent move into the United States, and the rapid ascendance of newcomer Pitchblack as examples of how local agencies are growing in confidence.

“I am just astonished and have nothing but respect for a local agency like Special taking on the world,” says Clewett.

“As a country, we’ve always looked elsewhere for a reassurance that we’re doing okay. But today, even if you look at someone like Jacinda Ardern, it shows we’re ready to take on the responsibility.”

Most of the large New Zealand ad agencies are owned by one of the big four holding companies: Interpublic, Omnicom, Publicis and WPP. That means much of the profit earned from local work ultimately goes abroad.

“We have really good local independent agencies right now that are giving clients a viable alternative and you don’t have to compromise on anything,” says Clewett.

He has also seen benefits on a personal career level, saying that it’s possible to move much faster when you have fewer moving parts.

“I’m right in the middle of work. I’m right in the middle of clients. It’s actually been exciting to move at a quick pace and get stuck in to some really interesting work.”

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