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Ad industry needs to be kinder, says Saatchi & Saatchi CSO Richard Huntington


By Richard Draycott, Associate Editor

May 14, 2024 | 4 min read

In the second part of his Politics for Drummies podcast, the chief strategy officer discusses the complexities of British politics and how the ad industry could help revive the category.

Richard Huntington

Saatchi & Saatchi strategy leader Richard Huntington

Kicking off part two of our Politics for Drummies discussion with Richard Huntington, the chief strategy officer at the ad agency that swept Margaret Thatcher into office 45 years ago, podcast host Alastair Duncan poses the challenging question of which politicians Huntington actually admires.

“Jumping into my head is Shirley Williams,” answers Saatchi & Saatchi’s Huntington, “because of the work that she did around comprehensive education in the 1960s and how close she came to genuinely changing the education system. I’m also currently revisiting Harold Wilson. There’s some slight historical revisionism around Wilson and what he actually achieved. Labour sort of hate him because he wasn’t particularly principled, but look at the dramatic social change that happened in the late 60s and we are still living with that today every day of our lives.”

He goes on: “I am a huge admirer of Keir Starmer for nothing more than the discipline he’s delivering. Divided parties do not win elections and that is what he has fundamentally done in four short years to the point where, you know, it is just chaos over the other side.”

Huntington is an active and vocal advocate of mental health reform in the workplace and talks candidly about how he deals with his own mental health and how he is enabling people within his organization to face mental health challenges together with no shame.

“If you start talking about your poor mental health, you’re really just saying to your employer and your clients, ‘I can’t do it…’ But if somebody who is middle-aged, white, male, heterosexual and with a relatively good career can’t say something about this, then how the fuck is anybody else going to volunteer that information?

“What happened as a result of my saying something about my mental health was that people began getting in contact with me and, privately and personally, we realized it was a serious problem. So many people are just papering over the cracks the entire time to hold it together.”

Compassion, politics and advertising seldom go hand in hand, but Huntington believes we can only become better at what we do if advertising cultures change.

“We’re such a competitive business and, in advertising, everything’s either brilliant or shit – ‘They’re a brilliant agency, they’re a shit agency.’ We haven’t traditionally been particularly kind. Whether we can be kinder and whether we can build kinder cultures is the thing that I just don’t get about our business. It isn’t hard to be hard on the work and easy on the people. But the number of agencies and agency leaders that genuinely do that and don’t accidentally boil over into the other is not, in my experience, universal.”

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