4A’s: Five Questions for Chris Shirling, Chief Financial Officer of Intouch Group

Chris Shirling, Chief Financial Officer of Intouch Group


What’s the biggest challenge or opportunity facing the ad industry right now?

The biggest opportunity facing the ad industry right now is to differentiate and to
demonstrate the value we bring to our clients. At Intouch, for example, we create new ways to use technology to market brands better. That’s almost always valuable to anyone. So our opportunity – our responsibility – is to prove that we can do that, and show how our worth is more than just transactional. When clients have a partner, not a vendor, life is better for them. That’s what we strive for. Agencies can only deliver on that if they go beyond the norm – not only in the level of service they provide, but in the creativity and innovation they offer to their clients as well.


What is the single most significant change you need to make in your agency in the next 12 months?

We must remain mindful of staying efficient in how we deliver our services. Intouch’s
sustained growth rate is remarkable, but as we evolve, we can’t accidentally layer extra
processes and costs onto what we deliver. It’s a trap I’ve seen other companies fall into.
What works as a small company doesn’t always translate as you expand. We must
keep our minds open to changing the way that we work. What helps us with that is that
we’ve always been laser-focused on what we do well. We don’t work outside our core
competency, and that allows us to be the best at what we do. We’re not trying to be
everything, so that keeps us on target with what matters most.


What products/services/unique skills do ad agencies offer that guarantee the
industry’s survival for another 100 years?

I suspect some might answer this question with a hot buzzword or trend. A decade ago,
it would have been related to social media. Today, it’d be related to data and AI. In
another few years, it’ll be something else. And of course, we always do want to
understand and offer the most capable, groundbreaking options to our clients. But what
really sets us apart isn’t a trend; it’s the people. Advertising is a people-driven industry.
While technology is a huge component of what we do, our unique ideas and our
creative problem-solving abilities depend on the minds of our people, and that is
impossible to replace with technology or anything else. That’s why we’ll survive.


What attributes do you look for in your next generation of leaders/managers?

Talent is a given, but even more important to me is how well a person works in a team.
While I want people to push themselves and further their careers, I need them to work
well with their peers, their direct reports, and their managers. That’s true for the next
generation, or any generation. Some generations are associated with negative
stereotypes, but each brings a different perspective, and diversity of thought is a good
thing in our leaders. For us to be successful, we need to find the best, diverse team;
understand what’s important to them; and do our best to help them become successful.


If you weren’t working in advertising, what would you be doing as a career?

As a finance officer, the career path I chose is transferable. I’ve worked in
manufacturing and distribution as well as in advertising, and at the end of the day, I just
love business. No matter what industry you’re in, some challenges remain constant.
You’re always trying to grow your business by delivering better results in new and more
efficient ways. You’ve always got to challenge yourself and your people in order to
remain competitive. I particularly like the way we do that at Intouch. We don’t have to rely on having a big
network name. We’re still true to our startup digital roots, but now, we have a thousand
employees across nine thousand miles, and we can go toe-to-toe with anybody. It’s our
people that make that possible. We deliver. It shows in our extraordinary client loyalty
and in the industry recognition and awards we earn. The people are what sets any great
business apart, at the end of the day.