5 Questions For Duff Stewart of GSD&M

Duff Stewart, CEO, GSD&M

The 4A’s is committed to sharing the thoughts of some of the most important leaders in the ad industry. In this edition of our 5 Questions For… series, we chat with Duff Stewart, CEO GSD&M. 

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

The most significant challenge for our industry today is recruiting, retaining and growing talent. Curious people drive our business forward. Our industry can’t survive or do what it’s truly capable of without top-tier talent, and our focus must not only be on nurturing it, but expanding it. Other industries, like tech, begin recruiting and nurturing prospects as early as high school. We can’t expand the industry’s pool by narrowly looking at what’s available today. We need to focus on tomorrow’s talent and create opportunities to expose them to the industry early on. From internship programs at the college level, to mentorship programs for middle- and high-school students—specifically for students who likely aren’t aware of the advertising career path—GSD&M works to make this difference in our immediate community, understanding the potential for the ripple effect for the entire industry.

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

We’re focused on creating a model that moves GSD&M away from being an “on demand” agency to one that delivers on our clients’ needs through an “on call” offering. We want to have the talent, partners and resources we need a phone call away rather than a fixed staffing plan, which locks both clients and talent into a demobilizing, binding structure. To do this, we developed a Periodic Table approach to building teams. Rather than focusing on capacity and availability, we create teams on an assignment basis—talent, partners and resources are selected based on the skill sets and experiences required for a specific project. The model is flexible and fluid, and for both GSD&M and our clients this new way of thinking multiplies access to talent, ideas, budget and, ultimately, creativity.

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

Curiosity and restlessness drive innovation. The “what’s next?” factor keeps our industry invigorated and, when paired with true storytelling, it has the power to transform brands. Over the next 100 years, technology and media will change rapidly in ways we can’t imagine today, but brands will always need to connect emotionally with their customers. As communication experts, we cannot be stagnant and must always evolve how we tell those stories. In the end, being curious, restless storytellers for brands will be what enables agencies to not just survive, but thrive.

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

There are two kinds of people: people who listen to understand and people who listen to respond. We need people who listen to understand—people who are curious and restless about what’s next for our industry and clients. They are the ones who create amazing ideas and produce groundbreaking work. Those leaders are the future of our business and it’s our duty to inspire and motivate them to make a difference.

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

No matter where I am, I want to work in a field where I can make a meaningful difference and leave the place a little better off than when I got there. I’m often told I should get into politics. We’ll see about that.