5 Questions for Pete Imwalle of RPA

Pete Imwalle, RPA’s EVP, COO

The 4A’s is committed to sharing the insights of industry leaders. In this edition of our “5 Questions” series, we speak with Pete Imwalle, EVP, COO at RPA.

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

The challenge: Margins are the biggest challenge facing the industry right now. There is simply more competition in almost every industry. Our clients have slimmer margins, our vendors have slimmer margins, and we have slimmer margins. Obsession with efficiency and cost cutting have us all chasing incrementally cheaper solutions. That combined with the multi-agency model has caused an erosion of the relationships between clients, agencies and their partners. The hunt for revenue has led to price cutting and fee slashing. In the end, that hurts margins even more.

The opportunity: Continue to evolve the agency business to maintain the highest-quality work while reducing the cost and effort to get there. The solutions are out there. We are excited about some we’re already pursuing.

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

We need to reduce the effort required to make great work. Our clients have never been happier with our work, but today everybody needs things cheaper and faster. Improved workflow and technology will greatly aid efficiency.

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

I’m not sure there are products and services that agencies will still be providing in 100 years, but a truly objective perspective and cross-client experiences are agencies’ greatest assets. It’s hard for in-house teams to maintain objectivity, and creativity is greatly aided by a variety of experiences that come from working with other clients in other industries.

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

Curiosity and a collaborative spirit. The industry will continue to evolve. The people most able to evolve are those who embrace change instead of resisting it. The curious.

Collaboration is critical in the agency business today. There is no place for “rock stars” who go away and work in isolation. The solutions and executions are so interrelated and complicated that we need people who welcome subject-matter experts to make their ideas better. Award-show credit sheets are getting longer and longer. It takes a village to make a great holistically integrated campaign. I want a village where people complement each other instead of competing.

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

I’d be a sports talk radio host. I love sports, and my opinions are just as valid as the people I spend way too many hours listening to on my L.A. commute.