Interviews

Amy Steinmetz, Managing Director, LPK

“There's a founder's insanity when you are launching a brand that is so compelling and so much more exciting when you're in it at the beginning."

Izzy Ashton

Assistant Editor of BITE

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Amy Steinmetz - Managing Director

Career to date:

2013, Managing Director, LPK Europe
2012, Strategy Director, LPK 
2010, Brand Director, LPK
2007, Brand Leader, LPK
2005, Project Leader, LPK
2003, Project Coordinator, LPK
1999, Coop, Kao

Creativebrief: As Managing Director of LPK, what’s your primary focus?

Amy Steinmetz: The most interesting part of an MD role is that you can’t really have a primary focus. I’m obsessed with continuous improvement, doing more better, faster, smarter, more efficiently. That as an umbrella concern trickles throughout all the different aspects. Obviously as an MD you’re in charge of the work and the client relationships. But it’s also the operations, finances and making sure there’s soap in the toilets, all those tiny things!

I get excited, not when there are problems but when there’s a systematic problem where it’s not just fires that need to be put out but when I start to connect the dots and there is an operational issue that needs to be solved. Having that top-level view over everything and this mindset of continuous movement forward is where I focus a lot of my energy.

Creativebrief: Can you just outline your career to date?

Amy Steinmetz: I’m a lifer. I’ve been with LPK since 2003. I started in our Cincinnati office as a project coordinator, a role that doesn’t even exist anymore. I started in beauty care working on P&G accounts, an amazing training ground for growing up in the world of branding because P&G was really the start of the branding revolution. P&G started this idea of brand management, consumer insight in the 1950s/1960s, so Cincinnati grew as a hotbed of creativity and branding.

I went to the University of Cincinnati and was studying marketing [and] had to do two years’ worth of work experience whilst studying. I’d bounced around a few different places, a bank, a stadium management company. I ended up working for Kao Brands, a beauty care company in their creative services department as an intern, literally walking art around and getting people to sign off. I started to understand the power of design and branding and became obsessed with it. When I was graduating from university, I applied to LPK and took the law school entrance exam and let fate decide! And I got the job at LPK.

I worked on Beam Suntory focused on innovation launching multiple brands and products which was a really exciting time in my career. I’d been working on that for about five years and was ready for a change and the client was ready for a change. It’s always nice to have fresh thinking especially on innovation. I was thinking about going back to school but I’d always had this inkling to move to London. I floated the idea to the directors of the company and serendipitously they needed a Strategy Director in our London office. I moved over in 2012. I wasn’t the best at it if I’m honest! I moved into the MD role about two years after that so, I’ve been in this role almost four years. I oversee our London and Geneva offices. We think it’s important that we’re a European agency, not a UK specific agency.

“I get excited, not when there are problems but when there's a systematic problem where it's not just fires that need to be put out but when I start to connect the dots and there is an operational issue that needs to be solved." 

Creativebrief: What do you think’s unique about LPK? What drew you in originally and then why do you think you stayed for so long?

Amy Steinmetz: Initially I was attracted by the client roster, massive global brands like Always, Herbal Essences and Pringles which you can get anywhere in the world. The consumer experience is so different around the world. You have to understand cultural nuance.

I don’t think I realised how special a place it was until I’d been here for a bit. We are independent which is rare for an agency of our size and it gives us so much more flexibility to make decisions quickly without a lot of layers. We have a fairly flat organisation which is important because in a creative environment, I don’t want people to feel like they can’t have an opinion or a point of view.

We have a lot of people who’ve been around for as long as I have. It cuts down on transaction time. You have the balance of being comfortable enough to get stuff done but also have new people coming in that are challenging us and giving us fresh perspective.

Creativebrief: What do you think’s been your agency’s best work in the last year?

Amy Steinmetz: One of the most interesting challenges we had over the last year was Resource which is owned by Nestle Health Science. It’s a brand for malnutrition, essentially high calorie, high protein, high fibre drinks. It’s a brand that nobody really wants to have because nobody wants to feel sick. At the same time, this is prescribed by nurses or doctors. They need to feel that the product is doing what it needs to do for the patient, but the patient doesn’t want to be reminded that they’re sick. You’ve got this interesting tension you’re trying to solve for, so we needed to create a brand experience that delivered on both.

Pringles - LPK
Pringles

Creativebrief: What about industry wide?

Amy Steinmetz: What’s inspiring me is brands that know who they are and are allowing themselves to do funny or interesting things. On social, there are brands pushing advertising and then there are brands pushing ideals and philosophy. Those are the brands you follow because you’re getting something back from them that is interesting or inspiring.

Swimsuits for All is a company that is exactly what it sounds like. It’s bathing costumes for any size, shape. They’re selling bathing suits, but the way they’re doing these posts are so inspirational. I’ve never bought a bathing suit from them. But I love their mantra and what they stand for. For me the most interesting thing is having these brands that are understanding who their personality is and how they can bring that to the world without being so prescriptive.

Creativebrief: What about outside the UK? Is there any agency or just piece of work that you think’s been particularly influential?

Amy Steinmetz: The Tide commercial from the Super Bowl was spectacular. If you are the category leader which Tide is by a landslide, you can afford to be a bit more dangerous with your TV copy.

The cost to launch a brand these days is so low that you can launch in a second. I’m inundated with all these little brands popping up all over the place. It’s this onslaught of amazing stuff. We love to work on start-ups and small brands. The way you approach a project is similar in construct but different in size and scope. We have a reputation for being able to work on large complex global brands and we can. But we would love to have more start up smaller brands. There’s a founder’s insanity when you are launching a brand that is so compelling and so much more exciting when you’re in it at the beginning. We love tapping into that.

“There's a founder's insanity when you are launching a brand that is so compelling and so much more exciting when you're in it at the beginning."

Creativebrief: How do you see the branding sphere evolving over the next few years?

Amy Steinmetz: As a brand, you have to be solid in your stance but fluid in your expression. Knowing who you are as a brand, what you stand for and having a personality is really important.

We have a methodology here, built on the idea from psychologist Dr Steven Reiss that we as human beings are born with 16 hard-wired desires. Every single decision we make whether conscious or subconscious is always in pursuit of one of these desires. A lot of the work we do is understanding what desire each brand is connected to. Because the way that you come to life might change over time but if you understand what core desire you’re looking at, that is a fundamental human truth that we don’t believe will change.

Creativebrief: What are your ambitions for LPK going forwards?

Amy Steinmetz: I want to have a diverse client base, to be working in a lot of different sectors. I want to evangelise this idea of desires and that it’s not necessarily consistency, it’s coherence. Historically in branding there’s been a lot written about global consistency that will build your brand. There’s an element of that that’s true. But to succeed, it can’t just be about consistency. It has to be about embracing change as well.

Yogi Tea - LPK
Yogi Tea

Creativebrief: Something that we talk about a lot at Creativebrief is the changing nature of the traditional pitch. What are your thoughts on that?

Amy Steinmetz: Our creative work is what you’re buying so it’s extremely rare that we would ever deliver a creative pitch. The word pitch has got misconstrued. A lot of people say we’re pitching so we’re going to ask three agencies to do some creative work. If you’re agency wins, you get the rest of the project. That’s not a pitch, that’s free work. If you are pitching for a long-term relationship or a roster position, that requires a different level of investment, of discussion.

Creativebrief: Outside of the industry, personally, who or what are you inspired by?

Amy Steinmetz: I go to Pineapple Dance Studio. Before my career, I thought I was going to be a professional ballerina but then went into marketing instead. But I’ve just gone back to dancing after 20 years of being away. Conceptually [I love] this idea of having an emotion that you need to express with your body. I’m finding my creativity kind of go up a little bit since I started getting back into it.

I’m always so inspired by fashion shows. I’m not a fashion junkie but the theatre of fashion shows, how they have a concept that manifests into every single aspect like Dolce and Gabbana at the New York Met Opera house. It was like an assault on the eyes, in the ears. There’s a part of me that’s like god that’s a lot of money. But I love the creativity of saying we have this big idea, we have this concept and we want to express it.

Topic of the moment

The trend that we’re focused on is the idea that customers want to know more about the social, economic and environmental impact of brands. How do you evaluate that in the brands you work with?

Ten years ago, if you had a product and a way to get that product to consumers and some marketing, it was good. Now expectations are through the roof. Every brand has to have utility, idealism, connected to some sort of cause. You need to have a point of view on sustainability, to have transparency, you need to be honest. You need to basically not make any mistakes. Consumers are actually really forgiving. There are brands that you love then there are brands you are willing to forgive which is a much more exciting way to think about it.

Every brand should be thinking about what their impact is on the world. I don’t expect that every brand that comes to us has a point of view on what their imprint is on the world. That’s up to us to help as consultants and designers. It’s never perfect. You’ve got to sell product, there are people who work for the company [but] that should never be at the detriment of the environment as well. There’s this tension you have to strike all the time. We still have a long way to go.

The one thing about agency life is perseverance. You have to have rejuvenated excitement every morning ‘cos by 6 o'clock in the evening it’s beat out of you. So, you need to go tap it out, come back the next morning ready to do it again.

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