CB Q&A with Publicis Worldwide’s Simone Waugh and Ryan Petie: “That’s our culture – no egos, be hard on the work, but be kind to each other”

CB Q&A with Publicis Worldwide’s Simone Waugh and Ryan Petie: “That’s our culture – no egos, be hard on the work, but be kind to each other”

(Pictured top left to right: Simone Waugh managing director; Ryan Petie, executive creative director; Jude Johannesen, executive director client service. Bottom left to right: Simon Murphy, chief strategy officer; Vicki Lee, head of production; James Ansell, executive director digital and social)

Earlier this year Publicis Worldwide was named Campaign Brief #2 Medium Agency of the Year – selected from all Australian agencies with 30 to 100 employees. Here, managing director Simone Waugh and executive creative director Ryan Petie chat exclusively with Campaign Brief…


Campaign Brief: The agency started out as Mojo in Brisbane in 1979; then became Publicis Mojo. It then launched as Publicis Worldwide five years ago. How has the agency changed and grown since these early days?

Ryan Petie: Five years ago, we reset the whole business with a rebranding and repositioning from the inside out. The biggest thing we brought to the business was ambition. We kept saying, ‘We want to be a world-class agency based in the best place in the world’. If Crispin Porter can be based in Boulder, Colorado, and W+K in Portland, Oregon, why can’t a world-class agency be based in Brisbane?

Simone Waugh: In these first five years we have certainly put in a lot of work to reshape the agency’s portfolio of brands and to create a model where strategy and creative are synchronised from day one of a new brief. We’ve found that focusing on strategy and creativity together is key to tackling the big brand problems, which works well with my background in strategy alongside Ryan as our creative leader.

Our challenge is then to replicate that across the agency in everything we do. This means fostering a culture built on vigorously debating the problem and the solution. It’s exciting when we’re not agreeing, as we’re pushing each other to make it better!

RP: We can openly tell each other when we haven’t got it right, when the strategy doesn’t have real insight, or when the creative is a bit average. We don’t want to be average or what we call ‘the 99 per cent of filler work’ – we aim to create the one per cent of cut-through!

SW: I’ve also introduced more discipline around how we focus and grow as an agency by creating growth portfolios across industries that concentrate on big brand change, social good and placemaking change, including in the lead up to the Queensland 2032 Games.

CB: So, how do you devise this ‘cut-through’ work?

SW: Making these ideas comes down to a team who digs in to make the work better and better. We’re only 58 people, and that’s across strategy, creative, digital, client service, production and social. It makes every one of us fully accountable for our role. That’s our culture – no egos, be hard on the work, but be kind to each other.

Our people are all here because we’re striving to be culture and consumer obsessed – that’s been the heart of the agency since Mojo days.

RP: Some of our brands include Isuzu UTE ‘Go Your Own Way’, Bulla ‘Unfakeable’, Subway ‘Eat Fresh’ and the Queensland Government’s ‘StreetSmarts’. In those instances, our challenge is to keep the core brand while also continually evolving, staying culturally relevant and growing their markets.

One of our first big global pieces of work was called scUber, the world’s first rideshare submarine for Tourism & Events Queensland. We look back now and say, ‘How did we execute that?’ The idea nearly died a hundred times, but we were relentless in finding a way because we knew it would be worth it. Billions of views and a significant uptick in Great Barrier Reef tourism later, the hard work certainly paid off.

Subway also moved to us in the middle of the pandemic, and it’s been a wild ride! We brought the swagger of the brand back, repositioned it under ‘Eat Fresh’ and inspired a product called ‘SubDog’ that turned out to be the highest-selling limited time offer ever. We even created a giant sub sandwich and floated it down rivers and on lakes all over Australia and New Zealand. And it’s working – sales are the highest ever in the ANZ market since Subway came into the region.

SW: Overall, we’ve proven the success of the Publicis Groupe Connected Platform model – we brought in media (Zenith) 12 months ago into the Subway relationship and that’s when growth really started unlocking. We created TeamFresh, proving creative and media working together in the same hallways every day works. It’s high energy and loads of fun too!

Now, the brand platform is evolving to ‘Eat Fresh, Feel Good’ and we’re taking it global – all from a medium-sized agency in Australia. Iconic!

CB: Publicis Worldwide created the Brisbane 2032 Olympic Games bid program of communications. Have things changed for the agency since Brisbane was awarded the Games?

RP: Certainly! We worked around the clock to help Queensland tell its story to win the 2032 Games bid. The first stage saw us create 30 films in 30 days – showcasing the place, people, and vision of the city along with all the venues. The second stage was creating highly emotive films that would play just prior to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) delegates around the world hitting the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ button. That was high pressure!

SW: We’re super proud to have been one part of winning the bid for Queensland. Now, we’re working on legacy making initiatives in tourism and infrastructure ahead of the Games – it’s heating up for sure!

CB: You also do a lot of First Nations creative work. Why is this an important focus for the agency?

SW: It started with our 2032 Games bid – it’s important that we’re clear with the world about who we are as a nation and our culture. The world is clearly interested, and so we’ve formed strong, lasting partnerships with First Nations communities, artists, and cultural strategy leaders. This has included embedding in Cultural Grounding, which is a dedicated First Nations’ agency that we bring in right at the start of a brief and every step of the way. We’ve made the stand to always commission First Nations creative work with First Nations people to ensure the storytelling is authentic and the intellectual property is kept by them, not us. This is not standard practice in our industry yet, but I’m trying to lead that change in what we do.

CB: So, what’s coming up for Publicis Worldwide?

RP: We’ve got work in the making for Bulla, Tourism & Events Queensland, Road Safety, Subway, NINE, Isuzu, Sanofi, Paralympics Australia, Swimming Australia, Queensland Health… It’s a big end to 2023!

SW: In 2024 we’re going to focus relentlessly on unlocking more growth for our clients – we’re striving to create the one per cent of work that will change the world. We’re also focusing on growing our capability in technology and social influence to create experiences that people love.