Interview with David Pisker, CEO, IE

What’s your day job?

CEO in an agency often means many things. I would describe my role as controller of chaos. By that I mean giving people enough scope and freedom to harness their creative talent while still providing them a framework and enough focus to ensure that our clients and our business gets the best out of the team. Other than that, I deal with the slightly duller realities of business like contracts, compliance, risk management, new business, service delivery and the like.


What type of projects does your company work on – how long do they run?

The split of work between owned/earned/paid media is about 60/30/10. Our longest engagement is year round with Movember innovating and delivering their global platform across all channels. Our shortest can be as little as week when turning around a retail campaign. We have seen a substantial increase in demand for eCommerce strategy and execution and these projects can run anywhere from 3 months to a year plus depending how transformational a client needs to be.


How did you get started in digital?

I have always been interested in the nexus between technology and communication and have been lucky enough to work there most of my life. I started in consulting in the late 80s; then fell into advertising when living in Sweden in the 90s; and then finally fell into running a digital agency in Melbourne in 2002 which became Tribal DDB. 3 easy steps.


What’s your current favourite book, website, blog or source of inspiration for your business?

To be honest I don’t get much inspiration from business literature. I think the most influential book I have read in terms of work is Tarkovsky’s ‘Sculpting in Time’.


What’s the ratio of project managers to developers/producers?

This of course varies on the make-up of projects going through the agency at any one time but at the moment, it is about 1: 3.5


How many staff do you have in total

46 today and growing rapidly


Have you introduced in new roles/jobs title in your business – is the nature of your business changing?

The very nature of an agency dictates that our business is always changing. If it didn’t, we would be left behind and disappear. During the last year, one of our major role evolutions has been within the creative team. We have formalised the role of the Interaction Designer – combining the UX/IA and interface design. This has helped us address a couple of issues, namely ensuring that our delivery across the full UX/UI spectrum is seamless and of an ever-increasing quality as well as providing staff a clearer career path, catering for both specialists and generalists alike.


How do you keep hours and costs on or under budget? How do you maintain profitability on each and every project? Is it a result of project management processes, good budgeting, or initial scoping? 

Honesty and transparency. Both internally and with our clients. And to be honest, we don’t always succeed. Each component of project & budget control is well managed at IE but there will always be the occasional blow out. As long as we understand, learn and don’t repeat mistakes we will improve our margin to the benefit of all staff and clients.


What tools do you use to manage time and job tasks?

We created a bespoke system called Kontrol which has been serving us well for the past 3 years which interfaces with JIRA which most clients use for issue and bug reporting


Any suggestions on dealing with difficult clients?

Don’t be afraid to say no. Don’t be afraid to walk away. Any relationship – commercial, operational, creative – needs to be fair, equitable and mutually beneficial. If it isn’t and you can’t change it, then you need to consider your exit strategy. Luckily all of our clients are wonderful.

What’s your or the company’s biggest challenge currently?

I don’t think there is one ‘biggest’ but there are several big ones. The one that keeps me up at night right now is making sure we focus on the right opportunities. We are lucky enough to have a reputation for good work and so we get a lot of calls – from both existing and prospective clients – to do work that sometimes isn’t aligned with our core offering. Often it is tempting to work with a particular brand or be involved in a campaign that will get a lot of press but if it doesn’t fit with the strategic and operational strategy of the agency then we have to say no. That has been difficult in the past but we are getting better at remaining focussed.

Other than that, our biggest operational challenge this year will be expansion. We are growing rapidly and will need to move soon. We also want to and can open up an office in Sydney to service our clients there so our challenge will be to facilitate this growth without any detrimental effect on the rest of the business.


What particular skill set do you look for in your new hires?

Potential. My best hires have been people who shouldn’t have made it passed the first round but have ended up being stars of the agency


How do you ensure that your team is performing well, and focused on the same goals? Do you have any special team activities that you do to maintain a good culture?

This is a list of actions and activities within an over-arching strategy to attract and retain high-performing teams. Rather than copy and paste the strategy, here are a couple of the highlights

  1. We have a full-time HR Director who has been with us for 3 years and she is a gun
  2. We have a comprehensive performance management programme which puts most I have seen to shame
  3. Recognise and reward great work – we recently sent one of our staff to the New York Movember Gala Party. (He won Best in Show there too)
  4. Peer-to-peer monthly and quarterly awards
  5. Daily stand ups
  6. Fortnightly all-agencies
  7. Being next door to a pub


About Claudia Sagripanti

Involved in the evolution of mobile marketing and advertising from the early years, including co-founding Mobile Marketing and Advertising Awards, founding chair of AIMIA's Mobile Industry Group, development of mobile advertising guidelines for industry as well as commercialisation strategy.