Q&A: Initiative's Richard Beaven on Leaving Adland to Go Behind the Lens

Outgoing Global CEO Talks Passion for Photography, Muses on Changing Media Landscape

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Yesterday, Richard Beaven announced that at he will step down as worldwide CEO of Interpublic Group of Cos' Initiative at year-end. After a lifelong career at media agencies -- during which he helped launch Starcom in the U.K., taking on various roles within Publicis Groupe and later at Initiative -- he's retiring from adland to focus on his passion for documentary photography.

Mr. Beaven says his camera curiosity was piqued in primary school, and by the time he was 12 he was hooked. He's been traveling the world snapping images ever since and has even had some of his work published.

Richard Beaven
Richard Beaven

After yesterday's news, he made time to chat with Ad Age about his creative drive, the media industry and where the two collide. And if you haven't already checked out his work, you can here.

Ad Age : What inspired this move? Did you tire of the media world or was there a specific opportunity that arose in photography?

Mr. Beaven: I've been thinking about it for a while and talking to our guys for a while [about moving on]. I've always had a passion for photography. But, to be honest, it's only one aspect of what will be a sort of varied set of activities, I hope. I'm actually looking forward to just standing back and assessing what the opportunities are. It may be that I get involved in things outside the media sphere or inside the sphere. On the creative side there is more opportunity to build that passion. On the business side there are a few things I'm talking to people about.

Ad Age : Can you elaborate a bit on the types of opportunities you want to pursue?

Mr. Beaven: Other than my own work, one thing I'm looking to do is pursue the potential opportunity to help emerging photographers get in touch with brands, connecting the originators and creators of documentary content with the brands that need it and can fund it. Brands and companies could really benefit from the powerful communication that this can offer.... Health-care companies do it a lot, but the opportunity is so much wider than that .

Ad Age : What are some of the more rewarding photography projects you've done?

Mr. Beaven: I'm enjoying getting into the work I've been doing in Rio. But sometimes the most rewarding things are on your own doorstep. What I want to do is explore the possibility to examine different subjects at a deeper level, to create some sense of communication and education around subjects people don't necessarily know a lot about.

Ad Age : What are you working on right now, and who or what in the field of documentary photography inspires you?

Mr. Beaven: I've still got a commitment [at Initiative ]. So long as I have that I'll be making sure that 's delivered. That's taking my time right now, but I think there's so much going on in the world that needs to be exposed. I'm not talking about conflict work. My interest is more in social environment. But I don't want to overstate how much I've been involved thus far.

There are many photographic inspirations -- known and unknown. Inspiration comes from seeing a diversity of work across time and breadth of approaches. I grew up in awe of the Magnum Agency and it's story. Today I have been lucky enough to get to know and be inspired by photographers such as Chris Anderson and David Alan Harvey. David is the biggest inspiration of all -- photographically and simply for his view on life and his passion for developing emerging photographers through BurnMagazine.org. He is a mentor to so many.

Ad Age : What, if any, crossover is there between the worlds of media-buying and -planning and documentary photography?

Mr. Beaven: I think there are a lot of parallels with what we try to do in our world here and what [photography] is about -- it's about human behavior. There is a common link there and that 's something I have a yearning to pursue, among other things.

Ad Age : What are you some of the biggest changes, and challenges, impacting the media industry?

Mr. Beaven: I think it's just the reality that we have to always keep sight of what the changes are. Some of the core and powerful media are still core and powerful. TV is still powerful, but the way we combine it with things must continue to evolve and change at a rapid pace. Agencies have got to keep sight of what it is we're trying to do for our clients beyond administering their marketing investments. It has to be about not just the demand that every CMO needs to effectively manage investments, but we also need to demonstrate growth from investment. We need to be a strategic partner with the client.

Ad Age : What do you envision for Initiative with all of the new leadership changes?

Mr. Beaven: I've been the catalyst for [these changes], and Jim [Hytner] will do a terrific job of taking what I started to build at Initiative -- a more connected network -- and start building a more global business. The business is more locally than globally based. We've always been a powerful network at a market level, so that 's the opportunity.

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