John Hegarty on advertising’s automated future

We speak to the adland legend about his new gig as chairman of AI recruitment company Genie, plus how he thinks the industry will need to adapt post-Covid

If there is one thing that Sir John Hegarty has mastered during his five-decade career in advertising, it is knowing great creative talent when he sees it. The ad mogul started his career at agencies including Benton and Bowles and Cramer Saatchi (now known as Saatchi & Saatchi) in the 60s, before co-founding TBWA in 1973 and going on to become founding partner and worldwide creative director of BBH in the 80s. Since then, the agency has created agenda-setting work for everyone from Levi’s to Barnardo’s, as well as expanding into seven major cities across the globe.

Of all the changes that Hegarty, now aged 77, has seen unfold in advertising over the last five decades, the most seismic is undoubtedly the rise of digital. Not only have new technologies changed the type of advertising that gets made today, they have also altered the way in which agencies are run. A big part of that change has been the growth of freelance, as companies and individuals are able to work faster, smarter and more efficiently. Hegarty is looking to tap into this trend with his latest venture, as chairman of AI-based recruitment company Genie.

Founded in 2019, Genie is as a recruitment matchmaking service for agencies and freelancers, featuring an algorithm that matches a client’s brief with the best talent for a particular project. Envisioned as ‘the greatest creative department in the world’, the company is the brainchild of three former recruiters, Nicky Badenoch, Nick Grime and Bonnie Harold, who were previously all partners at boutique headhunting business LIZH. So far, they have captured the attention of clients ranging from Droga5 to Warner Music Group with their new initiative.