MediaCom's Josh Krichefski on firefighting, digital upskilling and Zoom quizzes

Krichefski: 'I am probably communicating more regularly with more people than I was previously'
Krichefski: 'I am probably communicating more regularly with more people than I was previously'

European boss of WPP media agency discuss highs and lows of lockdown.

Next up in Campaign’s "Leadership in lockdown" series is Josh Krichefski, the EMEA chief executive of MediaCom, who stepped up from UK chief executive in September 2019.

Where are you spending quarantine and how do you run your day?

I live in north London with my wife, Deb, and two kids, Ruby (12) and Leo (10). Every morning, I get up before everyone in the house. After a coffee going through email, I will try to do some form of exercise. I am generally on Microsoft Teams locked away in the study (spare room) most of the day, but I also take some voice calls in the garden.

Deb (architect) and Leo (school lessons on Zoom with headphones on) share the kitchen table. Ruby does her Zoom lessons/TikTok dancing in the lounge. I’ve been impressed with how self-sufficient my kids have been on the whole, although Deb bears the brunt when they are playing up. The schools provide good at-home teaching, although unfortunately Ruby’s teacher didn’t realise he had camera and sound on this morning when he was having an argument with his wife! None of us is perfect.

I try to break for lunch with my family, which is a big silver lining. At around five-ish, if the weather is good, I like to take one or both of the kids for a bike ride or to the park for some football or frisbee. Then I’m often back on calls later, depending on what is going on.

Deb usually makes lunch and I make dinner. We have found our groove… but 24 hours with the kids at their grandparents would be nice for everyone.

What were the biggest adjustments that you had to make in the first few weeks in terms of your work, your team and your clients/ external partners? 

The most obvious adjustment was not being able to travel, as it is an important part of my job. That said, we’ve all adapted quickly and I am probably communicating more regularly with more people than I was previously.   

There is no substitute for human connection but technology has been a great enabler. MediaCom has always been a strong network where people like to help each other, but everybody actually feels more connected to the network right now, not less.   

How has your business made savings and why have you chosen certain routes, eg pay cuts versus furloughing versus redundancies? 

Each market I oversee is different and we combine different cost-saving measures by market depending on a mixture of factors. Having to make cost savings is far from ideal but is necessary, and we are doing the best we can for our people, our clients and our business.

What has been the hardest part and the most uplifting part of lockdown?

The hardest part is knowing that people are dying and that vulnerable loved ones will be isolated for a long time. My mum lives on her own and my brother is vulnerable. The economic cost is immense and is impacting people’s jobs and livelihoods, as well as mental and physical health. I worry a great deal about this.

It lifts me up to see what people will do for each other. In terms of community and connection, it feels like we are seeing the best of people. We are being more compassionate and we are recognising how heroic and vital our healthcare workers are. Sometimes, it takes a crisis for us to gain perspective and reflect upon what is important. 

From a personal perspective, thoughts and feelings can be magnified in lockdown, both positive and negative. Leadership can be lonely at the best of times, but in lockdown there are definitely low times where I question my own impact. I think this is a natural by-product of isolation and important to call out, as I’m sure others sometimes feel the same. But equally there are moments of profound joy, usually with the family – moments I hope to always remember.

Ultimately, I have a job I love, a brilliant team and my family around me. I am lucky and I remind myself of that every day.

What are you working on?

My work is pretty varied. This week I know I will be: 1 Managing changes for clients; 2 Onboarding a new client; 3 Working with global, regional and local leadership on management through Covid-19; 4 Hosting virtual client conferences in Italy and Hungary; 5 Giving Q&As for local MediaCom offices; and 6 Strategic planning for the agency post-crisis.

I will also be firefighting and generally dealing with issues I don’t know about yet.

How do you find inspiration?

People inspire me and I am blown away by the inventive initiatives our teams come up with to keep each other connected and some of the really smart work we are turning around at pace. I’ve been inspired by the appreciation our clients have shown us at this time, even making videos for our people to express their thanks for our support. I love my weekly team call and, no matter how difficult the discussions are, we keep each other sane.   

When I am not working, I annoy my wife and kids, read, run, cook, do yoga, play games, do Zoom quizzes with other families, watch lots of TV…  and drink too much wine.  

Has the experience taught you something that you’ll change when you get back to working from an office? 

I’ll try not to take for granted everyday things. I have vocally encouraged a culture of flexible working at MediaCom for five years, but I have never personally worked from home much. I will do it a bit more now. I will also keep our local market CEOs connected with each other through Microsoft Teams regularly, but I will also bring them physically together asap. I really miss people and cannot wait to see my colleagues, clients and friends in person.

What change do you expect to see in the industry when this is over? 

We will see an accelerated transformation to digital. This has been happening for some time, of course, as ecommerce becomes more central and we help our clients get there. This does not mean that traditional media is suddenly less important, but we are digitally upskilling our people. In the UK, this started before Covid-19 with our brilliant UK chief executive Kate Rowlinson leading the charge, and we are fast-tracking it everywhere too.

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