BBDO’s Andrew Robertson on continued creative success amid the rise of indies and consultancies

For 13 of the last 14 years, BBDO Worldwide has topped The Drum’s Big Won rankings, a cumulative account of awards won throughout the year, including including D&AD, Cannes Lions and the Clios.

The Omnicom Group agency’s dominance hasn’t been isolated to one specific agency but half of the top 10 agencies listed in this year’s Big Won Rankings (Melbourne’s ClemengerBBDO, Sao Paolo’s AlmapBBDO, BBDO New York, ColensoBBDO in Auckland, and ImpactBBDO in Dubai) are BBDO agencies.

The Drum spoke with BBDO Worldwide chief executive Andrew Robertson about the network’s decade-plus atop the Big Won Rankings, how the network continues to be a perennial contender, and what lies ahead for the network as the industry faces disruption from all sides.

AMV. Clemenger. New York. Almap. Even the offices in San Francisco, Toronto and Dubai. How have you been able to maintain this over this long of a stretch? Any special sauce?

I think there’s a number of elements that go into that. It’s predates me and David and goes back through the time of Alan Rosenshine and Bruce Crawford. When they were building the network, they took a very different strategic path from a lot of other networks. Instead of basically riding on the backs of some big global clients and exporting their agencies into new markets, what BBDO did was go country by country to find the top creative agencies. In many cases, they took minority positions in those agencies and then over time, increased those minorities to majorities and then those majorities to complete control.

But the point is, the network was built from the markets up, not on the back of a key global client or that we colonized other countries with our agency brand. We started with really good agencies and turned them into a network rather than building a network that we tried to make creative.

The second part: when we say we are committed and focused on ‘the work, the work, the work,” we mean it. And everyone else says that it’s important, but they don’t mean it, and in our case, it really does guide all our decisions.

If there’s a jump ball on any one issue, the side of the argument that elevates the quality of the work will win. If we’re looking at people that we might hire, people who are going to improve the quality of the work will win. It is a commitment that drives not just big public statements but the thousands and thousands of decisions that get made every week all over the world.

And it’s when you have that kind of commitment to it, you end up being able to generate very good work: not just one or two clients from one or two offices, but lots and lots of clients from lots of lots of offices, which is just what happens in the case of BBDO.

The reason we’re able to win at Cannes and win The Gunn Report, and The Drum Big Won? One thing is because of the depth and breadth of the awards that we win through our network across our client list. So, the sauce isn’t really a sauce-it’s just a very real commitment as opposed to a publicly-stated intent.

Do you feel that there are specific awards that reflect the industry best?

Our goal is to win the Global Effies index, Cannes, the Gunn Report, and The Drum Big Won. Every year. That’s what we aim to do as a network because those are the four big global prizes in our field.

I think the importance of these awards is that you’re judged in a large measure. In the case of the Effies, you’re judged for the quality of the outcome. In the case of the other awards, you’re judged on the quality of the input, but you’re judged by your peers. And we know peer review is a pretty effective way to get your work assessed.

If we were doing really, really well in the other awards, but not in the Effies, for example, that would concern me greatly, because the reason we believe in the power and the importance of creativity is because we believe in its power-its power to transform businesses. If we weren’t able to show the direct connection between the power of the creative work and the quality of the market effect, then our argument wouldn’t stand up. But it does.

Do you have any specific hopes for the network this year?

We’re moving into a new stage in the business. We are transitioning from an era where we bought mass audiences in order to find the people who might matter to a brand, to one where we aggregate audience segments up from individuals about who matter a great deal and advertising to them. This requires us to plan in a very different way and then to create in a different way you’re still going to be very, very strong creative platforms.

On top of that, we’re going to have to build on multi-segmented campaigns with complex messaging architectures, all of which is going to have to be executed with the kind of creativity that can yield the incremental effect of the ROI, which is probably the same as it should be.

Our goal now is to adopt a new planning process and thrive in this world where we have to pivot to more addressable media, but still leverage the real, real value of creativity.

In your tenure at the helm of BBDO Worldwide, what have you been most proud of, in terms of what the agency network has achieved and what you’ve personally achieved as a leader?

It almost comes back to where we started. I think that we have proved the value of creativity, the value that it can bring to our clients. We have shown you can create great work around the world on international and local clients.

And we’ve done it consistently and doggedly. In my case, about 13 or 14 years, me and David [Lubars, North America chairman and global chief creative officer]. We’ve shown that it’s possible, and I feel very good about that.

Why are we able to do that? Because if you talk about creative leadership, anybody at a good network could give about two, three, maybe 5 or 6 leaders, but I could put together 10, 15, even 20 from around the world.

We have exceptional leaders, of which there aren’t that many in the world. I think we’ve managed to build more than our fair share of them, which is one of the reasons we’re very close to the deal. But I do think it is also about delivering consistently exceptional work across our networks, on our biggest clients.

We’ve seen Deloitte and Accenture start creating their own marketing offerings. Indies such as Droga5 have tried to stake their claim as well. Seems like we’re in an interesting era where great talent can go to just about anywhere to be great. Do you see BBDO’s high level of creative consistency as the enduring quality for talent to come in, create great work, and stick around?

One of the great joys of our business that is that it is a hugely fragmented market. There are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of agencies in the US providing services to clients, and the nature and quality of those services vary across time. It’s a business with historically relatively low barriers to entry.

Chris Brown, who ran DDB in the UK for a very long time made a wonderful observation: “Any two fools with a phone can start an advertising agency and often do.”

And that gives it an extraordinary, in my view, kind of look at reality, which is that new agencies and competitors emerge. Sometimes, they grow and grow very well. Other ones die, disappear. Sometimes, they don’t. It’s a very doughy and fluid system. It’s not something where you know there’s only two or three big players. That’s just not the case.

So you’ve got know what you stand for. You got to have an absolute conviction of the value that you bring to your clients, which I think we do. We have that conviction, we know what we stand for, and people who believe in and want to be part of that, that’s what they’ll come for.

In our case, people come to BBDO to do great work, to do the best work that they possible can, ’cause that’s what this company stands for.

I’m not saying it’s the only position anyone can have in the market-it isn’t-but it is ours. That’s what we stand for, and I hope that’s not just what people stay for, but what they thrive in. You can come at it from lots of different angles, but that’s ours.

The full report will be released on 19 February and will feature top agencies by region, top planners and more details on award winning creatives.


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