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Why Dentsu's Team B is empowering creatives to help clients find their alternative sides


By Shawn Lim, Reporter, Asia Pacific

January 2, 2019 | 6 min read

As their colleagues race against the clock to meet clients’ deadlines inside the 47-floor Dentsu skyscraper building that overlooks the Sumida River in Tokyo, Japan, a group of Dentsu employees, in contrast, are working on projects with no urgent timelines or deadlines to meet, elsewhere in the building.

That is a luxury considering the holding company serves more than 11,000 clients globally, with more than half of those based in Japan alone. With tight deadlines to meet from the sheer number of clients, especially in Japan, it has led to an overworking culture, something the company has strived to change.

Meet Dentsu's Team B, a three-year-old practice that sits under the Dentsu Innovation Institute and is led by long-time Dentsu employees Nadya Kirillova and Hidetoshi Kuranari, who both hold the position of creative director.

Kirillova and Kuranari, who are former copywriters, do not lead a massive department, unlike their counterparts in the Japanese ad giant’s headquarters, and instead, rely on collaborating with 56 other colleagues across Dentsu who are involved in other activities, or also known as their ‘B’ side, outside of their normal work responsibilities, like music, literature, peace activism, education, extreme sports, architecture.

Working with their clients’ chief executives, engineers, new business and innovation, instead of the marketing department, Team B is given the freedom to take as long as they need to talk to the client to as part of their research before starting work.

To date, Team B claims to have found, developed and practiced new processes for ideation using over 2000 pieces of information collected from each B-side, ranging from agriculture to extreme sports and molecular cooking, and worked on over 50 projects with clients.

According to Kirillova, clients who symphonize with the way Team B works, are usually the ones who approach them as they often want to make innovation but are struggling to do so through their ‘A’ side.

Both Team B and the clients come up with suggestions together, she tells The Drum, which is why it is easier for them to get onboard. “They were the ones that came up with the idea together with us! And if the suggestion doesn’t work, Team A can be back anytime!” she quips.

As different clients have different issues, culture, and ways of working, Kuranari explains Team B first ask the clients what kind of goal or vision they have for that certain project, product or service, and then try to find the best process to reach that together.

“If we can come in at an early stage of the project, not the communication stage, we believe there are much more possibilities and options we can provide,” he says. “This might change and innovate each outcome to something that could only be born from this collaboration between creatives and clients.”

Despite its consultative approach, Kirillova is keen to stress that Team B is different from a regular consultancy practice because it does not work with already existing briefs, does not do ‘yes or no presentations’ and does not do marketing research.

“Our teams are built focusing on our ‘B’ sides, we work from the perspective of those ‘B’ sides, at the same time when necessary, rely on our ‘A’ side roles in the industry,” explains the Russian. “This hybrid style allows us to provide solutions from research and ideation to executions including communication within a single team.”

Solving issues in creativity for creatives

Even as creatives today are increasingly being asked to create more across different platforms, they remain reluctant to collaborate effectively. This results in missed deadlines, complaints about excess budgets or the discarding of some projects due to lack of resources.

With Team B, which uses a more streamlined and joined-up approach like creative collaboration to help creatives to deliver more projects to a higher standard, it means that they are less likely to bulk under the strain of mounting creative demands.

Ultimately though, its goal is to apply creativity to much more than just communication, says Kirillova.

“What if we could apply it to the process? Ideation? Using new and original methods not just borrowed ones? Through personal passion, not just job description or title? Together with clients not just for them? In much more efficient ways?’ she asks. “We try to find alternative approaches for creativity and innovation.”

It is also important for creatives today to tap into their ‘B’ side today and have personal projects because ideas and innovations are born when a new combination of information occurs, Kuranari adds. That means when creatives tap into their ‘B’ sides, they naturally and constantly gather tons of primary information through pure curiosity. This curiosity and our passion for their ‘B’ sides give them the opportunity to bring and weave those ‘B’ sides into their work.

“By doing so we can create ideas and solutions from different and richer perspectives. Most importantly, based on each person’s originality, we can each discover our unique and comfortable alternative approach to our work and beyond,” the Japanese explains.

Building a future legacy

Having a practice like Team B will help legacy agency businesses like Dentsu prepare for the future, without just relying on technology because the legacy business that each organization has is great and very important, says Kuranari.

This is especially important as Dentsu restructures to make itself fit for ‘an evolving market and changing client needs’ by 2020. First announced by Dentsu's chief executive Toshihiro Yamamoto in the ad giant’s half-year earnings call in August 2018, the company confirmed the move last month, subject to approval from authorities and its shareholders.

While noting that having a legacy business was probably once something very new and innovative, born from something very unexpected, Kuranari points to The Beatles, which always put a hit tune on the A-side, while experimenting with new music on the B-side of their records.

“That is why it is important to keep experimenting and searching for new methods that could eventually become our legacy in the future,” he explains.

To check out the work of Dentsu and other creative agencies, see The Drum’s Creative Works section.

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