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Magic over factories: BBDO Asia chairman Jean-Paul Burge says creative culture can prevail over complexity


By Charlotte McEleny | Asia Editor

March 29, 2017 | 5 min read

In a world with complex marketing challenges, increasing change and shifting budgets, BBDO Asia chairman and CEO Jean-Paul Burge, believes that focusing on the “magic” can help protect the business of creativity and ideas.

Jean-Paul Burge

BBDO's Jean-Paul Burge discusses balancing great work with growth

Speaking to The Drum during Adfest in Thailand last week, Burge said that agencies needed to be both a factory and a magic maker, but the starting point was what separated success.

“An advertising agency has to create magic, which is great work. We also create a factory that delivers that and all of us do the same thing, all the networks are doing those two things. But the important part is; what is your starting point? Is your starting point to create a factory or is your starting point you create the magic?

“I think that if you want to be a successful creative network your starting point has to be creativity. To do that you need to have a very, very strong creative culture. To have a strong creative culture, there is a bunch of different things that you need to do and foster, but is all starts with leadership,” he said.

He said this helps drive the clarity needed on focusing on good work in an increasingly complicated industry, where many factors are threatening to make it difficult to create great work. However, another important factor in building a successful agency is growth, which is becoming a challenge.

He says the buck often starts with the client but the reality is that clients themselves are under more pressure than ever to do more with less.

“There's a huge amount of pressure. Clients ask you to do more work, faster and for less. There's also a reality that more work is often across more new touch points, which often require bravery because you're trying new things,” he explained.

Burge added: “Bravery is a really interesting word because I actually think that clients are incredibly brave because, at the end of the day, they put their name and a signature on the check. Very rarely does it happen that work that is accused of being rubbish is directed back at the agency, and very often it is the client, so you have got to be brave to do it. I also think that this is a less brave world, because it's a world in which we see the rise of procurement, the rise of measurement and the rise of political correctness, where there is a danger of saying something that is out of line with what others believe.”

The situation, he concludes is that agencies have to do more, with less money, across more touch points and with less bravery than was given previously.

“Depending on how you measure it, and it's been measured by a number of different people, but we now see about a third to a half the amount of money that we used to. If you actually look at the last 10 years, what you're seeing is that revenues have fallen at a pretty quick pace and the requirements for the agencies have suddenly gone up quite a bit. So where we are in real terms is probably about 50% of where we should be,” he added.

But despite the challenges involved, Burge says it’s a case of balancing the right and left side of the brain, to make sure that the emphasis is on the magic, while delivering the necessary growth.

“In this industry, we do something incredibly difficult and incredibly complex, which is to come up with ideas that change people's perceptions and behaviors. That is tough, and creativity in general is tough, but I think that a lot of the operational realities of doing that are not necessarily that complicated. When I talk to my company, there are two things that I'm always focusing on: the first one is creative excellence and the other one is growth. It's this kind of right brain left brain thing,” he said.

To hear what other creative leaders had to say about diversity, technology, new platforms and creativity with purpose, visit the Adfest page.

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