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BBDO chief Andrew Robertson on reinvigorating creativity: ‘Where's the breathtaking work?’


By Kendra Barnett, Associate Editor

October 27, 2022 | 7 min read

The longtime BBDO boss opens up about his plans for 2023.

Andrew Robertson of BBDO

Andrew Robertson is bullish on the future of creativity at BBDO / BBDO

Last week, Wieden+Kennedy snagged Ford’s global business out from under BBDO. But BBDO’s chief executive officer Andrew Robertson – who’s helmed the Omnicom-owned agency network since 2004 – appears more confident than ever in the future of the firm.

And perhaps rightly so; Robertson has seen a lot of success this year. In April, he was inducted into the American Advertising Federation’s Advertising Hall of Fame. Two months later, BBDO agencies picked up a handful of big wins at Cannes Lions, including the Grand Prix for the Industry Craft, Media Lions, Print & Publishing and PR categories. The network also named new chief creative officers for North America, New York and, most recently, Taiwan.

And earlier this month, in the same week that two BBDO agencies teamed up on a major Meta campaign in the Philippines, the network launched Flare Marketplace, a content creation platform that connects brands with creative talent and content creators around the world.

Today, The Drum caught up with Robertson in Orlando, Florida. Here’s what the industry heavyweight had to say.

In your eyes, what are the biggest challenges facing the ad industry today?

Looking into 2023, the biggest challenges are macroeconomic. Clients are facing pretty significant pressures, certainly on the cost side of their businesses, but in some cases – many cases – demand-side, too, because consumers are going to be strapped for cash. I saw some data about the cost of energy; [for] people in Belgium, it's tripled. So if you were spending $300 a month on electricity, you’re now spending $900. That might not seem like a lot, but three times is a lot. And that's going to affect people’s spending. It has to. We don't know how long this is going on. It won't affect every category, but there's going to be both cost pressure and demand [issues].

And how do you anticipate that BBDO will approach these kinds of economic stumbling blocks?

It just means that the things that you do, you have to do even better. You've got to create demand, justify price premiums for brands and make sure you're capturing that demand as efficiently as you possibly can. But that work goes on; it's just going to be a much choppier environment than most of us have ever been through.

What are clients asking for these days?

If you really, really reduce it down, you’ve got to start with: ‘What do their customers need? What do consumers need?’ And the consumer need is for effortless, seamlessly connected, magical experiences, through what are increasingly nonlinear purchase journeys ... easy to say, very hard to do.

[Clients] want that and they want it to work really well. And they want it to be as simple and as efficient as they can make it, because they are under enormous time pressure ... we always go straight to: ‘What's the investment? What's the budget?‘ That’s part of it. Time is the other one. Because there's only so much you can manage.

Can you point to any projects that BBDO has spearheaded this year that embody the kind of seamless experience you're talking about?

We've done lots of work on [clients] like AT&T, perhaps most interestingly on the B2B side, where we really map journeys and potential journeys for individuals in particular job functions or in particular industry verticals, and deliver messaging to them throughout their day that all syncs up and creates that experience that ultimately results in the lead for a salesperson. We're doing it, but it's not all [easy].

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What are your top priorities as we head into 2023?

Right at the very heart of our ambition for 2023 is to produce more really breathtakingly brilliant work. I have a very strong point of view on this. I believe that the last two years – for us, but … also across the industry - there’s been a lot of good. But there hasn't been very much that takes your breath away and where you say: ‘Oh my god, that is amazing.’ And I think there are lots of reasons for that – especially the fact that people haven’t been together [in person]. So for 2022 and into 2023, that's what we’ve got to do, certainly as an agency, but also as an industry.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d like to give to other marketers working today?

I just think we’ve got to beat the drum on creativity. Excuse the hideous pun, but that is what we have to do. We really do. That is the silver bullet. And that’s what we have to shoot for – it’s not just incremental improvement across the board; you’ve got to make some big leaps.

It's why I came into the business, and it's what the business needs. Because when you have those [big leaps], everybody's sights are raised. And that brings up everything, and then you increase the chance of [producing] more of it.

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