早在今年二月底时DDB中国宣布在上海成立了其大中华区第一个全球创意核心（Global Creative Hub，一个旨在为DDB的全球客户们世界统一各地作品水准并培养创意人才的机制），吹响了今年这家老字号代理商东进的号角，其全球CCO Amir Kassaei先生也在今年六月底特地飞到了中国推进这项计划的顺利实施。同时我们也相信——时至今日我们也看到了——DDB不会是唯一对中国市场有进一步想法的4A，在这片“遍地流淌着牛奶和蜂蜜”的地方进行布局恐怕是很多大型代理网络今年的最大议题之一。
DM: First question, what exactly is a “global creative hub”? How many of them are there?
Amir: We have already two in the United States, two in South America, two in Europe, two in Asia. And, we are adding another one in Shanghai, so that makes nine of them.
Amir: The idea is very simple: we want a place or platform where we can attract the best national and international talents to work on a global scale on global brands.
On one hand, it helps foster strong creativity; on the other hand, it helps educate national talent.
DM: Is Shanghai’s hub responsible for Asia’s business or only China’s business?
Amir: No, it is responsible globally. If you look at what‘s happening at the moment, the big global brands like Volkswagen or McDonalds are asking for the same kind of quality from China as that of Europe’s or the United States’. The problem in China currently is that we do not have enough talent or resources to match that goal. So, the idea is to build a hub here to attract international talent to China and educating the existing Chinese talent to increase the quality of work to global standards.
DM: Where are the other creative hubs in Asia?
Amir: In Singapore and Sydney. Sydney, for example, is working globally on Volkswagen. Singapore is contributing many ideas in terms of digital marketing around the world.
DM: What makes DDB have so much confidence in the Chinese market to invest so much in it?
Amir: It’s a matter of fact. If you see where China is going, it’s already one of the biggest markets in the world. It will dominate the world in next 5-10 years. So you have to be here, you have to invest here. That’s what we believe.
DM: The hub is aimed to serve global clients, but what if Chinese local clients are big enough and good enough, could they leverage the hub?
Amir: Exactly. The hub’s goal is supporting existing national brands. We actually have a project called “Fit for excellence”. “Fit for excellence” is a very simple idea, which is to motivate our clients towards accepting and buying innovative ideas in terms of not doing the day-to-day business. Instead, we are building springboards to help develop ideas that can be worked on by the whole global network, and then presenting it to the clients. It’s run globally but the regions are adapting to the needs based on the program.
DM: I would like to ask more about the hubs. You just said it’s a platform for gathering talent. So if the hub runs events or education seminars, will they be open to public or just DDB internally?
Amir: Not yet. We are trying out different initiatives to educate our DDBers in different categories first. However, what we can imagine happening is basically what we are doing now anyways; because of our creative culture, we give people who are interested in the advertising industry the possibility to just get a sneak of how advertising is working, meeting and talking to them to attract them into the industry. Again the job we have in is to educate the creative talent we have, to bring them to a position that they can deliver work that is of the same quality globally. And that’s just a question of time. I don’t believe that it will take long. It will happen anyway.
DM: DDB has created many award-winning digital works in past years. How has DDB become more digital in recent years?
Amir: I’m not sure if it’s happening now or if it happened in the past year, but what we are doing is to try to be ahead of the other agencies. We’re not solely being a digitally driven agency because we are not a technology company. We are the company who invented the creativity evolution, and we are using technology as a tool to make it happen. And, if you want to dominate the industry and become the most innovative company, you have to deliver solutions which are mainly driven by digital, mobile and cyber space as good as those in the traditional space because you have brands, products and services, especially in China, when you have to use traditional media to communicate with different targets. So we are not solely a digital agency. The goal is to dominate industry in every region, every country and on a global scale.
DM: What do you think that DDB China Group should do to be prepared for the new hubs?
Amir: I think China is already one of the biggest important parts of the network. If you look at the quality of the work coming from our Chinese offices, it’s amazing, and it’s among the best creative offices that we have. China is growing in a scale and a speed that is not visible in the States or in Europe. So they don’t need much direction on what to do, since they’re already doing great. I’m a guest here and I get a coffee every day, that’s fine.
DM: How long will you stay in Shanghai?
Amir: I arrived around one week ago, and will fly to Europe and come back here when needed. I basically live on the plane, I don’t have a home.
DM: So is the hub a kind of an integration of resources?
Amir: No. I don’t believe that integration is a question; if you bring different people to the table, integration is a mindset. Because our job, as I said earlier, is not delivering advertising ideas, but instead solving a business problem, which requires integrated thinking anyway. Because you have to hold your own ground, you have to find the best way of solving a problem. It’s not about coming from different disciplines, because aside from concept development, execution requires experts from different disciplines. You need people who are bright-minded enough to understand that they have to be generalists. That’s my belief, because if you are executing an idea, you need experts. You need digital experts, you need the target market experts and you need the media experts. In terms of developing the concepts and strategies, I believe that you need people who understand and oversee the bigger picture.
DM: On the topic of concepts and creativity, I’ve always wondered how creativity is managed. Being intangible and unpredictable, how do ECD or CCOs manage to always deliver quality work to clients?
Amir: It’s a nice thing not having a job description. I coined the job description myself. My job is very simple; it is doing everything that I can to build the infrastructure, to build the tools, to motivate people and unleash the potential of all the people at DDB. It’s about setting a creative standard and setting a goal that we would like to pursue ourselves. That’s my job. Helping people, servicing people, that’s my job. It’s 90% management, but 10% role model as well, because if you don’t walk the talk, then nobody will follow you. So you have to be in the forefront.
DM: According to your bio, you have worked in different roles in advertising as an account, a planner and finally as a creative. Do you think a great adman should experience different roles in the industry?
Amir: It’s not necessary, but I think it helped me get to where I am today. It allows you see the different point of views and strengths of different functions in an agency.
For other people, it depends. You could do it, but you don’t have to. What you do have to have is an open mind and think of the whole picture, and it really helps to understand what the account guys are doing. Your job may be creative, but is also taking involved in strategies. You have to understand media to develop concepts which make sense.
DM: Other than the hub, do you have any further plans in China’s market?
Amir: The future plans are very simple, again, our goal as a company taking national, regional or global is to be the most innovative company the marketplace, and dominating the industry, that’s the goals for China also.
DM: You’ve mentioned the concept and the execution, and I’ve always believed that good advertising consists of 20% good ideas and 80% good execution. Here we have many cases that start with good concepts but due to bad execution, cannot be called good advertising. What I want to ask is whether the execution part should be during initial stages of creative generation? How can you assure to follow through a great concept with great execution?
Amir: I don’t worry about that because all the other agencies don’t get it. It’s very simple. What we are doing as a job is not advertising, what we are doing is finding or creating a relevant truth in the form of a product service, brand or company. Then, we have to deliver to people in a fresh way. If we are doing this, people will start to care about what we do. And as we connect the world, they will talk about it.
Amir: So you have the multiple kind of support about what you are doing. If you really want to deliver a creative idea, part of the job means that you have to think about the execution at the same time. Not a lot of agencies are doing it. Again, we are talking about solutions. Solution means you have to think about the whole, and understand if the idea is working in the marketplace and how you can execute it and spread it, that’s part of a creative process anyway, but you’re right. You need execution partners who are as good in the quality as your agency to deliver it till the end. But the nice thing about having a global network is that you can work around the global with all production companies. So if this is the idea from China, we have a good network they can took almost everybody to execute the idea.
DM: So you mean it shall be a very strong organization to integrate all resources together.
Amir: No, as I said, I don’t need a lot of people. I need the minds. Creativity is not a question of structure, is not a question of process. It’s a question of are you courageous or passionate enough to do the impossible? That’s creativity at DDB. It’s not a question of how many people you’re sitting here and how you structured people. It’s about what do you want a team first time.
DM: I have a question about the gap between a creative guy and a creative “director”. What do you think the gap is?
Amir: A creative director at DDB is the best strategist, the best account guy, the best creative, the best client, best executer, best teacher and motivator. If you don’t deliver these seven goals, you are not a creative director. It’s high goal. It’s about being like a soccer trainer. You are playing but at the same time but you’re managing and motivating a team. And if you can’t make it, you are not a creative leader. To me a creative leader is something completely different.
DM: So how does one become such a creative leader?
Amir: If you have the talent and the personality, you can become it. What we are doing is to have our leadership program and educating our talents towards the position to give them the needed skills to do the job. So it’s difficult to be a creative director because a creative director is a trainer job. It’s not about doing the stuff by yourself. It’s about unleashing the potential of your people, educating your talents to them, fighting for the ideas of other people and educating your clients.
DM: So can you tell us more about the internal training system DDB has?
Amir: What we do for example at DDB for the young talents is the DDB Launchpad. The DDB Launchpad is a program started in Australia and the US and now we are scheduling it globally. The idea is you’re bringing young talent from universities to an assessment process and you’re choosing 5-6 people who are spending six months in an agency in one room, getting all the best briefs of the agency, having people who are taking care of them. And throughout the whole process they are working in an agency on a day-to-day base, and at the end of six month, you are sitting together with them, and realize or judge the potential candidates for the agency. That’s what we are doing.——on the junior level.
Amir: On the senior lever, we have a corporation with the Berlin school of creative leadership. There’s only one school in the world who is giving creative MBA. It’s a problem to develop creative CEOs.
And we are the only network who is working closely to them. We are nominating people from the network to make the MBA at one side and we are also developing a program which is more intense. Twice a year we send the best creative directors from DDB to do this program to exactly get the skills they need to be a creative CEO. Because, again, a creative director should understand the business as well as a CEO of the agency.
DM: How about the risk? DDB invest so much on training talent, what if they just go away after that…
Amir: No, it is very simple. Cause it costs a lot of money, so if you’re a creative director at DDB, you want to do that MBA program for two years, and sign a contract that after the MBA program, you must stay another 5 years in DDB.
DM: Talking about the job hopping, we’ve talked with many agencies in China, they are eager for talent, and many of them just use high salary to compete each other for attracting talents, the whole environment is not very healthy, people will just naturally go somewhere can pay them higher, and that’s what’s happening here now.
Amir: What we can do and that’s the solid goal and foundation of this company, since 1958, is if you combine creativity and humanity you can change the world for the better. It’s not about doing good advertising. It’s about how we can change the world using your creativity and humanity. And I don’t believe, looking at my own career, that if you’re running after money you won’t achieve anything in your life. So if there is young talent wanting more money, you should let them go because they’re not good enough, they’re not focused enough on the right things. So our responsibility is not only for DDB, but also for the Chinese society. To say, building a great career doesn’t mean to own a lot of money. It’s nice to have a lot of money but first you have to build a platform and substance in terms of your expertise, personality and your character. You have to have a goal in your life in terms of what you want to achieve as a quality standard. That’s what we can deliver in DDB. And if you are interested in that we can support you but if you’re only interested in money I’m saying to the young guys you should do something completely different. Because if I was interest in making money, I will not be advertising, But I think the great people in DDB, they are not solely interested in making money, they want to have a great job which fulfill themselves. They have the feeling that they’re doing something good for themselves and the society. Yes they also want to achieve kind of nice quality of life standard. But that’s not the first goal, that’s what I’m telling the young guys. I think if it can help the Chinese young talents to give them the feeling: Yes money is important, but money is only part of being great.
Amir: But, to do that, you have to be truthful to yourself because like I said, leading and educating means that you have to walk the walk. It’s not enough to stand in the classroom talking bullshit and are not behaving like that yourself. So you have to live this standard because young people are fleeing very fast if you’re bullshitting around. If you’re serious about it, it’s because you’re living it. If you’re living it, people understand it, and they will be convinced that you are serious about it. That’s my impression.
When I was young, there were teachers coming in, you will feel immediately if the guy is just talking, or if he is really serious about it. You have to find people who are role models and living it. Then you can educate the young people. The problem that you describe, it really exists and in the next 5-10 years as you are becoming even bigger and bigger, ever stronger society and economy. It won’t be a question of money but I think it could be a wrong strategy for DDB to try to compensate a non-existing personality with money. We always said we wanted to hire people who are nice and talented. If you are nice and you are not talented, you shouldn’t join DDB; if you are talented but you are an asshole, you shouldn’t join DDB. So I think that part of what’s nice is that we do everything such that everybody can be the way that they want to, if they have substance and quality, and not only solely interested in money. But if you talk to other companies, they might not have same kind of perspective, but that was the foundation of DDB and I think it’s the right way to go, because money will come anyway.
DM: You’ve talked about the recruitment standard, but on the contrary, what is your standard of choosing clients? You do choose client, right?
Amir: It’s also very simple. I think every great client-agency relationship should be based on trust. Trust means you are respecting each other and you’re regarding each other as partners, not as I’m the client and you’re the agency. And we try to find partners who want the value we can add to their business that they don’t have alone. But it’s the question of attitude, time and of fighting sprit because no client in the world is perfect, so you have to work in the relationship. And I think lots of clients are looking for that also but a lot of other agencies don’t have this big goal of being regarded as partner; that’s the reason a lot of advertising are looking like shit. Because agencies find their roles as the service company, not as a consulting partner. So what we are trying to do is being a partner, supporting our clients. And to be a partner means that you have to understand that business are as good as they do. So it’s hard job.
Amir: Well, the goal of your life is also related to the goal of your relationship with your client. The goal of DDB is not solely earning money. The goal of DDB is helping the client solving their problems. If you’re doing it in a brilliant way, the money comes automatically because we have superior product nobody else can deliver. If we deliver the same shit like all the other ones, you have a problem. What we are trying to do is to convince our clients all the market place, if you come to DDB, you will get something which helps you being superior in the market place, then, it’s also easier to negotiate with them about money. If you are not delivering the superior product,you have a problem.
That’s what I believe. But as the same goal, the only way to earn money with your client, you can do it, but you are not delivering quality. That’s my feeling.I think attitude is related to our culture, it’s easier for DDB to live it because we are a creative-mind company. We are the inventors of creativity revolutions. So it’s easier for us to think about that way then to be a creative-mind company then you try to transform yourselves being a creative company. But, the danger is, that’s what happened in the last few years I’m trying to change is a lot of people at DDB will lose their focus, about what is the core strengths of DDB, and my job and the job of a lot of people in the leadership is to remind them what is our job every day. As I said, finding and creating relevant truth, delivering in a fresh way that people start to care. That’s the main focus of DDB, so that’s what we trying to do.
DM: While establishing a global creative hub is Shanghai, what’s DDB China’s further plan to expand Chinese local market?
Amir: DDB has made significant inroads into China and this has paid off with the accolades we have received over the past few years. Across Greater China we have five offices – there’s definitely room for expansion across the country and we are currently reviewing all opportunities.
DM: How does DDB China think about Chinese local business?
Amir: The biggest change in China is ongoing– the digital explosion. The onset of social media has only accelerated this and, of course, with the scale in China, there is much more funding and resources behind it. Because of this and China’s unique market environment, China has evolved all of the West’s Internet offerings for the local consumer, and more often than not improved these services too. From a marketing communication perspective, it means that we can apply methodologies and mechanics tested and proven in the world – but adapted specifically to local needs. From our perspective, WOM (word of mouth) has never been so important, the difference being that it’s now on steroids because of social media/digital. DDB’s social creativity, together with our 6 degrees philosophy that sees consumers as transmitters, media in their own right, versus just targets, has never been more relevant.
Amir: E-commerce is another huge movement. We have never received so many request for e-commerce consulting. It’s a real measure of how a) robust the digital eco system in China is, b) the domestic consumption growth and c) the need for marketers to grow and conquer the scale that is China in a more cost effective way. Just on one day, 11-11-2011, Taobao, China’s biggest e-commerce platform sold close to US$1 billion in goods. Because of the scale and full service orientation (they warehouse, deliver to your doorstep and have their own payment systems), they are reshaping complete industries.
DM: What preparation should DDB China (From human resource to company structure) do while establishing such a hub in Shanghai? How much has been done and how much has yet to be done?
Amir: The Global Creative Hub was established with our multi-national clients in mind. The hub will provide them access to our creatives around the world, no longer restricted by country or region. The hub complements my “Fit for Excellence” project which matches the Hub’s objectives and gives our multinational clients access to creative from wherever in the world. Essentially, FFE are briefs that have been collected from our global clients – which are then supplied to all offices. Teams are then encouraged to crack the brief. FFE brings back a freshness that an existing team may have been lacking, and potentially new ideas by those not bogged down by every day client requests. For the client, they have access to a world team of creatives not limited by country or region. This works the other way as well. In terms of talent and recruitment we are very excited by our new programme, Launchpad, a global mobilisation programme for young creatives over three months to Shanghai or vice-versa for local teams to be in other DDB offices around the world. The biggest change in not the structure in the agency, but the access, mobility and speed of which world-class ideas can reach our clients here in China.