Tom：我们在公司内部保证了任何人都可以对任何人说任何事情。任何人都可以向我说他们想说的东西，并且他们不会因为诸如对我说：“你的主意太蠢了。”而受到任何责罚——事实上他们经常这么对我说话。我不能忍受那种畏首畏尾的工作环境，我希望每个人都能畅所欲言。这不是无政府主义，这是一种“被完美规划的混乱。”（It isn’t anarchy, it’s just well planned chaos. ）因为混乱才能诞生突破性的创意，你需要去破坏，需要去颠覆。
Tom: 我喜欢幽默、聪明的人。事实上在这一行没有什么金科玉律为你所准备。世界上没有一本关于营销的书值得一读，也没有一本关于广告业的书值得一读，我从来没见过任何一本。广告是一门关于直觉与互动的产业。（It’s about intuition and interacts.）而“直觉”就包括了幽默感，包括了对如何让人们活跃起来的了解。所以有一个直觉非常敏锐的大脑你才能在广告圈内玩的转。你需要抓住人们的注意力，给他们想要的东西，然后反过来请他们为你的品牌做出贡献。这里面就需要直觉。
Tom：你不能将苹果与世界上其他任何一家公司相比，坦白说，我们的其他客户会对我们开门见山：“我们不是苹果。”苹果有它的独到之处，世界上没有其他客户像它一样，苹果公司的运营机制和别人都不一样，我们和它的合作关系也自然是完全不同的。运作苹果的Media Arts Lab我们独创的主张，我们在这方面有优良的管理，所以苹果这个客户是个艰难的挑战，它很特别。我们之间有了很长一段时间的特别的合作关系，如果你有兴趣研究他们的运作机制，这是一个不走寻常路的亲密的文化，我们正附属于这个文化。好的公司将自己的文化与客户的文化相融，然后自然就奏效了，你能看出不同。
The advertising industry is not like Detroit automation, the advertising work is not a Ford Model T, and the advertising people are not necessarily convinced by Frederick Taylor. Culture is the source of creativity; on the other hand, good corporate culture is how an advertising agency can manage its picky clients, unruly creative people, and impatient consumers.
Anyone can talk about the culture of advertising, however, to put it into practice is much more difficult. An advertising agency can act its own way in the initial stage, but the challenges comes when it becomes a global network made up of more than 11,000 people.
Facing the geographical and cultural differences of the clients and employees, sometimes it’s easier and safer to go the conservative way. However, in order to survive in the competitive advertising industry, which requires significant creativity, the culture of the agency is the key. In an advertising world dominated by the US companies, DamnDigital is honored to get to know a European-American hybrid network and interview two of it’s key leaders. Let’s follow the steps of Tom Carroll and Keith Smith and go deep into how they disrupt and manage the agency, as well as the origin of TBWA and its talent.
Wayne: Weeks ago we interviewed DDB CCO, Amir Kassaei. He said he didn’t sleep much, only three to four hours a day. What about you?
Keith: You know, it’s impossible now in the world we’re living in, which is 24/7. It’s impossible to sleep because you’re always online; you’re always having issues that are rumbling all the time. Tom and I are in constant touch, seven days a week, because that’s the only way to truly manage a company like this one. When you’re truly global, when you’re online 24/7, you have to be “doing stuff” the all the time.
Tom: We have no choice… I’m not as bad as he is. He (Keith) is nuts – he works all the time, he flies all the time, he’s on the phone all the time. I try to hide, but they find me. But he doesn’t hide.
Keith:It’s a fact of our business, because you know we have a lot of global clients who are online the whole time. I mean, somewhere in the world, somebody in always working.
Wayne: So, being very top executives as you two are, the word come from both of your mouths is the “official announcement,” is that right?
Keith: We have much a more democratic company. We don’t just have people from the top-down telling people what to do. We have people who drive the company from the bottom. We are not an old-fashioned, hierarchical company.And in China we have some fantastic, very smart people working in this company and we are growing very fast.
Wayne: We don’t really think both of you came to China just for a grand opening event. Why are you actually here?
Tom: Four reasons. First of all, this is China. It’s a very important market so I have to be here. As CEO, I walk everywhere in the world to see our clients, our management teams and our people, as does Keith. And it just so happened that we have a grand opening party last night to celebrate the agency’s new offices. We spent time with the entire China management team this week and they are doing fantastic, winning a lot of new business. So we are celebrating their success.
Wayne: So do you have to draft a further plan for Mainland China?
Keith: Two years ago we changed everything when we created a Greater China region. Our management from this office runs the entire China market, and our clients are responding well to that. Even in China we work with a lot of global companies, like Nissan, Apple and McDonald’s, but we also have very strong local Chinese clients. We are growing globally and locally, and one of the great things about coming here is to spend time not just with our global clients, but with our China clients too, to talk to them about how we can help grow their business globally.
Wayne: So what do you think about the local clients? Some people say they still need to be educated in advertising.
Keith: I think it would be arrogant for us to tell them when and how they can grow globally, but what we can do is help them grow globally because we have a fantastic global network and clients that plunge into this network are really working with the best people, so we can truly help them to scale globally.
Wayne: And do you have any strategy on second and third tier cities in China? As far as we know big firms like Ogilvy have opened branches in cities like Chengdu and Dalian.
Keith: Yes, we already work in second and third tier cities, because we have clients that operate in those cities, like McDonalds. In some markets we have offices and in others we don’t so we work from here (Shanghai) across those markets. We work in the cities where our clients are and we look to see if need to physically take people to those markets. We have three big offices already in Mainland China and we are working now on whether we need to have fourth, fifth and sixth offices.
Wayne: I heard a lot of people saying that agencies like, big like you have amazing and satisfying working environment like this, with kitchens, sofa, etc. They say it’s just a trap to make this look like a home, then to keep people work late.
Tom: Well this is advertising, so there’s no such thing as time. It isn’t nine-to-five. Sometimes you can work 18 hours a day for five days straight and then take four days off. You have to get the job done when it needs to be done. In a creative environment, you have to be comfortable, relaxed and able to thinkand be flexible – that’s when ideas will come. You need a lot of action so the environment is hugely important to a creative company like ours, and that doesn’t just mean for the copywriters and art directors, it’s for everybody in the company because you don’t know where the best ideas will come from. You need to be fluid, move around, try to think up something new – you’re not sitting at your desk, doing code from your computer or doing the accounting. Have you ever seen a picture of our Los Angeles office?
Wayne: Yes, on your website.
Tom: Yes, look at that place – it’s the most creative office in the world. When you work there, it’s just the constant motion. If you just sit in one place all the time, you won’t get new ideas.
Wayne: Sometimes advertising can be a frustrating industry and manpower is essential to an agency. What do you think is the most effective way to satisfy and entertain staff?
Tom: Money and recognition. Do you know what I mean by recognition? People want to be fairly paid and they want to be recognized. If you are a creative person, you want to be recognized – that’s why you’re in this business. Talented people work in places where they can work on really high profile accounts so they can say, “I DID THAT!”
Keith: We’re a very democratic company so when new talent joins our team, they get to with our biggest clients. We don’t have a top-down hierarchy so if you’re a creative, ambitious, talented person, we have an environment where you can thrive.
Tom: We make it a point that anybody can say anything to anybody – anybody in this company can say anything they want to me, and they won’t get in trouble and we won’t tell them “that’s a stupid idea.” You can’t worry about hierarchy in a creative environment – people don’t want to live that way. It isn’t anarchy, it’s just well planned chaos, and chaos creates. That’s how you get the breakthrough ideas. You have to be able to disrupt.
Wayne: How do you find new talent and hire the right people? What is your standard?
Keith: We have some of the best creative talent in the world. Everybody in our company is a creative person and our standard is to hire the most creative people, no matter what their discipline may be. We try to open our doors to people that want to come and do different, exciting work for big clients. Our standard is very high because we want the best. And when we have the best, it’s like a magnet – it attracts more of the best talent to come and work with us.
Wayne: So more specifically, what is the bottom line of talent selection? At least, they need to have some characteristics you require…
Keith: Ambition along with character, and a willingness to change.
Tom: I like smart people with sense of humour. The truth of this business is that there’s no book that you could read to prepare you to work in advertising. This business is about intuition and interaction, having a sense of humour and understanding what makes people tick. These qualities are the most important. Then, you should give people your attention when they are trying to do something, give them the benefit of the doubt and a chance to do something different.
Wayne: So I have a question: What do you think the level of creativity and talent is in China?
Tom: It just keeps getting better. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have known I was in an ad agency. Now we have terrific, breakthrough work coming out of China. It is only a matter of time.
Keith: TBWA won China’s first ever Gold Lion at the Cannes Lions Festival in 2008 with the adidas Beijing Olympics campaign. That was a start, but if you look now, there is more and more from China winning at international festivals like Cannes Lions. And, in fact, the best advertising agencies are full of young, smart people so it’s important to try and get as many of those people working on the big brands that matter, especially in China. They will change the world.
Tom: I was explaining this to a client last night…Ten years ago, when I came into this office, everybody would be silent, shy and scared looking, Five years ago, everybody would say, “Wow, who is that?” and start to approach me. This year, it’s more like “Hi, I’m Jo. You’re Tom.” Everyone wants to introduce themselves, tell me what they are working on, shake my hand. In 10 years, we are much more social. But that’s the environment, this agency. It’s how creative people express themselves – they are stretching and coming out. It takes time, it doesn’t happen over night, but more and more Chinese kids are like this and they are the young talent, the ones that will be winning Cannes Lions.
Wayne: You say they are better every day, but are they good enough at an international level?
Tom: Why not? You have read books. You go to school. You watch films. There is no difference. There is no special talent. Although it is an interesting question, because the Brits have always seemed to have a disproportion at amount of creative talent. Their country is so small. And the US does very well too. The US and the UK have dominated the industry, but there are a lot of countries coming up creatively – China, Brazil, Argentina, Holland.
Wayne: If the Chinese talent is good enough for international level, why does Mainland China have a salary gap or glass roof? Is this happening at TBWA?
Keith: No, we don’t have this. But remember, the advertising business in Mainland China is a new business. It has only been around for 10 years or so, so it is still scaling, but it’s happening faster. Now we are looking out our talent in China and asking them if they want to work in other offices around the world – New York, Los Angeles. This is what we do – we move people around frequently if they want different experiences.
Tom: We already have Chinese talent around the world – in New York and LA – kids who grew up there too, and went to school in the US. It’s funny because your perespective and my perspective are the opposite: I feel like Chinese talent is coming up so quickly. You are so ambitious – no one is going to be able to stop this.
Keith: The revolution that’s happened in the digital world just opens it up for Chinese talent as well. We grew up in a conventional world, creating 30 second TV spots. That era is over.
Tom: We’re old.
Keith: Chinese talent has grown up with a whole different set of skills. They just open up the whole world. Anybody sitting here now could be doing great work for a brand in North America. You know, it’s a virtual world that we live in now.
Wayne: Both of you are account men, right?
Wayne：So we are talking about client management, and this question is a tough one, what is your selection standard for clients? You do chose client, right?
Tom: Here is the deal. We grew up in very creative agencies. Chiat\Day, TBWA… you couldn’t be an account man in these agencies if you weren’t capable being creative. When clients come to us, we know they want good creative. People come to us because they want this. There are a lot of agencies out there that will take your money and do some crummy ads for you. This is not us. People come to us because they want creative. It just happens.
Keith: We have an incredibly strategically tool called “Disruption”. And we work through this process with our clients, helping them understand how their brand can be bigger, how to do something different. This is a self-selective process and the clients that end up working with us are the ones who say, “We can’t keep doing the same thing and getting the same results. We have to do something different.” That’s what Disruption helps us do, and it helps select the clients that will feel most comfortable working with us.
Wayne: Okay, another fact is that you have successfully managed a good relationship with some of your most essential clients, like Apple, adidas, and ABSOLUT Vodka, for decades. So what’s the trick?
Keith: You have to keep stimulating, you have to keep providing, you have to stay ahead of your clients. If you are not ahead of your clients, in terms of thinking about their business and developing that will take their brands to the next level, then you won’t keep clients.
Tom: All clients want good work and good creative – clients like Nissan, Apple and adidas. Therefore, we hire the best creative talent and create the culture. This culture takes on an energy of its own. There is a saying in advertising, “Clients get the creative they ask for.” Those clients ask for good creative because it creates its own culture, its own energy and it is positive.
Wayne: So you make yourself the best choice to the clients.
Tom: You have to. I mean you HAVE to.
Keith: It is a tough business. How many advertising agencies there are in China? There are a lot. If you’re not out ahead of what the client and what the market expect, then, you will get caught out.
Wayne: So the toughest question is, some clients are big clients and some are special. But Apple is both, and every other agency wants a piece of this client, so how do you successfully keep a steady relationship with a client like Apple?
Tom: You can’t compare Apple to any other company in the world. And to be honest with you, every client, they come to us and say ‘We are not Apple.’ Apple is unique. Their company operates differently than anyone in the world and our relationship with them is completely different. TBWA Media Arts Lab, which handles Apple, is our unique proposition. We have very good management there and it has been a special relationship for a long time. If you look the way they operate, it is a very closed culture that operates in special type of way and we have adapted to this culture. Good agencies align their culture to the clients’ culture and somehow it just works.
Wayne: There are two big pieces of news in the advertising industry: WPP recently acquired AKQA and Publicis acquired BBH. Many people think that if the holding company has enough capital, then buying and selling companies is more economically profitable than running real businesses. What do you think about such an opinion?
Tom: I think you can either have an idea, or you can buy an idea. We tend to be a company that has ideas and we try to grow those ideas. We are less prone to buy ideas. Making good acquisitions can be good for your business, but that is not our strategy.
Keith: If you keep buying companies, then you lose those identities. The most important thing for an advertising agency is to have a strong culture, and your business grows from that. If you just keep adding companies on, what is your culture? It doesn’t help develop a strong culture for the agencies or for the holding company. It just becomes a mass of acquisitions, not about doing the right thing for clients. It is just about size and that doesn’t help a client.
Wayne: Compared with other Omnicom agencies like DDB and BBDO, what is TBWA’s strength?
Tom: We are just different. Remember, DDB and BBDO are much older than we are. BBDO was 80+ years old. DDB also. We are just 40 years old. We are much younger and have much different clients than they do. Structurally we are different too – we are stronger in certain markets than they are. We are strong in the Middle East and in Asia. We have a very big agency in Los Angeles. BBDO has a very big agency in New York and DDB has a very big agency in Chicago. We are competing all the time, but we compete against everybody. If you look at China, we frequently pitch against Leo Burnett, Ogilvy & Mather, Wieden + Kennedy and BBH. Last week in LA we pitched Southwest Airlines against Deutsch, which is a great agency in US. There, we compete against Crispin+Porter, Wieden + Kennedy, BBH, BBDO, Leo Burnett and Ogilvy & Mather. There is nobody who, I would argue, can fight everybody like we can. We can go against anybody we’re up against. We are able to compete on the biggest accounts or we can go in with a very hip, cultural proposition. We can go any place that we want to go. I don’t think it’s a matter of being better, just different. We are younger.
Keith: We are quicker. We are smarter. We have the best strategy and we have Disruption and Media Arts. Disruption is the starting point for any brand, global or local. It drives the strategic development of our client solutions by challenging and overturning the conventions of any marketplace and it creates a common language and understanding across our network for the brands we lead.
The other half of the equation is to make sure that we craft an idea brief from the right perspectives and engage the right disciplines so that we make full use of the Media Arts landscape.
Every agency in the TBWA network is fluent in Disruption and Media Arts. It means that we are all constantly evaluating and documenting the shifts in the media landscape and their impact on audience behavior. And it is this commitment that allows us to serve global brands differently than our competition. Smart clients know they can come to TBWA to find new ways of going to market.
Wayne: Let’s talk about the backslash “\”. Is it part of the original TBWA logo or was added on years later?
Tom: Lee Clow invented the Backslash with Chiat/Day and then we took the Backslash to TBWA. Lee loves design, he is an art director. Good designers, as you know, can find something meaningful in something so simple. Lee loves this and he made it have meaning, which is why he is a creative maverick.
Wayne: What is Lee doing now, is he retired?
Tom: No, Lee pretends to be retired. He will be with us in France in September. He didn’t come to Cannes Lions this year, but he will come next year. He is the nicest person I have ever worked with in my career. He is the most talented and the most civil – the nicest man I have ever known.
Wayne: He can work with Steve Jobs.
Tom: Yes! Think about that, right? Lee does a lot of stuff. More than you think. But he has just gone lower profile. He doesn’t want to create an expectation that he can be anywhere, any time. But he hasn’t gone away… his plan’s different.
Wayne: Keith has mentioned how important culture is. He is British and you are an American. Is there any cultural conflict in TBWA and how do you solve it? Because culture is where ideas come from, right?
Tom: Without question. From the time when I first joined TBWA and then came back 14 years ago, there was a board, and I was the one of only two Americans on the board. There were French, Dutch, and British. And I didn’t really understand how much the French and the British hated each other until I was sitting in these meetings. They would be playing games with each other. What was going on? I was a dumb American. Now we have Asians and Brazilians on the board. We have everybody on the board and it is such a modern way to look at the world. I don’t want to just be an American. And TBWA’s headquarters might be in America but it runs like a multi-cultural company. We think that is a huge strength for us – that we’re bringing in the entire world. Chiat\Day was very much that way. TBWA was very much that way. BBDO was very much that way. To tell you the truth, I wouldn’t work in an American company. It is not interesting. Can you imagine and understand being part of a global network and being one-dimensional? It would be so boring.
Wayne: So when TBWA deploys strength worldwide, will you just impose that culture in those markets?
Tom: That is another good question. You know what is really interesting? We have these tools called Disruption and Media Arts, and people around the world want something to hold on to, to guide them. We don’t have to impose aculture. The backslash is here, right? If you go to Brazil, it looks like Los Angeles. If you go to South Africa, it looks like Amsterdam. You don’t have to tell anybody r impose ia culture on anybody. Already people can’t get enough of it.
And what we are really good at is creating this internal culture – highlighting the great stuff that happens across our network. Each month we do these newsletters called “What If?” and we have an intranet called MyTBWA. We have Twitter feeds and Facebook pages and we do tonnes and tonnes of training. We have our Tiger Academy, which brings together our rising stars from around the network. We’ve done Tiger Academies in Shanghai and New York, this year it will be in Paris. We just keep the places flowing and we keep moving people around.
We never have the same meetings in the same places, ever. It would be easy for me to make everybody come to New York, since I am in New York. But I don’t want to live that way. We have a different kind of culture. Chiat\Day, Lee Clow, Disruption, Media Arts – it is all a magnet. We are very lucky.