World: Analysis - Lubars has vision of BBDO as the best agency in New York

The new vice-chairman is sure intuition provides the answer, Ann Cooper writes.

Six days into his reign as the vice-chairman and chief creative officer of BBDO North America, home to the likes of Pepsi, General Electric, Visa and FedEx, David Lubars is on a mission. Out goes the lavender and beige insurance office persona of the Omnicom-owned ad giant's digs, and in comes ... well, that's to be confirmed. "It's a creative agency that looks like a bank," Lubars says. "We have to deliver on our mission statement about creativity and make it a fun place."

Details concerning the transformation of the 113-year-old agency's culture are similarly hazy. "I have a vision," this former president of Fallon Worldwide and executive creative director of Fallon North America, who took over from the previous incumbent, Ted Sann, says. "Can you invent a 21st-century version of a kick-ass 60s New York agency? Can you create an ideas oasis to complement what's here already? I want people to say, 'BBDO is the best agency in New York'.

"This agency is brilliant at TV, and it will always be a TV presence, but you can still add colour to the palate with new things, or even with old things such as print."

Lubars, a tightly coiled spring of energy and evangelistic zeal who talks like a hundred-mile-per-hour train, has delivered that spiel often since he accepted the position. Ask for specifics and he refers you to the self-help guru Tom Peters, who concluded that it all came down to intuition.

"That's how I'm doing it, intuitively," Lubars says. "I hate those who come in with a formula and tailor the place to their style. When I went to Fallon, I didn't have set ideas."

One plan involves introducing artists, designers and photographers to revitalise the agency. And he has already beefed up the print department by bringing in Kara Goodrich, known for her award-winning work on Polaroid and Swiss army knives.

With the explosion of media giving consumers more choices than they know what to do with, ad agencies such as BBDO are pondering their place in the world.

According to Andrew Robertson, the recently promoted chief executive of BBDO Worldwide: "Advertising today is about compelling creative content. It's about every single communication having to be engaging."

Development of branded content is seen as key. "I hired David because we're moving to a point where consumers have to opt in, not be bombarded with ad messages," Robertson continues.

"David has a record of creating a new type of advertising that consumers actively seek out. He's a leader in his field and is ambitious and analytical."

The Brooklyn-born Lubars started out at Leonard Monahan, moved to Chiat/Day, LA, then joined BBDO West in 1993, as its youngest-ever president and chief executive. He moved to Fallon in 1998, taking over from Bill Westbrook.

On Lubars' watch, Fallon created the United Airlines animation and the acclaimed series of BMW internet films, and he was heavily involved in the award-winning Citibank, Nestle/Purina and EDS accounts.

"His biggest legacy was as a leader," Bruce Bildsten, Fallon's creative director on BMW, says. "He brought in Citibank and worked on the team developing that campaign. He brought in lots of people, and nudged along what was already a very talented group."

Lubars left the agency - where he was considered the heir apparent to Pat Fallon - because "BBDO had the DNA, clients and talent in place to make things happen". He adds: "It was an opportunity to do it globally. Plus, I'd worked here before. I love BBDO. If this hadn't come up, I'd have stayed at Fallon."

But why was Sann ousted? After all, BBDO, which bills $16 billion worldwide and practically invented the blockbuster commercial, was hardly on the skids.

"That's the time to change, when you're at the top," one insider says, citing the influence of Jim Collins' manual for company success, Good to Great.

Robertson declines to comment on the succession, other than to say: "Ted did a great deal of great work over a long period." But it's clear there was little love lost between the two men, with the same insider highlighting Sann's title of vice-chairman, created for him, it is said, so he didn't have to report to the new chief executive.

Sann's multiple-award-winning legacy includes a host of star-studded blockbusters featuring the likes of Cindy Crawford, Britney Spears, Michael J Fox and Bob Dole. Sann, who joined BBDO in the 60s and took over from Phil Dusenberry as chairman and chief executive in 2002, inherited an agency known for its tough approach and boys' club atmosphere. It was often likened to a huge dysfunctional family, and was described as "the Universal Studios of advertising, with all its stars and personalities and big budgets". Sann, a creative thinker and elegant copywriter, provided consistency, and achieved a high level of creativity across the board.

"Before David's arrival there was some apprehension," Bill Bruce, a BBDO executive creative director on Mountain Dew, says. "Since he arrived, the feeling has been upbeat and positive; we're having a constant dialogue on how to make the work better. We're moving towards a more collaborative atmosphere."

Challenges include dealing with the sheer size of the place, clients, budgets and egos. Plus, finding a way to integrate media buying, which is at OMD.

"His biggest challenge will be to build a cohesive group across all divisions," Bildsten suggests. "Fallon was smaller and more like-minded. At BBDO he is likely to have more silos within different departments. David will not suffer fools gladly. Those resistant to him will leave."