14 questions for new BBH London creative chief Stephen de Wolf

De Wolf will relocate from Melbourne to London for the role.

De Wolf: helped make Clemenger BBDO one of the most-awarded agencies in the world
De Wolf: helped make Clemenger BBDO one of the most-awarded agencies in the world

Bartle Bogle Hegarty London has a new creative leader: Stephen de Wolf, who was ranked the number one creative director in the world two years ago by the Cannes Lions Global Creative Index.

In May, he will join the storied agency from Clemenger BBDO, where he helped the shop earn the titles of D&AD Agency of the Year and Cannes Lions Agency of the Year in 2017, and scoop numerous awards for work including the Australian Transport Accident Commission's celebrated "Meet Graham" campaign. 

Following his appointment, Campaign asked de Wolf how he got into advertising, what he wishes he could import from Australia’s creative culture and how he’ll cope without Melbourne’s coffee. 

What ad made you want to get into advertising?

It wasn’t an ad, but it did win a black Pencil in 1998. The movie Gattaca won in TV & Cinema Graphics – Title Sequences.

I remember being at the cinema and the opening sequence played. For me, it was mind-blowing. The macro, graphic imagery worked seamlessly with the sound and, of course, the typography. It was almost as powerful as the film itself. I realised then I wanted to work in a creative industry that could impact people emotionally through beautiful craft and simplicity.

What piece of your own work are you most proud of?

Airbnb’s "Until we all belong" for marriage equality in Australia. In so many ways, it was a campaign we shouldn’t have had to create. Australia is a progressive country, but unfortunately when it came to marriage equality we lagged behind the rest of the world. The campaign became an important voice in the journey towards the "yes" vote.

Name a campaign that made you jealous recently.

Ikea’s "ThisAbles" campaign. It’s not only an example of amazing thinking, but also shows us the importance and impact of diversity in the creative department. Secondly, it reminds us when a brand truly knows its purpose, it can play such a powerful role in making the world a better place.

If you didn’t have a career in advertising, what would you be doing instead?

I’d be a physiotherapist. There was a time when this could have been a possibility. Thankfully, a twist of fate meant I took the creative path. Looking back on it now, I would have been terrible at it. I’m not good at coping with my own injuries, let alone anyone else’s. 

What will you miss most about Melbourne?

It would be wrong of me not to say the coffee.

What from Australia’s creative culture would you like to import here?

To have a go.

What did you miss most about London after your previous stint here?

I grew up in the most isolated city in the world, Perth in Western Australia. So, for me, not only does London have a unique energy, it’s a melting pot of diversity. This seems to fuel a creative consciousness beyond our industry. I found it inspiring and it’s something I can’t wait to get back to.

Why BBH?

This is an exciting time for us. Now, more than ever before, the world is crying out for ideas and the value of modern creativity is being recognised. And what better place to be a part of it? BBH is one of the world’s true creative companies, in London, one of the world’s greatest cities. I’m joining the most creatively charged and passionate leadership team, and I know we have what we need to make some of the best work of our lives.

What’s your first priority in your new job?

Quickly getting to know the creative department. Quickly getting to know the agency. Quickly getting to know the clients. And, of course, as quickly as we can, getting some brilliant work out. 

What’s your favourite BBH ad of all time?

Levi’s Flat Eric. If you were to run it today, it would be as fresh as it was when it originally aired.

Who’s your creative idol? 

It changes. At the moment, there is an international collective called TeamLab. I first saw them here in Melbourne a few years ago and subsequently in Tokyo. They create brilliant immersive art installations that connect with all ages. They inspire me because they consistently show the power of multiple disciplines coming together to create the most amazing, intimate connections. At its simplest, TeamLab consistently shows me how great creative ideas create meaningful connections.

What’s your biggest career mistake and what did you learn from it?

I think sometimes we, as creative people, feel the need to be the answer right away. Well, in the past I have anyway. What I’ve realised is it stops us hearing the questions or problems that our peers, and importantly our clients, are asking us to solve. 

You’ve been given an unexpected day off work. How do you spend it?

If I had a garden, it would be in the garden.

What piece of culture would you take with you to a desert island?

I know it’s the second time I’ve used this, but I’d have to take Melbourne’s coffee culture. Yes, I have a caffeine addiction.