CAMPAIGN INTERACTIVE: PROFILE/BANT BREEN - Globe-trotting American is ready to boost Burnetts’ new-media profile. Following spells in several countries, Bant Breen tells John Owen that he is, well, sort of ready to settle down

So you run a London agency which suffers from the perception that it is a satellite operation under the control of its American parent.

So you run a London agency which suffers from the perception that

it is a satellite operation under the control of its American


Your new-media reputation, in particular, has struggled to break out of

this stereotype. What do you do about it?

Hiring an American to run the new-media department wouldn’t be top of

most people’s lists. So why has Leo Burnett gone down this route?

Because Bant Breen isn’t your stereotypical American. The son of a

travelling University professor - who named his son after his own

grandfather, a self-made American who made a fortune raising bantam

roosters - the boy Breen followed his father from one college to the

next across the US, and also made it to Berlin and Oxford. He caught the

academic bug, studying history at university in North Carolina, but

managed to spend a year of his studies in Italy, before landing a

scholarship to do a two-year MA at Trinity College, Cambridge.

He then spent a further two years working in the UK before moving to

Hong Kong, from where he has returned after a 12-month spell.

’He’s one of the nicest, most humourous Americans you’ll ever meet,’

says one business colleague. ’He actually understands irony.’ The

speaker is Keld van Schreven, the creative director of Hard Reality, the

new-media production company with which Breen has worked on more than

one occasion.

The pair met when Breen was in the second year of the prestigious,

three-year WPP Fellowship - which he began shortly after leaving


After spending the first year with WPP’s design company, Sampson

Tyrrell, Breen had moved to the Network (now MindShare). In some

people’s eyes, he may have been a graduate trainee, but in the small

digital team of three to which he was assigned, there was no place for a

rookie. ’I was thrown in head first,’ says Breen, who worked on Ford,

Huggies, American Express, Guinness and a major, integrated

communications project for Unilever in his time at the Network, as well

as the Network’s own acclaimed site, Green Blob, and the award-winning

CampaignLive. Hard Reality produced the last two.

Van Schreven adds: ’He rolled up his sleeves when others went off to

lunch. He stayed late. He’s a perfectionist.’

Which was music to the ears of Burnetts chief executive, Nick Brien, who

was having difficulty finding the right digital brain for his


’I’d searched extensively in the UK for someone with a broader strategic

understanding of digital. Not just someone who could build a


He was a powerful candidate,’ Brien says.

Breen had completed his final year of the Fellowship in Hong Kong and

was offered the job of running MindShare’s interactive division in

South-east Asia. But he wanted to return to London.

’Burnetts is at a point where a lot of exciting change is happening,’

declares Breen. ’There’s a real desire to be a winning company.’

Of course, it isn’t just a desire. In the past month, Burnetts has

picked up two big pieces of business: the pounds 170 million Procter &

Gamble UK media centralisation and the pounds 60 million global branding

task for Heinz tomato ketchup. Breen worked on both pitches.

Not a bad start. And not a bad time to know Breen - which is where van

Schreven enters the story again. Hard Reality worked with Burnetts on

the Heinz pitch. Expect future collaborations.

But it wasn’t just Breen’s WPP experience that convinced Brien he was

the right man. Ever the self-starter - he set up his own agency when he

was 16 - Breen founded a film and television society in Cambridge and

became involved with Cambridge Cable’s pioneering interactive TV


Breen’s brief at Burnetts is a broad one. Working with Brien, he will

develop digital communications as a department in its own right,

offering ’the best strategic advice as well as the best execution’. But

he will also have an internal role - to make sure the agency, in all its

parts, makes the most of interactive opportunities.

His focus won’t just be in London. When we speak he has only been in the

job 12 days, but has already been over to the Burnetts HQ in the US to

discuss global strategy.

It will be the first of many such trips - and he is by no means unhappy

at the prospect.

For all his wanderings, Breen has not forgotten his place of birth -

Chicago, which also happens to be the headquarters of the Leo Burnett

company. Burnetts was the first agency Breen came across when he

interned at a law firm in the windy city.

Less an American than a mid-Atlantic drifter, Breen is at his happiest

flitting between Britain and the US. ’My personality is floating in the

Atlantic somewhere. This is a nice fit.’


1998: Leo Burnett, digital communications director

1995: WPP, fellowship involving one year as a brand consultant at

Sampson Tyrrell, one year as digital communications consultant at the

Network and a final year working across several disciplines at Ogilvy &

Mather in Hong Kong

1993: Trinity College, Cambridge, MA in History


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