Campaign Promotion: The Ideas People On The Record

BBH's Kevin Brown talks to Campaign in this Ideas People interview for The Economist. His principle? An unshakable belief in the power of ideas to make the leap from logic to magic.

Throughout his 25-year career in media, Kevin Brown has fought for the discipline to be a central part of his agencies' strategic and creative ensemble, not the dreaded "five minutes at the end".

But those debates have not prevented him from thinking about generating big ideas that have the power to transform businesses and achieve big, realistic goals for clients.

Brown's career took him from a client role at Nestle, to media executive at BMP, media manager at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, founding partner of BBH's media arm Motive, strategic development director of Starcom Motive, founder of Soul and, once again, BBH.

After selling Soul to Nitro in 2005, Brown rejoined BBH to launch the then new discipline of engagement planning, requiring him to put straightforward media channel thinking up front in the development of strategy and ideas. Here's how he brings that thinking to life and inspires the people around him at BBH, one of the world's most admired advertising cultures.

Tell us about your inspiration.

I'm inspired by simplicity. I get inspiration from the people who help keep life that way: my family, my friends and the very talented people I have been (and am still) lucky to work with. Ideas make life more interesting and keep it simple.

- How do you make your working environment work for you?

When I'm in "doing mode", I thrive in mess. When I'm trying to crack a problem or have an enlightened idea, I need a quiet space, uncluttered and isolated, or I go for a walk around the block.

- How do you turn a good idea into a great one?

There is no such thing as a good idea ... only great ones are ideas. You let the problem you're trying to solve haunt you every minute of every day and night. If you keep pushing, eventually the floodgates open and the beauty of its simplicity begins to liberate you.

- How do you unstick an idea when it's stuck?

Read the brief again and again. The answer often lies in the problem. Then keep talking about it. To as many people as you can get to listen. I like to think I talk less and listen more. I'm always fascinated by difference of opinion. It can be something a work colleague says, or your mates, your mum, your kids. I like thinking based on down-to-earth reality. Common sense. A guru I know once pointed out that the problem with common sense is that it's not very common. Great ideas are ideas that live in the real world.

- Give us a real example of how you came up with a good idea.

I think it would be arrogant to say any ideas I've had in my career are "MY" ideas. John Bartle described planning as "being generous with your ideas". Success has many fathers. So I come up with ideas by being generous and by living on gut instinct as a guiding principle. In my career so far, it's helped create some great campaigns, and led to inventing a brand, and setting up a business.

- Great ideas are often so risky or difficult that frequently they are hacked to pieces. What's your advice for nurturing a gem and selling it to a client?

I can only sell what I believe in. I think clients can smell belief. If you believe in it, you are like a dog with a bone. And that passion is infectious. I think our job as planners is to clearly articulate the magnitude of an idea. How it differentiates. How it adds value. How it's magical. How it's big. A great client used to say to me: "Don't come near my door unless you've got a big idea." His belief was that only big changes to big things create any value. He's right. Small changes to big things are a waste of time.

- What are your creative trade secrets?

Everything can be made better.

- Tell us about a turning point in your career.

It was the end of the 90s. I had spent the first ten years of my career working for two great creative agencies - BMP and BBH. They were pioneers that realised the media discipline was a creative one first and foremost. The separation of media from creative agencies suffocated that opportunity in the late 90s and was the catalyst for me to set up an independent agency called Soul - probably ahead of its time. The industry is now much healthier across the agency world - and media as a creative discipline is beginning to be liberated in many forms and in many places.

- Name the most inspiring person in your working life.

At the moment, it's a black sheep and it lives in many of the great people I work with now.

- You have 24 hours away from professional responsibilities and a brief to re-energise yourself. What will you do?

Playing music is my therapy. We have a cottage in the New Forest where I keep my collection of musical instruments - pianos, guitars, violins, drums, accordions, penny whistles ... and I can lose myself for hours.

- What motivates you?

People who take what they do seriously but not themselves. Those who want to change things for the better.

- What idea should we be taking more seriously?

The power of creativity. It's the magical ingredient. It's the leap from logic. It's hard to do well. I saw an interesting chart the other day from an econometrician showing "creativity" is ten times more likely to create an impact than any other variable in the marketing mix. Sounds logical to me.


The Ideas People is drawn from major research conducted by The Economist in 2007. It's built on essential truths about the world we live in and The Economist's readership. One is that ideas, not products, are the currency of the modern economy. Another is that Ideas People are the stars of the 21st century. They produce and implement new thinking, they influence others, they have stamina. They are turned on by new ideas and opportunities. Are you an Ideas Person? Go to the quiz at www.theideaspeople.economist.com and find out for yourself.

Kevin Brown is a ... pioneer catalyst builder.