The World: World leaders - Making the work a priority is the way to meet client needs

In the latest in Campaign's series on adland's global chiefs, Andrew Robertson of BBDO says clients want more effective work and a simpler way of getting it.

If you are hoping for a new articulation of the ways in which new media technologies are empowering the consumer and forcing a revolution in our industry, you're in the wrong column. I'd switch to Jeremy Bullmore for some insightful wit, or Private View if Gerry Moira's doing it. The aforementioned changes are a) real, b) important and c) written about so much as to make further discourse painfully redundant. Instead, I'm going to focus on the needs of clients and the ways we can evolve, as agencies, to meet them.

Over the past few months, I have talked to clients from Berlin to Beijing, Sao Paulo to Singapore, New York to New Delhi, and many places in between. I have talked to the clients of our agency in Tokyo - where 400 people look after 120 of them, and in Detroit, where the same number of people look after one. Clients that are in automotive and banking, consumer goods, retail and telecommunications. Their needs are clear: more effective work, and a simplified way to get it. The former isn't new. The latter has become more pressing as the numbers of things they could do has made it harder to figure out what they should do, and the sheer complexity of managing all those specialities - in some cases across borders - becomes exhausting. This does not create the case for generalists, and certainly not for generals. You need brilliant specialists to make the work work better. It would be better if it didn't make so much work for the clients.

How? Start with an obsessive focus on behaviour. Behaviour, or rather changing or reinforcing it, is the only legitimate goal for marketing communications. It is also, by far, the richest source of real insight. As such, all planning, whether of message or medium, content or context, account or communication, should be driven by it, ideally in a single iterative process, not two sequential or, worse, parallel ones.

Then you need the campaign idea. One so simple and so powerful that it can be defined in a text message. If it can't be, you probably haven't got one. This idea then drives all executions, across all forms and, where appropriate, borders. Every agency has its "proprietary" way of doing this - or should have - and we are no exception. The WorkOut, a three-day process used for the first time in the UK to develop "try something new today" for Sainsbury's, definitely works.

Once you have the idea, you need the most brilliant specialists to "craft the snot out of it" in their particular media and, again, if appropriate, their countries. Nobody should underestimate the importance of this. Consumers don't see strategy statements or big ideas. They choose to engage - or not - with executions. Changing behaviour depends on brilliant execution.

Process is essential. You need a few simple, universally adopted processes that allow your people to focus their energy on solving the problem, not on agreeing how to. Every agency should have these, but none should be defined by them. They provide a framework for getting the work done, but it is the work, and the work alone, which should define the agency. And the work depends on the people.

The more diverse the better. I am convinced that a bunch of people with different perspectives - from different disciplines, genders, cultures, countries and so on - will always out-think, outcreate and outexecute people who are cut from the same cloth, however beautiful the cloth. Changing your perspective is a proven technique for problem-solving. Making it work, though, involves more than sticking a bunch of people in a room and telling them to "collaborate".

In addition to a clear and common focus (the work) and a universally adopted process, there are two further ingredients. First, while you want diverse backgrounds, interests and perspectives, you need a common, strong culture; a shared understanding of what's important and how to behave.

When starting an agency, it's easy. The culture is defined by the principals. If you want to make it work in 287 offices, you need defined principles. We have ten - my favourites are "radiators, not drains" and "healthy paranoia". They work for BBDO. They probably wouldn't for any other network and that's the way it should be.

Second, you need a different kind of leadership - people who can focus groups of individuals, with diverse backgrounds and interests, on a common purpose: who encourage, coach and coax more than they corral or control. Leaders, not directors. And certainly not generals.

I was talking to my son's brilliant headmaster recently, who told me that there is mounting evidence that effective learning these days has less to do with the "sage on the stage" and more with the "guide on the side". Perhaps the same is true in our business. Certainly, we need to rethink the notion of training - apprenticeships should be inverted. Those of us who have been in the business for 25 years have as much to learn from 25-year-olds coming into it as they do from us.

We have to make speed our friend. I remember sitting with David Abbott in his office one morning after he had shown me 19 brilliant press ads he'd written overnight for a Volvo International presentation. My jaw was hanging on my chest in awe. "David Ogilvy once said 'there isn't an advertising problem in the world that can't be solved in two days'," he said, before adding, with a grin, "but don't tell anybody."

That's how we can meet client needs for more effective work and a simpler process for getting it. That's how we can have a brilliant future in the business. And that's why I am glad I'm in it.

- Andrew Robertson is the president and chief executive of BBDO Worldwide.


- Is the world becoming more uniform in its approach to advertising?

Consumers have certainly always approached it the same way everywhere. Is it interesting? Useful? Enjoyable? Exciting? Worth my time?

- Is there a long-term future for the big network with hundreds of offices? And why (not)?

Metcalfe's Law states that the value of a network increases according to the number of members. Robertson's Law states that it increases exponentially according to the quality of its members.

Economies of scale can be overstated. Economies of skill are underestimated, as are those of experience. A good network has a great future. If you are smart enough to be able to leverage the skill and experience of a big, diverse talent base, you should be able to beat anyone at anything.

- What are your three biggest challenges over the next three years?

The work. The work. The work.

- What advice would you give to someone who aspires to a job like yours?

Pick the right boss. Find one who will give you the 50-50 ball, cover your back when you screw up and push you to the front when you don't.

And never stop learning. From everybody. If you think you know it all, you will be one.