Happiness chief innovation officer and FCB’s global head of innovation on his part in the dot-com boom, the Belgian trade press and his many side projects
The Happiness website describes Kris Hoet as “gatekeeper of all things digital”, which is a pretty neat way of describing his official role as chief innovation officer for the Belgian agency. His other title is global head of innovation for the FCB network, so he’s got plenty to keep himself busy.
But Kris seems to have more hours in his day than us mere mortals. Aside from ‘guarding the digital gate’ 24/7 he also has time to curate the ADC*E Festival programme each year, run a Pinterest page about Ford Mustangs and an Instagram feed about cycling gear with a combined total of 70,000 followers and a weekly inspiration newsletter. And somehow he still has time to go mountain biking with his family.
LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Kris.
LBB> Where did you grow up and what kind of kid were you?
Kris> I grew up in the countryside, close to the city of Antwerp (Belgium). I wasn’t the easiest kid I think, but not a troublemaker either. It just took me a really long time before I could sort of settle on the thing I really wanted to do – so I explored a lot of options.
LBB> What do you remember about your early thoughts on advertising? Were you interested from an early age? Or was it something that you learned to love?
Kris> I was interested in it without really knowing what it was. You know - the type of person that would look at communications, ads, and often wonder what they meant or how one got to it. But without realising there was a trade behind it, I really just stumbled into studying marketing and communications and worked the first half of my career client side before really going full into the advertising game.
LBB> Let’s talk about that time client side... (by the way I love that one of your titles was 'internet manager'!). How do you look back on those years now?
Kris> It was amazing. I always felt I was at the right place at the right time. But at the same time also really picking up as much work as possible, trying things out and getting noticed doing so. This landed me a role some 20 years ago to be the internet manager of a major Belgian (European actually) cinema chain. With no background in development, or anything internet related, but a natural feel for technology which helped me understand how we could use it more or better. Something I turned a bit into my specialism I guess. And getting into the internet game in 1998, going through the so-called dot-com boom and everything gave me a front-row seat to an evolution that is now so defining for everything that we do.
LBB> When you flipped to the agency side of the business from Microsoft to Duval Guillaume, what were your motivations? How do you remember that experience?
Kris> I was made redundant at Microsoft, with probably another 8,000 people at the time. An unfortunate evolution at first, but it did made me ask again what I wanted to do and I used the internet to help me figure out. I wrote a blog post about what had happened and shared it on Twitter. The #followfriday hashtag was a bit of a thing back then and since I shared my story on a Friday I created #hirefriday to help promote my search. It’s funny to see that hashtag is still very commonly used when people look for work on Twitter – I can tell you exactly when it started. One of the conversations was with Guillaume Vanderstighelen, one of the two founders of the agency, who picked up on the story. And from one thing came another. Six weeks after leaving Microsoft I started my role at Duval Guillaume.
LBB> What lesson or piece of advice do you wish you'd had earlier in your career?
Kris> Take more risks I guess. While at Microsoft still – so 10 years ago – I had this idea for a startup company to measure online influence. And with a pretty nifty way to do that. I had several talks about funding but never really went all in, not risking the day job. And while I’m really happy with where I ended up I will always remember that idea and especially not going after it 200% as a missed opportunity. So I would be a bit (I’m still a control freak after all) more risk taking after that. I should have known things always end up great if you put your heart and soul into it.
LBB> Why did you decide to get involved with Belgian Cowboys magazine?
Kris> Dutch Cowboys was (and still is) a really popular blog / online magazine in the Netherlands. I got to meet the founder and we started talking about how relatively poor the Belgian version of that was. And as so often happened throughout my career, when I see something I’m convinced can be done better, I really want to have a shot at it myself. The option was there and I took it. It was however really hard to manage as a side project to my day job, however good my intentions were. I did learn a few things about running a professional web publication that made me decide to pass it on to someone else. Those lessons are still very valid to my job today however.
Kris> First of all it was an absolute honour to have been asked to do this, I absolutely loved curating the festival for these two years and look forward to how they can take it forward. The key for me to turn the festival into what it is started with being a lot more specific on the theme. That’s half of the work. Often a conference has a keyword or something but almost never a real theme – a topic, challenge or question it wants to ask out loud and basically discuss on for the day. Then it’s all about finding speakers that can talk to the theme and being severe on yourself. There’s more interesting people I would love to see on a stage but that we didn’t invite because of a weaker link to the topic. And then last but not least speakers need quality in three things: be knowledgeable about the topic, be a good speaker that can give a personal talk and, last but not least, they have to be nice people. I pride myself on the fact that these last two years all speakers would sit in each other’s talks rather than just hop in for their own thing. Great event.
LBB> What's your day-to-day like as chief innovation officer?
Kris> There’s nothing like a typical day in my agenda. First of all I’m both chief innovation officer at Happiness but also global head of innovation for FCB, so these two already define pretty different tasks. And especially for the latter I’ll be travelling mostly to work with our agencies and clients around the world. Anything that relates to dealing with technology and innovation, ranging from inspiration sessions, workshops, project work… so that all makes one week very different to another. Last week I was in Philadelphia to present at a client’s internal marketing event and I’m writing these answers on a flight to Delhi where I’ll be helping on organising for a business opportunity. Never a dull moment.
Kris> I would say it’s typical Happiness. We like to find ways to spread Happiness along the consumer journey – from little contentment to ultimate joy. Using the moment people feel the most frustrated with their current internet speed is an ideal moment to talk about who can do better.
LBB> Which other recent projects are you most proud of?
Kris> The ADC*E Festival curation is something I’m really proud of, I think it is putting the festival on the map again so that’s great. And the things I’m doing with WARPED (a newsletter, with live sessions planned) are pretty exciting to do as well. And then campaigns such as Blind Meters, for instance, is a project I was involved in that I’m really proud of.
LBB> What do you like to do in your spare time? I heard you were into photographing fast cars and that you run an Instagram account with over 40k followers? Any other current obsessions?
Kris> Spare time is there to be filled. I like to be outside, so we often go hiking with the kids and I help organise weekly mountain bike rides on Sunday with a group of friends called the MudMen (obvious reference). And I like to play around with the internet – I need to try out things for myself. I used to run a Mustang (the car) blog that’s turned into a 30k follower base on Pinterest now. I have an Instagram account with a friend that features beautifully designed cycling kits, @bestcyclingkits, which has some 40k followers and taught me a great deal about how the behind the scenes of that platform works. Then there’s my own WARPED newsletter which tries to showcase inspiration from outside our industry and for which I explore what I can do in video. And if I’m not doing any of that I’ll probably be just out driving my ’65 Mustang, nothing like that to free the mind.