The head of creative technology at Publicis APAC & MEA on how a role in engineering perfectly prepared him for the creative world
Laurent Thevenet describes himself as a ‘creative coder’ based in Singapore and, thanks to a career that began in engineering but ended up in the creative sector, he’s been able to make the most of these hard skills in some big projects. Now at Publicis Groupe, Laurent began work in his native France before joining BBDO and then R/GA in Singapore.
In his current role as Publicis Groupe’s head of creative technology, he works across APAC and MEA – two regions where he believes some of the best creative technologists on the planet are emerging. LBB’s Natasha Patel caught up with Laurent to hear more.
LBB> You’re currently head of creative technology at Publicis Groupe APAC & MEA, talk us through what your role involves.
Laurent> I joined Publicis Groupe in October last year and my role is to lead creative technology for the APAC and MEA regions. Specifically, I look at bridging creative and tech across 60+ agencies including Saatchi, Leo Burnett, Publicis Worldwide, Digitas, MSL, Prodigious, Sapient, Epsilon and Publicis Media. My role is really about improving the digital craft and thinking of the work. I come from an engineering background, but I worked at BBDO and R/GA in Singapore for several years.
LBB> What does creative technology mean to you?
Laurent> Creative technology is the ability to understand and be close to how technology works. Not just to be aware, but actually to be a practitioner. I would say there are many types of creative technologists but I personally like to use technology to explore new ways to deliver visual outputs.
I am a big fan of AI and machine learning at the moment. I have spent way too much money in the cloud to run complex AI algorithms. Of course, like everyone else, I am also playing with everything blockchain, but I would never dive into anything without making sure it makes sense or that it’s a good experience in the first place.
To me, creative technology is about being able to collaborate with machines to solve real-world problems and business problems. I try to apply this both on the marketing side and design side of the spectrum. It could be about designing an amazing experience with new UX paradigms, or it could be about creating a customised entertainment piece at scale for a marketing client in partnerships with the biggest consumer platforms out there.
LBB> You mentioned that you’re originally an engineer, tell us about your path to creativity.
Laurent> I spent the first 10 years of my career in France as an engineer running startups. I had an opportunity to come to Singapore in 2008 and when I arrived, I realised that I was more than an engineer and became a creative technologist.
In 2008, ‘creative technology’ was an emerging career, but my abilities started to become so important for brands and I had an opportunity to really take on that role when I joined BBDO Singapore in 2012. Before that, I had my own shop in Singapore with a small studio where I learned things like typography and design. So, I actually made myself a well-rounded creative technologist by just learning the craft.
LBB> Working across two large regions in the creative tech fields must be very interesting. How have your experiences been across APAC and MEA – and are there any key differences between the two?
Laurent> When I started in this field, Singapore was a bit conservative and a very traditional market. So, there was no real use of this hybrid talent. I spent a lot of time working in markets like China and India because these markets leapfrog and jump to the next big thing. The UAE and Saudi Arabia are now at a similar stage, throwing a lot of money into gargantuan projects. We see creative technology being needed there as a way to properly envision the future.
I would not say creative technology is the only skill needed for the most futuristic of our projects, but it's one of many you see - we also have many 3D artists and 3D modellers at Publicis Groupe, as a lot of experiences being designed and built right now are either immersive or sitting in 3D universes. User experience is core to everything now, so our UX design capabilities are growing. A lot of APAC marketing initiatives are driven from Singapore, so educating the next generation of students about these new skills is key.
Interestingly, and from experience, I think some of the best creative technologists on the planet are coming from countries like China, India, and Japan. Indonesia and the Middle East are also creating a new generation of talent.
LBB> Do you have any favourite campaigns that use creative technology well that you’ve worked on?
Laurent> I did a side project recently using Machine Learning to generate futuristic skylines that don’t exist. It took me about two years to get the dataset right to get to results that are starting to look amazing.
The second one is something my team and I did in China for Nike, called ‘Nike Rise Academy’. The idea was to connect basketball courts to WeChat and the Nike+ ecosystem. We installed industrial cameras and computers to track activity during the coaching sessions that Nike regularly organises on the courts Nike owns in Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou. It was above all a great experience, simple to use and well-connected to the way people in China use the internet.
LBB> Working across the Publicis Groupe must be a real experience, what are the biggest challenges for you?
Laurent> I guess the sheer size and scale of the Groupe means there are already a lot of incredibly creative and technology talents that can work on the most advanced projects. We are working hard on bringing everyone together, which is already happening progressively. We are also actively leading Power of One briefs, which means bringing the best creative minds and talent together from different agency brands.
LBB> Finally, where do you see the creative technology field going in the future?
Laurent> I believe everyone will end up being creative hybrids. It’s quite fascinating but the most junior of our talents are already like that and can usually do more than one thing very well. I believe creative technology or hybrid skills will be the norm within the next 10 years. Our junior talent growing to senior positions will end up having so many abilities - they will all be creative technologists of sorts and will probably partner with machines or artificial intelligence without even thinking about how complex they can be to work with.