Five Minutes with ….
Olivier Altmann, Chief Creative Officer, Publicis Worldwide
How did you get in to the advertising business?
I initially wanted to be a vet or a film director. My studies as a future veterinarian lasted 3 months and after writing one short scenario I quickly discovered how tough it was to make a living as a director.
In the meantime I had to write an essay on advertising and I fell in love with the discipline. I continued my studies at communication school and won the internal campaign contest twice.
Do you ever miss the days of working at your own start up agency and running a single office?
Yes and No. It was a different time. I was a different person. When I miss those days I try to remember why I left. I believe that in our business you always have to find the right balance between freedom and power. I now spend most of my time running the Paris Flagship office, with a team of people that worked with me in the past; so I still feel in command and not disconnected. Of course, this ship is a bit bigger than the previous one...
Tell us a bit about the role of a Worldwide Chief Creative Officer and how you manage to keep output so high?
I don't believe that a single man with a magic wand can change a network of 218 offices, in 81 countries, with 9,000 employees alone… especially in a network that celebrated it’s 86th year in 2011.
I believe in collaboration and inspiration, which means leading by example and making sure that everybody is on board with the same goal. That is why we have recently changed our organisation to a board of four creative leaders with global reputations: Craig Davis of Publicis Mojo Australia/NZ, Kevin Roddy, Publicis & Hal Riney San Francisco and Erik Vervroegen, International Creative Director of Publicis Worldwide.
How often do you get the global team of creative directors together and how important is it to do so?
We try to physically meet at least twice a year; December to judge all of the work created throughout the year and at Cannes to evaluate our annual performance. In addition, we have an online review every three months, where each country submits at least three pieces of their best work from the previous quarter to be judged by the Creative Board. This gives us a permanent roadmap of our strengths and weaknesses as a network. We know which offices are stronger and which could do better Nothing can replace a real meeting; to feel the heat, understand the needs, and to motivate people. Watching the work all together is the best way to keep pressure and build a dynamic.
How much importance do you put on your network winning awards?
It's very important, as it is the way to evaluate our creative product against our competitors. So we take it very seriously. We are very aware that there are specific types of competition. You have to know the rules, what kind of work to enter and which category. We are trying to deliver our best work for our biggest clients, helping them to build their brands through creativity. So even if we are really happy to win awards for some small radio station, short film festival or charity cause, we are even happier when it's for a brand that becomes globally famous thanks to us. This year we were successful for Renault Espace with ‘360’ and PMU from Publicis Conseil, ‘The Mégane Experiment’ from Publicis Group UK, P&G’s ‘Charmin’ from Publicis NYC and ‘Burn’ for Coca-Cola from Publicis Mojo, Sydney.
What is your personal view on the link between great creativity and effectiveness?
I think this debate should be over. Of course, if you spend a fortune on advertising you will be seen or heard. But if you want to be loved, you had better have something smart and nice to say. That's when creativity makes the difference. A recent study in France showed that more and more people here are becoming publiphobic (advertising phobic). People are inundated with adverts in every medium and most of them are bad. It is impossible to go on the web without having pop-ups or spam everywhere. When advertising is entertaining and clever the same people will pass it on. So effectiveness is really about the content… not just the data.
Have you had to employ more staff to adapt to the new technologies and ways of thinking?
All of these "channels” and “social media platforms" are just expanding our playground. We now have the ability to spread our ideas in many fields; mobile, events, design… the product itself. It's a golden age for advertising. With the increase in mediums we have more responsibility and as such, we need to learn and adapt quickly to make sure that we stay at the top of our game. I'm very confident about the future. We are trained to be conceptual, to turn big problems into simple ideas. For me, this will remain the reason why our clients choose us. Technology is a tool to service ideas, not the other way around. Of course, it's a bit challenging, but when we pitch we always need to present ideas first and then demonstrate how the idea works on different channels. We have recently hired a lot of new people with digital backgrounds; mutually sharing experience with our ‘traditional’ creative. As a result, we now work in a very collaborative way. We are also lucky at Publicis that our holding company has bought some of the best and biggest players in this area - Digitas, Razorfish, Rosetta. It means we have tremendous resources and experience to work with, when needed.
A hot trend amongst agencies these days is to develop their own brands and businesses. Is this something that happens within the group and do you think it works?
Increasingly we have the ability to influence not only the communication of some of our clients, but also their marketing and sometimes, their core business. This allows some agencies the opportunity to launch all kinds of new business ventures with a client partnership, or on their own. For me, the best example of this so far is R/GA with Apple and Nike+. I guess to succeed you need to dedicate a group of people totally to one project, without knowing if it will fail or succeed. It's a luxury that not many agencies can afford at the moment. Nevertheless, Publicis France has done something interesting; it launched a blog portal call BLOGBANG (hyperlink blogbang.com). This was started by two of our planners and now they're making money from it… because it’s new but mostly because it is relevant.
We have to be cautious not to launch new brands or businesses just to make the agency look cool. Otherwise it's just a temporary PR stunt.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing advertising industries today?
To continue delivering good work when the financial pressure from clients restricts a trusting and respectful relationship.
What do you see in the future for the large agency networks?
I see a change in the way networks will operate. Less administration at the top, fewer offices around the world and with several large creative hubs, running global clients for an entire region.
The stock market is putting pressure on clients. The clients are putting pressure on agencies. This is a trend of concentration that will keep revolving in order to maintain financial results. Some places around the world will be dedicated to producing technology. We already see this with India and China being responsible for most digital back office’s.
I think there will always be a place for small and very creative agencies with talented people at the top. The difficult place will be in the middle, stuck between big networks that perform well and small boutiques with specific skills. The average, medium sized agency/network, in charge of coordination will not be such an easy place to work within.
Do you still enjoy the business that is advertising?
I mostly enjoy advertising when it means working with creative’s and clients in order to find great ideas. I fell in love with advertising at school when I was 16 years old and it's been the same way for 30 years now.