As the newly appointed managing partner at the Aussie agency settles into his role he shares his creative journey and just what makes Australian creativity so unique
As the recently appointed managing partner for Samsung at CHE Proximity, Jonny Berger is bringing a lot to the table. He’s held senior management roles at Clemenger BBDO, M&C Saatchi Sydney and Droga5 Sydney. But, his career wasn’t always headed this way, he grew up in London and began his working life at travel agent Thompson (now TUI) working in editorial and marketing.
As he settles down into his new role at CHE, LBB’s Natasha Patel picks Jonny’s brains about all things Australian creativity, what he believes is driving ideas and what he’s bringing to the table.
LBB> Tell me about your childhood, you grew up and studied in the UK am I right in thinking? What was it like and was there any indication that you'd be a creative?
Jonny> I’m a proud North Londoner, who grew up in a Jewish family of immigrant descent. Fortunately, I was allowed lots of freedom in my youth to make my own mistakes and forge my own path. London during the ‘90s was a phenomenal place to be - so vibrant and in the midst of a creative and musical renaissance. That era of Cool Britannia had multicultural people of all different backgrounds coming together with a renewed sense of optimism, creativity, and free spirit.
LBB> I see your first job was with TUI, what was this like and how did it set you up for a career in creativity?
Jonny> My first job was at the UK subsidiary of TUI, called Thompson - it was a client-side gig. Starting in their editorial and then marketing team taught me a lot about how a large organisation works, how a collegiate ‘vibe’ can encourage creativity and I was inspired by the teams from the ‘Agency’ who would come in with their cool ideas and fancy footwear.
LBB> People often comment on the similarities between the UK and Australia, but for you having spent time in both, what would you say these are?
Jonny> Language is the most obvious - we’re fortunate that as English speakers we can hop between the UK, US and Australia. We also share a great love for beer and frivolity - both of which are pastimes I enjoy.
LBB> What have been standout moments in your career so far?
Jonny> It’s mostly been about the people I’ve been fortunate to work with and meet on the journey. From the humblest ‘chief hydration officer’ (big up Lloyd) to George in dispatch (happy retirement sir), and emerging talent across departments (like the phenomenal Brigitte Bayard), to the brilliant specialists, client partners, creative and business legends I’ve worked for, competed with or congratulated at award shows - we’re in a people business and I thrive on that. More recently, turning around the creative form of the CUB business with Lil Sor was a long-term ambition of mine and I’m very proud of our team and loyal client (thank you Brian Phan) for achieving it.
LBB> Over the course of your career in Australia, how would you say the advertising landscape has changed? And also, how much have consumers changed?
Jonny> Australia is a unique market in the sense that the talent and ambition is clearly there creatively, just look at Donation Dollar, SloWays, SunCorp House, Optus 5G, She’ll Be Right, Myer Xmas and VB Solar Exchange as recent examples of stunning, locally built work. At the same time, much of the populace are very conservative and there is a crisis of confidence internally at most clients and agencies meaning the work is often safe and pedestrian. Now there is so much going on beyond simply ‘the idea’, that it’s here that creative and technical minds are finding places not only to play but also to grow business.
LBB> You've just started your new role at CHE Proximity, what are you bringing along to this role? And what have the past two months been like?
Jonny> I’d like to think I’m bringing humility, experience, and a passion to tackle challenges with a creative (and sometimes) rebellious spirit, while endeavouring to put people first. Now that I've written it, it doesn’t sound very humble. The last two months have been challenging, thought-provoking, productive, maddening, joyful and mostly happy. It’s more important you ask the same question of my team.
LBB> As a part of the senior management team both here and at Clemenger, have you had to pivot to ensure that work still happened during the pandemic and lockdowns?
Jonny> I’d say the Clemenger Group quickly pivoted during lockdown, with many of the agencies becoming closer than ever with their clients, making some of their better recent work and (I hope in the majority of cases) our people feeling supported and cared about. It’s been an important test which highlights presence doesn’t prove productivity. The lasting change should be continuing to get closer to clients and their business problems without having to enforce five days back in the office.
LBB> I know you like to deliver big creative solutions that 'leverage systems thinking' - but what does that mean to you?
Jonny> It means what I see as the future of commercial creativity – a big idea and platform thinking that is propelled to the broadest audience possible by sharp strategy, collaborative partnerships, disruptive media tactics and technology.
LBB> Finally, what are your hopes for the future?
Jonny> I hope that the world becomes a better and kinder place again after the shared traumatic experience of Covid, a care that must be especially focused on our more vulnerable communities. I also hope this tough moment inspires another great creative renaissance.