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The Work That Made Me: Brian Swords

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TBWA\NEBOKO's chief client officer on the influence of John West, why snickers makes him jealous and working with McDonald's on the Big Mac's 50th anniversary

The Work That Made Me: Brian Swords

Brian has over 20 years of experience with international clients and agency operations.

His advertising career started in Dublin in an agency where he was one of the main partners. That agency was swiftly bought by TBWA in 2002. Since then he’s been managing director of TBWA\Dublin, TBWA\Shanghai and TBWA\London. 

As of September 2022, he was appointed chief client officer at TBWA\NEBOKO in Amsterdam. In his new position, Brian will be responsible for building out the agency’s service offering to support profitable growth for its international business, as well as growing key accounts and supporting new business development. In addition he will also serve on the agency’s board.

As one of the most experienced, client-focused, and creative-driven brand leaders in the industry, Swords is currently globally responsible for all the work TBWA creates for McDonald’s and Philips as global client leader, something that he will continue to do alongside his new role.


The ad/music video from my childhood that stays with me…

The first single I ever bought was 'Vienna', by Ultravox. It was a stunningly different sound (and video) from anything else out at the time. I recall it stopping me in my tracks and I still love the song. 


The ad/music video/game/web platform that made me want to get into the industry…

The John West ad, where one of their employees fights a bear for its latest catch. I thought it was so brave to make such an entertaining and funny commercial for tinned fish. Plus, the line ‘John West endure the worst, to bring you the best’ makes it one of those ideas that can run and run. 


The creative work that I keep revisiting…

I’m Irish so I’m always going to choose a Guinness ad. I love Guinness surfer. I think it’s one of the greatest ads ever made. The cleverness to turn a perceived weakness (you have to wait for the pint to settle) into a strength was genius. ‘Good things come to those who wait’. Also, the casting, art direction and editing is stunning. It was also a real pleasure to get to work with Peter Souter, who was the CCO of the AMV when this work was made. 


My first professional project…

I was working as an intern at an agency in Dublin. They had a bank client that no one really wanted to work on. I got sent off one day by the creative director to sell an ad for a savings product. Predictably it had a picture of a baby in it. I really had no idea what I was doing nor how to sell work, but fortunately for me they seemed to like it. 😉


The piece of work that made me so angry that I vowed to never make anything like *that*…

The answer to this one is radio advertising. Pick any ad on any station. The ad breaks of most radio stations are jam packed with shouty crap ads, with a rubbish jingle. Given all the other changes in our industry I cannot understand why this has not evolved over the years, or why agencies and clients don’t see it as an opportunity for creativity. 


The piece of work that still makes me jealous…

Snickers. You’re not yourself when you’re hungry. It’s a brilliant creative platform idea that birthed so many wonderfully funny executions.


The creative project that changed my career…

After our Dublin agency was sold to TBWA in 2002, I got the opportunity to work on my first global brand. The product was Jameson Irish whiskey, which was a small challenger brand in the world of Scotch. I worked on Jameson for many years and played a part in laying the foundations of what is now one the world’s most successful whiskey brands. We still have the account at TBWA after almost 20 years of working together, which I’m very proud of.


The work that I’m proudest of…

I’ve been the global lead on the McDonald’s brand for TBWA over the past six years. My job is to elevate the standard of creative effectiveness for this brand across all of our markets. The work TBWA has done, has helped McDonald’s become a top three brand in terms of effectiveness globally. I also got to champion fun projects like this work for the 50th anniversary of the Big Mac


I was involved in this and it makes me cringe…

There is a lot to choose from here. So much of what we do in this industry is standard work. It’s important to realise this. Not every project is a creative gem, but nearly every project has the potential to be a creative gem. It’s a matter of having the eye, and the will, to make it happen when you can.


The recent project I was involved in that excited me the most…

I was part of the Omnicom team that won the Philips pitch last year, out of Amsterdam. The potential of this brand really excites me. Philips has done an extraordinary transformation into a health tech brand. It’s a brand with so many amazing stories and achievements. Our job is to tell those stories with beauty and charm. I’m very enthused about the prospect of the work we’re doing together. 

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TBWA\NEBOKO, Wed, 21 Sep 2022 08:13:16 GMT