New BBH CCO Ale Gama on adland mergers, Brazil’s World Cup and the awards industry

Ale GamaAlexandre Gama (above) is the new CCO of BBH (succeeding Sir John Hegarty) following the sale of his Neogama agency in Brazil to Publicis Groupe. Here he talks exclusively about the role of BBH after the Omnicom/Publics merger, the challenges facing his native Brazil as it prepares to host the World Cup and the Olympics and the agency’s attitude to the ever-growing advertising awards circus.


1/Now that BBH/Neogama is wholly owned by Publicis Groupe (about to be part of Omnicom/Publicis) do you see the agency changing in any significant way?

It’s fair to say that no change in the agency leadership and operation has happened so far that has not been planned and made by ourselves. There’s no impositions or interferences from the Group side, only support. Obviously, in any selling process, there’s always a new status, but the only thing that matters to the leadership team is to make this new moment a change for the better.

We want to remain the black sheep, but a more powerful and contemporary version of the black sheep we are. So, BBH and Neogama will only face a revolution, if it’s one without the “r”.

2/Omnicom/Publicis will have a large number of ad agencies even outside the biggest like BBDO, DDB, Leo Burnett etc. Do you think there will be mergers? What would your response be if you were asked to take over another agency or network?

I have no idea of what the holding company’s plans are and it wouldn’t be for me to comment if I were aware of them. All I know is that when you take a look at the list of brand agencies and companies within the group, it’s a five star list. From BBH to all the others, it’s an amazing brand and business asset list with amazing talent and high quality human resource potential. A dream team of companies and people, really.

3/BBH has always been about being the best, not necessarily the biggest – even though both BBH and Neogama are big agencies in their home markets. Do you think the agency needs to be bigger globally?

The BBH network is a one of a kind model. It has never been about one office in each country as in the case of the other networks. Firstly due to obsessive quality control reasons, considering that it is very unlikely for anyone to achieve a high quality creative/service level throughout an entire network of – let’s say – 60 offices around the world.

But we always consider taking the outstanding black sheep quality to marketplaces where it can make a difference for brands. What engages our attention now is the wide open-road opportunity of fulfilling the total business potential that the BBH brand projects. There are exciting possibilities abroad for a company as strategically and creatively differentiated like BBH and it would be a waste of business potential and a lack of good creative ambition not to aim for that.

Anyway, it’s not a matter of size, but more a matter of quality, reach and diversification so we can have more of the black sheep creative expression translated into great work globally.

4/Brazil is obviously a core market for you and will be the focus of world attention with the World Cup and Olympics on the way. Is the country adequately prepared for this? Do you have any fears or are you optimistic about the next few years?

This is a World Cup taking place in an emerging, developing country; one that has been experiencing huge changes towards progress in the last few years. So “adequately” in this case is not an adequate word to qualify “prepared”, I’m afraid. There are some infrastructure issues to be resolved related to the World Cup needs specifically, as well as other infrastructure issues not related to that directly but that can influence the World Cup experience.

It’s important to level the expectations considering that not all of these issues are perhaps going to be resolved for the World Cup and some not even after it.

On the other hand, football is a religious experience in Brazil and everybody lives this passion very intensely, so I hope for the best, imagining that the positive experience will be much bigger than any problem.

In realistic terms, Brazil is not the ‘Christ The Redeemer’ statue taking off as a rocket on the cover of The Economist in 2009, neither is it the same symbol going down on the magazine cover in 2013. Truth is in a bouncing middle.

On the communication and advertising industry side however, it’s clear that it’s going to be a great opportunity for creativity, brands and business. These first six months of the year are full of promise for those directly involved with the event and also to those taking advantage of the collateral possibilities generated by it.

Considering all of this, the World Cup in Brazil won’t probably be perfect but it will surely be peerless.

5/Creative awards seem to be becoming more and more important to the big agency networks and their holding companies, with management incentivised to win them. What’s your view of awards? Do you think they have moved away from being a celebration of excellence to becoming another new business tool?

During all the time I owned Neogama, our position was to enter work in only three creative award shows: Cannes, D&AD and One Show. Even so, we were very selective in our entries. There are agencies however that make creative awards their main brand or PR strategy, putting a lot of money behind it. I don’t criticise that as I don’t criticise any given strategy for positioning or building a brand in any business category. If it works and has the right cost/benefit correlation, so be it. I’m very pragmatic about this kind of thing and I respect any company in this business aiming to be creatively better.

In the case of BBH, creativity is a personality trait, a defining character and a cultural factor. It’s not a department or area inside the agency, but a glue that brings and holds all the operational areas together. It’s natural and true to BBH to be a creative company and it’s been like that right from its start. So, the use of creative awards to position the agency or reaffirm that personality trait is simply not what we do or what motivates us.

But don’t get me wrong: there’s huge professional hunger and pride for BBH in winning the really relevant creative awards in our industry. But we want to do it and avoid the awards ‘industry’ at the same time.

This question actually raises one important point that I’ve been talking about inside and outside the agency regarding reputation. The way I see it there’s a direct correlation in this business between reputation and relevance. And since the meaning of relevance in the ad world has been changing and will keep changing, the only way to maintain a reputation, for those who have it, is to start every year working afresh.

In other words, the best way of caring for the reputation is focusing on relevance because in the end it’s the ability to keep yourself relevant over the course of time that will determine a consistent kind of success.

So, can the creative awards strategy do the job of building an agency reputation nowadays? Maybe it can. Is it enough to guarantee consistent relevance? I don’t think so.

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