A lot has been written, debated and vented on what the successful ad agency of the future is going to need to offer clients and employees. What type of work it is going to need to produce, how it might go about it and what a future agency might look and feel like.
I think I may have been given a sneak peak.
But firstly, what do I think the agency of the future is going to need to be?
Certainly it will need to be able to knock out a number of stellar ad campaigns a year, put together a differentiating strategy, be fully socially savvy, understand consumers’ deepest desires, be tech-deep and be data-analyzing junkies, just as price of entry.
But, I think it’s going to need to be a bigger idea in itself. To have a point of view. To stand for something beyond advertising. To have a purpose, something to be proud of. This is something agencies are reluctant to do. Preferring to hide behind the skirts of clients and proclaim that its sole purpose is to produce “effective creative advertising that drives a client business.”
I also think it’s also going to need to be able attract and retain talent in a talent market that is much much more competitive than ever before. Ad agencies and networks used to compete with each other for talent. Now they’re competing with the likes of Google, Facebook, Uber, Twitter, Instagram, Tesla and another tech 100 brands that we haven’t even heard of yet. The idea of knocking off the next campaign for Wheaties, Toyota or Lysol isn’t going to work with talent that wants to change the world, do amazing things, be part of something bigger. Oh…and with stock options.
How does an ad agency compete with that? Anyway, back to my sneak peak.
To Paris. To an agency called BETC.
BETC started 20 years ago and has built itself into The powerhouse agency of France. Headed by founders Rémi Babinet and Mercedes Erra.
During that time, they’ve gathered an enviable stable of clients like Evian, Air France, Canal+, Danone, Lacoste and Peugeot. They’ve opened offices in London and São Paulo. And built an enviable creative reputation as one of the most awarded agencies in the world.
BETC has always been a different type of agency. Ten years ago they moved to the unfashionable 10th Arrondissement of Paris and renovated a derelict department store. They launched their global Panik parties with guest DJs and established their “Passage du Désir” as a daily rendezvous for the public and artists, hosting a number of fashion shows from the likes of Yohji Yamamoto, Christian Lacroix and Comme des Garçons.
But in 2008 BETC started working on their next big move. A statement of intent that creativity was everything and that they wanted to build a very different type of agency.
I spoke with BETC founder Rémi Babinet: “To create, always to create…” he began with Gallic flourish. “BETC is about creativity. We do what we say. We have a strong reputation in advertising. But we need to offer it in different ways. We need to be more innovative in our creativity.”
Rémi added: “I wanted the next BETC to have the feel of a start-up. To have that urgency and excitement…the energy of 1000 people.”
BETC discovered a potential spot four miles from the center of Paris in the very unfashionable, hard to get to, run-down region of Paris called Pantin. A five-acre site: Les Magasins Généraux.
Once a symbol of an industrial Paris, Les Magasins Généraux were abandoned in 2004 and have been a canvas for international graffiti artists ever since. (A little more about graffiti art later.)
Meffre and Marchand. (Before)
Herve Abbadie. (After)
The local Mayor of Pantin was very determined to develop the area. But in the right way. He didn’t simply want to build another “cup cake and tofu” community. He wanted to maintain the culture of the community; a working class culture, but rooted in craft and creativity. The Mayor wanted a complete renovation on a community scale.
He found an ally in Rémi Babinet.
“Art + Commerce. BETC is the link to both worlds.” Rémi commented.
“Our creativity is not only in advertising…but in art, talent, musicians, photographers, film directors, food, technology.”
BETC renovated the building into a stunning agency headquarters which is now filled with 900 committed and enthused employees. It is also part of a complete revitalisation of the Pantin community which is the new home of the Paris Philharmonic, the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris and the Thaddaeus Ropac art gallery. But it’s not just the arts who are moving there. Major business corporations are heading there: BNP Paribas, Chanel and Hermès to name a few.
Rémi and Mercedes, together with Stéphane Xiberras and Bertille Toledano who make up the BETC Paris management team saw beauty and potential where others saw failure. It took eight years (how many agencies have that amount of forethought). It was a lot to take on, especially for an ad agency, but they somehow managed their way through.
Left to right: Stéphane Xiberras, Rémi Babinet, Bertille Toledano and Mercedes Erra. Photo Vincent Desailly.
In 2017 BETC will be developing and curating cultural programs around tech, innovation, arts, music and architecture
They are building a restaurant and café/concert space, all open to the public. BETC’s POP records, which launched in 2015 in partnership with Polydor (Universal’s Music Label), is launching and signing new artists (a band called Postaal is the first one).
“The new BETC is a large scale experiment,” Rémi added. “We wanted to create a surprising place, that had a social impact, a link with the community, the mayor’s office, be part of the new Paris, a greater Paris…we can help that growth. At BETC, we now have a bigger future.”
Back to the graffiti as promised: what happened to all that international graffiti art that covered the building you may ask? They did the opposite of what New York did with 5 Pointz. They respected all the work they found, even hiring a graffiti curator to create a wonderful digital edition and a coffee table book of the collection.
And how does this affect talent?
Rémi Babinet: “Porsche and other car manufacturers used to think they were in competition with other car companies for talent. They are now in competition with the likes of Google to hire the best people to design the cars of the future. That’s the same for us in advertising. We are in a position to fight for the talent we want and want to hold on to.“
How many agencies around the world are in a position to say that?
So, it will attract the right type of talent. I believe it will also attract the right type of clients (saving a lot of wasted time on pitches and chemistry sessions). Clients who want bold creative thinking, an authentic social conscience and commercial bravery from their agency as well as from their brands.
Perhaps BETC is the prototype for the next agency. An agency that has a set of ideals, and proves it. That is fundamentally driven by creativity, and proves it. That loves, protects and develops that creativity in all its forms, and proves it.
Oh….and happens to be very very good advertising agency.
One that has a real social conscience, and proves it.
Perhaps we could call it the The world’s first sustainable ad agency.
This article first appeared in Forbes.