When the World Zigs, Zag

Uncensored CMO Podcast with Sir John Hegarty, BBH

On last week’s Uncensored CMO podcast, System1 Chief Growth Officer Jon Evans had the pleasure of speaking to a living legend of advertising. In 1982, Sir John Hegarty founded BBH (Bartle Bogle, Hegarty) one of the most successful and iconic advertising agencies in the world. Forty years on, he’s still one of the sharpest and most outspoken thinkers in the ad world.

In this episode, Sir John takes Jon through some of his most important advertising principles – the foundations that have allowed him to stay creative in a constantly changing world. We’ve summarised some of Sir John’s thinking here but you’ll want to listen to the whole thing. And just as with a classic BBH ad, you’ll come away persuaded but also entertained.

What can someone learn today as an advertiser in the real world?

Don’t just focus all your efforts on online activity alone and don’t be afraid to explore new ways of reaching your target audiences

Sir John Hegarty –

‘We still have this view that Marketing people believe that the way to build a brand now is to do it all online. However, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever of any brand that has been built solely online.’

Advertisers should continually find other means to reach their various audiences through a mix of broadcast, out-of-home and online activity. ‘Remember that a brand is built not by the people who buy it but also by the people who know about it.’

Build a brand centred around People – Humans relate to people not structures

Sir John Hegarty –

‘It’s a shame, nobody has their names on the door anymore in advertising and it seems as though brands are using funny eye-catching names. However, we need to be mindful of the fact that we relate to people not structures.’

Ensure that you build deep connections with the people within your business, and build trust with your consumers, audiences and clients.

If you think of some of the biggest brands today, they started with people. ‘People who had a passion for their brand, they had ideas and a desire to do something which is extremely resonant today’.

When the world zigs, you zag

Sir John Hegarty –

‘Who you are tends to emerge from what you do, so let the work do the talking.’ Often as creatives we get so caught up in trying to come up with terrific idea after terrific idea that we don’t value our own creativity. ‘We chose not to give away our creative work during pitches.’ Sir John explained that at BBH, focusing on the products of their clients rather than bombarding them with different ideas meant stronger creative work.

‘Don’t be afraid to go back to capturing what works for you.’As you begin to let the work do the talking, the creative ideas tend to flow, and you find the work getting better.

How to keep yourself fresh as a creative?

Sir John’s advice here was so rich we couldn’t reduce it to just one point – so dive in!

  • ‘Focus on what is important and show the work first.’ Sir John cites the example of how he took a leaf out of one of Richard Attenborough’s articles about making the film Gandhi. Most people in the US had never heard of Gandhi before so why would they watch a film about him? Attenborough came up with the idea of highlighting all the things Gandhi had achieved at the very start of the film to grab the viewer’s attention. Sir John encouraged BBH to use the same tactic and ‘Show the work first,’ particularly on pitches and when speaking to new audiences and clients – ‘letting the work speak for itself.’
  • ‘Remember that if you’re a creative agency – you have to have creative people at the top of it’ – Stay true to your brand positioning and make sure the people running the business have deep knowledge and experience in what the business does.
  • ‘‘Once you realise that everything you do is creative, being creative won’t become difficult as it will become embedded in everything that you do.’ We are all creative and we are constantly making creative decisions everyday and staying creative is about realising that and seeking those decisions out.
  • ‘The best people who thrive at what they do usually surround themselves with the best.’ Sir John explains that as creatives we should always strive to finding ways to be amongst the best in our respective industries, which gives us more opportunities to work with and learn from the best too.
  • Be fearless and don’t be afraid of failure – ‘A lot of people believe that you learn from your mistakes when in actual fact it’s the actual failure that can be the lesson here’ Sir John explained during the interview that it is ok to say it didn’t work and I made a mistake.’  This is what life is all about.

How can you best sell in your work?

Sir John Hegarty –

Make the person you’re selling/pitching to realise that you understand their problem. Sir John explains that we should always ask ourselves during the creative process ‘How will this solve their problem.’ The more you ask yourself this the closer you’ll get to being able to answer your clients needs and bring solutions to their problems creatively.

This also involves using the language your clients use. Let your client know that you speak that language too – you understand their business, their tone of voice and their key messages and bring that to light during your pitch and sell-in.

Every episode of the Uncensored CMO has plenty of nuggets of advice to mine, but this one is really something special. It’s not every day you get to sit down with a legend, and we’d love you to pull up a chair and join us.

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