BBDO Worldwide traces its roots back to 1891 when it was founded as the Batten Company in New York City. Today the agency network employs 15,000 people in 289 agencies across 81 countries. Widely respected for its creativity, BBDO’s imprint is on work for Snickers, Macy's, M&M’s, Sandy Hook Promise, Avocados from Mexico and more. It's been named network of the year at Cannes International Festival of Creativity seven times in the last 12 years, including in 2017 and 2018.
Andrew Robertson has been the man at the helm of BBDO Worldwide for all those wins and more. Named CEO of the global network 15 years ago, Robertson is by all accounts the longest-running agency CEO on the job.
He is also the latest guest on the “Ad Lib” podcast.
“When I started, the internet was four, five years old,” he says. “The ‘what’ I do hasn’t really changed that much: It’s my job to try and provide the right focus and energy on things that are going to make the biggest difference to our clients and to us globally … The ‘how’ has obviously changed enormously.”
Robertson, who was born in Zimbabwe and spent most of his childhood in South Africa, began his career as a media planner and later an account executive.
“I got into it because I found myself talking about ads and advertising,” he says. “I may have started my career as a media planner, but I got into it because I loved advertising.”
He remembers loving ads by Italian vermouth maker Cinzano as a kid in Africa, which may go some length towards explaining his love of wine today, a hobby he discusses on the podcast. (He also is the only agency executive with his own dish named after him at New York power lunch staple Michael’s.)
In our conversation, Robertson outlines BBDO's guiding principals (it's "the work, the work, the work"), and how it fits into parent company Omnicom's broader strategy.
“Right at the top of Omnicom there’s a belief in the value to clients of magical creative experiences that change the way people behave. So I think that that commitment has been there as part of the culture, not just the strategy, and has been since Omnicom was created,” he says. “Omnicom does two things: it provides the support structures, technologies, platforms that none of us can do very well on our own. It believes in and invests in and encourages the development of individual agency brand cultures and positioning … It takes decades to really build that.”
Which is why he demurs when asked what the succession plans might be for his boss, Omnicom Chairman and CEO John Wren. “I don’t want to work for anybody but John,” he says.
BBDO Worldwide is the lead agency for Ford, which we discuss in some detail. The network is working alongside agencies Wieden & Kennedy and WPP’s VMLY&R with the client. “There’s some pretty clear responsibilities and lanes that we each have to swim in,” he says. “It’s obviously a very significant piece of business and ramping onto it globally and quickly was quite a challenge.”
For all of that, and more, be sure to listen to the podcast in full.