Those three letters, BBH, need little introduction in advertising. Celebrating its 40th year in 2022, Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) remains one of the world’s biggest agencies, working its magic out of bespoke offices on Kingly Street as well as in New York, Singapore, Shanghai, Mumbai, Stockholm and Dublin, as part of the Publicis Groupe, with a staff of 1,000, pursuing the power of difference, and creating work that makes a difference.
BBH’s newly appointed global and London CCO, Alex Grieve, worked at the agency for 14 years back in the 1990s and Noughties, and when it comes to what he’s looking for in terms of signing new creative talents, it’s resilience. “I hire on character first,” he says, “and assume talent. The kind of people who come through the door or get suggested, you assume a certain level of talent, and then you’re looking for people who are hungry, have ambition, who are team players, and who have resilience – because the truth is that it’s harder and you have to have an even thicker skin, you have to work at an increased pace. You don’t have the luxury of time and consideration you used to have. So you need to have that kind of character that can lean in to those things and be tough.” It’s part of his job, he adds, to support and nurture new signings as they acclimatise. “But if you naturally have those kinds of qualities, that is an advantage.”
Once hired, mentorships help guide new talents towards unleashing their capabilities. “We’ll have a young team shadowing a senior team for quite a while,” he says, “for about a year or so, so they have a direct mentor and someone they can chat to and bounce things off.” By matching a new team’s curiosity and desire to learn with more experienced mentors, can, says Grieve, produce gold dust. “Because then both parties are learning, which is a really nice thing.”
Last year, BBH set up an in-house training scheme, The Barn, “where it introduces diverse talent and schools them up with Tony Cunningham, who used to run Watford,” says Grieve, “and BBH takes perhaps a couple of the graduates, and the rest are available for other agencies.” What’s crucial, he adds, is that instead of taking unschooled talent and throwing them into the deep end, it sets about creating the conditions where they can succeed. “When Tony’s recruiting people into the Barn, he’s looking all over the place for all kinds of different people,” says Grieve. “So you get them, then you school them in the way we do things at BBH, and you’ve set that foundation for those people to go into the industry and do great things.”
Allowing for a greater diversity of cultures, classes and experiences in advertising’s collective voice is a major drive across the industry in recent years – and BBH has always been leading in that area, says Grieve. “Very early on BBH recognised that diversity leads to more interesting creativity, because the more varied the minds, and the experiences they’ve been through, the more interesting the end result. There’s always been a self-enlightened reason for doing it alongside a self-interested reason for doing it,” he adds. “And when you get that combination, it means things do change, because although this is something we should do, when it’s something you have to do for business reasons, it tends to happen quicker.”
For Grieve, one of the crucial benefits of young talent is that they are digital natives and fluent in all the platforms and languages of the digital universe. “We absolutely need people who do have those skill-sets with social platforms,” he says, but strikes a cautionary note: “There’s a saying that tactics may change but principles stay the same. Even if you’re the most naturally fluent person on TikTok, if you don’t have the rigour of understanding a brand idea, and how that brand idea connects to a brand world, or the importance of a brand’s tone of voice, then none of those skill sets are going to matter a damn.”
Which makes the mentoring and assimilatory work at The Barn all the more important for guiding raw new talents from a wide range of entry points to become brand natives, not just digital ones. And while browsing social for unsigned new talent is becoming a more embedded pathway into the industry, Grieve still has misgivings. “It can be quite dangerous – just because there’s an influencer on TikTok doing their own cool stuff doesn’t mean that if you put them in an agency environment they would necessarily flourish, because they wouldn’t have the foundation of what our job actually is,” he says. Which is why BBH has set up The Barn, now welcoming its second year of students. “It’s a nine-month course, like a uni year,” says Grieve, “and we had eight teams in the first year. One of the teams has been hired by BBH and the other seven have gigs or placements at other agencies around town.”
Given that commitment, it’s little wonder that BBH is a sponsor of the Young Arrows. “BBH has always been a huge supporter of the Arrows,” he says. “It’s always understood the idea of the marriage between idea and craft, which is at the heart of what we do, so it’s a very natural thing to support the Young Arrows. It’s a great initiative. It ties in with what we’re doing at The Barn, and the more awards shows that get in to that space and understand its importance, and the obligation and responsibility we all have to school up the next generation, the better. Because it is hard and there are things we need to change within the industry, and only good things are going to come out of that. It’s something that we’re delighted to support.”