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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  Agency Profile: Energy BBDO

Agency Profile: Energy BBDO

Posted on January 27, 2011 and read 9,426 times

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brettcreditpic Agency Profile: Energy BBDOBrett McKenzie
Chief Writer, SBN2

Over the years, one of the most favorite features on ihaveanidea has been our growing collection of agency profiles — glimpses behind the walls of ad shops big and small, written from our usual casual perspective. And one of our favorite ways of going about gathering these profiles has been the old-fashioned road trip. After all, why go to a city to visit one or two agencies when you can take some serious time and visit a whole bunch?

It’s been quite some time since ihaveanidea has had the chance to pack our bags and headed off on one of these junkets, but in 2010 we had the great pleasure of visiting the city of Chicago to check in on the ad scene. We hadn’t been to the Windy City on a multi-agency trip in about five years, and in that time, a lot has changed in the ad industry, both generally speaking and in Chicago in particular. A year or two ago, you would’ve thought the town was on its last legs; layoffs left and right, a tragic incident at one of Chicago’s most respected firms that dazed the community, and JWT Chicago, once the global network’s largest office, reduced to a mere outpost of a few staffers.

Yet here we are in 2011, and Chicago is definitely getting some of its mojo back. Agencies are hiring, expanding their offices and winning big accounts. And the city that used to be the domain of the big multinationals has made some elbow room for smaller, nimbler shops. ihaveanidea saw all of this on our Windy City excursion, and we’d love to share our travels with you.

dscn7100 Agency Profile: Energy BBDO


There are various excuses you could give for being late for a meeting. The traffic was crazy. The cab driver didn’t know where he was going. The subway was a nightmare. But until now, I have never been able to honestly say:

“Sorry I’m late. I got held up by a battle between Autobots and Decepticons.”

Yes, here I was, right in front of Chicago’s famous Wrigley Building — home to Energy BBDO — and my way is blocked by car wreckage that looks torn in two rather than smashed. There are huge chunks of broken concrete scattered like Lego bricks, and off in the distance, Shia LaBeouf is sipping a water in the shade.

“Well you can’t quite call this an average day at Energy BBDO,” jokes Dan Fietsam, Energy BBDO’s Chief Creative Officer, gesturing out of the window to the chaos in the streets below. Michael Bay is filming a key battle scene for the latest Transformers sequel, and much of the agency’s staff is watching, snapping photos of the staged carnage.

It’s been nearly five years since I last visited Energy BBDO, way back in the days leading up to Portfolio Night IV. So when it came time to visit agencies in the Windy City again, I knew this was one I wanted to check out. How much does five years really change a shop? An industry? A city?

When we last visited Energy BBDO, the agency was sitting at just over 200 employees. Today the ship is a little learner and meaner at 150, and Dan Fietsam couldn’t be happier. “This is a great size, in my opinion. We have greater scale and infrastructure than a boutique, and we are not monolithic and clumsy like most multinationals in big cities. This gives us the flexibility to go after small, entrepreneurial clients, as well as work on big global brands as part of the worldwide BBDO network.”

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In terms of creative team structure, the lion’s share of Energy BBDO’s work still takes place in the traditional realms, such as film and print, and those still call for teams of art directors and copywriters. But the agency has also been supplementing its creative department with people with other skills, from areas not necessarily related to advertising. “It was tough to do this during the recession, because you didn’t have the luxury of bringing in really wild card individuals,” explains Dan. “But today you need to be purposeful and intentional when finding new talent, wherever it may be. Still, we look for creativity first, expertise second.”

dscn7084 Agency Profile: Energy BBDO

Dan Fietsam, Chief Creative Officer

Today, this especially includes people with digital expertise. Back during my first trip to Chicago, the ad industry digital revolution was in full swing, with all the agencies that had previously relegated digital to some dusty corner of their shops now trying to incorporate this type of advertising into the fold. Energy BBDO was no exception; they knew they needed digital minds, and they were just starting to figure out what to do with them. Fast-forward to today, and Energy BBDO is in a totally different place. “We’ve had digitally native people here for quite some time, but we were having difficulty getting traction in the business world, as we were not seen as a digital-capable shop.“

“Fortunately, a few years ago BBDO partnered with Proximity, a name that did have significant clout, especially outside of the US” Dan continues. “Andrew Kasprzycki came over from Tribal DDB to run Proximity here, pretty much as a start-up. And it was run like a start-up, quite separate from Energy BBDO. It needed to get its own legs in terms of reputation, clients and revenue. And over the years Andrew has built up the rep and the billings of Proximity to… well, let’s just say they are both very impressive.”

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The work environment here at Energy BBDO is pretty loosely structured. “It doesn’t matter to me when you get here or when you leave,” says Dan. “At the end of the day, you do the work. If you have to stay home and wear a scuba suit in the bathtub in order to get the creativity flowing, so be it. As long as the work is great, and it’s up on the walls for all to see.”

That’s one thing that is still a holdover from the Energy BBDO of five years ago; wherever you look, there are big sheets of foamcore on the walls with work pinned to them. “There are a few reasons why we do this here,” says Dan. “First of all, I think it’s easier to process ideas when they are on display in front of you. I also think it’s a way to stay organized and on top of things in an organic way. Account people can come up and review work without having to book a meeting. And I find it makes everybody more proactive. If you don’t know what’s going on, that probably means you haven’t been walking the halls and looking.”

“I also find that posting work up while in it’s in progress adds both inspiration and a bit of healthy competitiveness,” Dan adds. “Nobody can hide their work from the others, so you’re always trying to make sure it’s good.”

Many agencies that I have visited over the years have claimed to have found a perfect work/life balance for its staff. Surprisingly, Energy BBDO makes no such claims. “While there is nothing in place that says you must put in a ton of hours at the office, I believe a lot of people here do it anyway,” says Dan. “Everybody here is very motivated by both the intrinsic value of doing work you are proud of, as well as being recognized and rewarded for great work, so this tends to mean people putting in extra time to get things right. We try to keep the environment fresh and light here to make it more comfortable for the people who do put in time. When one of our CDs said we needed a ping-pong table to refresh and recharge, we found one on eBay. We also have things like Massage Mondays and Manicure Wednesdays to help those who need it to de-stress. That all said, if anybody ever feels like they are burning out, they receive the full support of the agency to get things right again.”

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Chicago is a city that is very rich in culture, whether it is art or architecture, music or food. Energy BBDO has always been keen on tapping into this culture. “I would love this agency to become a creative cultural point in this city, beyond advertising,” says Dan. Energy BBDO has been quite dedicated to this goal; while some agencies bring in artistic guest speakers to motivate their staff, Energy has done the same — except that Energy BBDO’s guest presentations are open to the whole city of Chicago, not just the staff. And so far, so good; the agency had a 100+ turnout for an event with famed poster designer Jay Ryan.

It’s been five years since we profiled Energy BBDO, and it may be another five years before we do so again in this capacity. Where can we expect to find the agency when we pop in again in 2015? “As far as Chicago is concerned, beyond a shadow of doubt, we aim to be the most interesting creative agency in the city,” Dan boldly proclaims. “We also aim to be one of the top choices of agencies within the Central Time Zone. That sounds odd, but we find that in this digital age, clients aren’t as willing to travel as much as they once were. Nationally, we will be a Top 10 creative agency, and globally, you can expect us to win or be shortlisted at Cannes each year between now and then.”

“It’s a really dynamic time in the business right now.The industry is transforming, and we are looking for people who are excited about transformation.”

No pun intended, glancing out the window at the Robots in Disguise.

Thanks to Dan Feitsam, Katrina Cabrera and the rest of Energy BBDO for welcoming us into the agency.


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