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Agency Profile: DDB Paris

Posted on October 13, 2013 and read 4,858 times

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brettihaismall Agency Profile: DDB ParisBrett McKenzie
Content Producer
Art Directors Club

 

If you’ve known me for a length of time, you’ll know that one of my personal loves is hip-hop music, particularly old school (by my definition, that’s anything pre-Raising Hell/License to Ill) and golden age (1986-93). And the people who do know this about me are usually the first ones to send me a link to the latest installment of “The History of Rap” that Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake do on late night television. And each time they do, I have to admit they’re pretty good at what they’re doing.

But then I inevitably say “ah, but is it as good as Trace Urban?” I’m referring to a nearly three-year old web video for an all-urban TV channel based in France. The video features legendary beatboxer Eklips effortlessly going through more than 30 years of hip-hop history in only four minutes. It was one of the few times where I felt compelled to track down the agency behind it, just to tell them how much I enjoyed the spot.

And in this case, that agency was DDB Paris. And two years later, when I finally got to Paris, I knew exactly which agency I wanted to visit.

 

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“We try not to bother people.”

I am sitting down with Alexandre Hervé, the silver-haired Executive Creative Director of DDB Paris, who has spent the last decade helping to shape the office into the creative powerhouse it is today. Alexandre is telling me about his interpretation of the DDB Paris philosophy. “We have gifts that people don’t want, and we are competing in a much bigger venue, where the internet and Facebook and YouTube are more entertaining than advertising. For some agencies and clients, that means you have to shout louder to be noticed. But for us at DDB, that shouting doesn’t make people like you. And even if they did, so what? What does two million likes on Facebook mean? No, for us, we are here to talk to people about themselves, as simply and as elegantly as possible. That way, even if they don’t like us, they aren’t bothered by us.”

DDB Paris employs approximately 300 people, with about 60 of those making up the agency’s creative department. Inside that department, the structure is very flat; there is little distinction between ‘traditional’ creatives and digital ones (the Tribal DDB division that the network created in 2000 to house their interactive departments exists here in name only) and only one ECD, with everyone else on a relatively even playing field. And while some agencies have maintained the two-person writer/art director dynamic, and others move people around to suit the needs of projects, DDB Paris follows neither team structure. “There is no magic formula for how a creative department should run,” explains Alexandre. “I feel that the best work comes from people who are empowered to do what works best for them. If two people really enjoy working together as a team, who am I to break that up? If another person works better moving around between different creatives, why should we interfere?” Alexandre also encourages people to work on clients that they are passionate about. This means that the creatives who work on famed newspaper L’Equipe are serious sports fans, while those who know their luxury items can be found on the Givenchy team.

No matter their level of experience, their discipline or their preferred team structure, one thing that the creative staff at DDB Paris has in common — they’re French. Now that might seem like a no-brainer, being in Paris and all, but unlike New York, London, Amsterdam or other advertising hubs, Parisian agencies tend to be fairly insular. Alexandre compares this phenomenon with the advertising community in Japan; both are giant, world-class cities, but their agencies don’t have many non-natives. This isn’t to say that there aren’t any people from other countries, but don’t expect to get by on just making incredible work; you’ll have to know the language and the culture to shine at DDB Paris. And while other multinationals may sometimes move eager creatives from office to office, either for experience or to help out on very big projects, DDB Paris tends to keep to itself at the worldwide holiday party.

Although the Paris office serves breakfast for early risers, you’ll find that many of the creatives arrive too late to take advantage of this perk. “One of the advantages of working here is that this is an agency that tends to stay out of your way,” says Alexander Kalchev, an award-winning creative who has been at DDB Paris since 2007. “People are fairly free to come and go as they like. There aren’t many necessary late nights, but that doesn’t mean the place is empty come evening. The office can be quite busy, and the people who are here late at night truly want to be here.” Alexander states that the DDB creative staff has a tremendous drive to do great work, especially work that beats monolithic French agencies. “Publicis is the Death Star,” he jokes. “We’re trying to blow up the Death Star.” [little did Mr. Hervé know that DDB Paris, as part of Omnicom, would soon join the Dark Side.]

When they aren’t joining the Rebel Alliance, the staff at DDB can be found filling their down time with raucous foosball and Call of Duty matches. Such activities are impromptu, and never dictated from on high. “I don’t believe in making our employees hang out with each other,” says Alexandre. “One Tuesday a month we have everybody show off their latest projects to the agency, and we might go to the Cannes Lions as a group (one of the advantages of being an easy train ride away from the festival) but I’d much prefer our staff to get away from the office, from each other, and from advertising.” Thus far this has worked out very well for DDB; the office is filled with people who escape their work and dive into photography or filmmaking.

What does the future hold for DDB Paris? “I think we are going to continue doing great work and fostering great talent,” says Alexandre. “For all that we do here, I think the most important part of my job, the most important decision I have to make, is hiring the right people. Hiring the wrong person, you’ll be paying for that mistake for months or even years. Hiring the right person, that will pay off for years to come.”

Looking at Alexandre’s track record and the agency’s award shelf, it appears that DDB Paris remains in very good hands.

Merci to Alexandre and Alexander for taking the time to chat to us about DDB Paris! A big thank-you to Getty Images for making this trip to Paris possible.






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