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Agency Profile: Buzzman Paris

Posted on October 27, 2013 and read 5,564 times

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brettihaismall Agency Profile: Buzzman ParisBrett McKenzie
Content Manager
Art Directors Club


When you visit Paris, especially for the first time, there are just some things to have to do. You have to see the Eiffel Tower and L’Arc de Triomphe, you have to visit the Louvre, you have to get stopped by con artists who claim you dropped your ring (that happened to me three times in one afternoon) But once you’ve experienced those, you really want to get out and see something unexpected.

This was also my mentality when I traveled to Paris to visit various advertising agencies. Of course I wanted to see the big ones; the city is the global headquarters of both Publicis and Havas, after all, and most of the multinationals are well represented here. I also wanted to see some of the smaller independent shops to be found in the City of Light. I asked around, inquiring some of the industry people I knew in town about which shop I should definitely check out. While I got a number of different responses (another trip, perhaps?) one name continued popping up until I just had to see what they were all about:




“Sorry I’m late,” says Georges Mohammed-Chérif, President, Creative Director and founder of Buzzman, as he walks in off the street and into his agency, a narrow, multilevel building in the Saint-Georges area of Paris. Georges is looking a bit like a rock star, with a black leather jacket and a motorcycle helmet under his arm. There is a hint of swagger in his walk, and with good reason; Buzzman was, well, buzzing with the activity of another client win.

For a neophyte, Buzzman might be a little puzzling. Its website doesn’t waste time putting forth a proprietary philosophy; the “About” button on the English version of their website says little more than that they are an independent agency. So what is Buzzman about? “If we were to have a philosophy, it would be a line from former OfficeMax exec and ad guy Bob Thacker,” says Georges. “ ‘All advertising is unwanted, so if you’re going to crash the party, bring some champagne with you.’ And we really enjoy our champagne.”

Buzzman was founded in 2006 after Georges took a sabbatical from a 20-year copywriting career at some of Paris’ top agencies. “I was really bored with the industry at the time,” he explains. “So I just quit the business. I travelled, I partied, but I also thought about what I would like to do if I had my own agency. I wasn’t a businessman or an entrepreneur or anything, I was just a creative who wanted to do cool things.” After a year of soul searching, Georges approached some of the larger agencies in France, wondering if they’d consider starting a small digital shop together. When nobody expressed interest, Georges simply went at it on his own, and on January 1, 2006, Buzzman was born.

“That first year was really difficult,” reminisces Georges. “The main problem in France is that big clients tend to want big agencies, even for their smaller projects. It was very difficult to be even considered.” Buzzman’s first break came from Quick, the popular European fast food chain. “We were given a little bit of money to create something promote the fact that hot dogs were being added to the menu. We made a hip-hop themed campaign featuring dogs. It was a lot of fun, and the president of Quick says ‘my kid will be crazy about that!’ That ended up being our first success story.”

It might’ve been the first, but it wasn’t the last, nor the biggest for Buzzman. In 2010, the agency unleashed ‘A hunter shoots a bear’, a wildly successful interactive YouTube video for Tipp-Ex. The video chalked up more than 21 million views, and Buzzman collected a treasure chest of award show hardware, including five Cannes Lions. “The Tipp-Ex campaign really drew international attention to our shop,” says Georges. “We started getting resumés from all over the place, from Sweden, from India. Even from people at agencies like Crispin Porter were contacting us, wanting to work here. It was incredible.”

Today Buzzman’s successes have led to a staff of about 60, predominately at the Paris office, but some also located in the Dubai that opened earlier this year. “We figured that Dubai would be an interesting frontier for us,” says Georges. “Most agencies want to open up their second office in New York or London or Amsterdam, but we felt those places already had way too many agencies. So it was either Dubai or Shanghai, and Fred & Farid already took Shanghai,” referring to Paris’ other small but mighty independent shop, just around the corner from Buzzman. Georges also jokes that it doesn’t hurt that his name is Mohammed-Chérif, and that Buzzman had already been doing the impossible by creating successful, subversive Durex condom campaigns for the Middle Eastern market, a region not exactly known for public discussions about sex.

Back in the Paris office, the staff is a motley crew of strategists and producers, with a smattering of ‘traditional’ creatives. “To be honest, I don’t really look at where a person has worked before,” says Georges. “I’m more interested in what they can do.” Noticeably absent from Buzzman’s roster are designers, artists and developers, roles that the agency frequently outsources. Instead, Buzzman focuses on having social media and PR in-house. “Every idea that we present here must be looked at not only through the eyes of a creative, but also through a PR lens. Whatever we do, we ask ourselves ‘what would a journalist say about this?”

Some agencies pride themselves on being early risers, where the majority of the staff is in the office by 9 AM. Other shops have the account managers and strategists arriving early, while the too-cool-for-school creatives wander in at noon. At Buzzman, however, the entire agency has the flexibility to come and go as they wish, as long as the work is being done. “I’m not the kind of CEO who comes in at 6:30 AM in order to read The Economist or Le Figaro,” laughs Georges. “I can hardly expect my staff to be the same. That said, we are in constant communication via email and Facebook chats.”

Even though the hours at Buzzman are flexible, the team still works extremely hard, especially when there are tight turnarounds. This can lead to many late nights, but the camaraderie also leads to many late night parties. “We never plan our adventures,” says Georges. “They’re always loose and impromptu.” The unplanned nature also means that Buzzman employees can participate if they so choose. “We’re friends here, but I never make plans for the whole agency to do something together, because I want people to also have their own lives. There was that one time when we were smaller when we took the office to Marrakesh. I left them my credit card, and well…” Georges voice trails off and he laughs. Perhaps lessons were learned on that fateful Moroccan trip.

So what’s next for the team at Buzzman? “We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go,” says Georges. “We still have to overcome the conservative French mentality that dictates that big clients can only work with big agencies. But by the strength of our work, I know we can succeed. And in a few years, I can imagine us opening up a third office. Whereabouts? I don’t know, but Brazil and Argentina are looking very appealing.”

Anywhere but Marrakesh, it would seem.

Special thanks to Georges and his team for inviting us visit Buzzman Paris! A big thank-you to Getty Images for making this trip to Paris possible.

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