Publicis Worldwide’s Global CCO on Hal 9000, Michael Jordan and how a chance encounter in the Seychelles led to a career in advertising
Bruno Bertelli has spent much of the past year about 40,000 feet above sea level, whizzing about from country to country as part of his role as Publicis Worldwide’s Global Chief Creative Officer. Since being elevated in May 2016, he’s been leading Publicis Worldwide’s global creative board and, in step with the changes going on at a Publicis Groupe level, pushing to evolve a future-facing creative offering.
And if that wasn’t enough, Publicis Italy, the agency where he is CEO and co-ECD, has been on a roll with its unstoppable Heineken campaigns and big new business wins (most recently global creative and strategic duties for Diesel).
Looking at Bruno today, you wouldn’t guess that his entry into the advertising industry happened thanks to a chance encounter with a copywriter, when Bruno was working as a diving instructor in the Seychelles. And thanks to some encouragement from a film school professor, who spotted his potential, he got that extra nudge in the right direction. LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Bruno to find out about making a splash in advertising.
LBB> You’ve been in the global role for over a year now – what were your goals for the first year in the role?
BB> I wanted everybody to focus their energy on their biggest brands. It’s more rewarding when you manage to do your best work on your biggest clients. Greater exposure and more opportunities to produce great work. However, this requires a solid brand strategy to be more consistent and relevant across the entire customer journey.
LBB> What’s it been like really getting to know and working with all of the Publicis Worldwide agencies around the world?
BB> It’s been great. I’ve met some awesome people this past year, whom I didn’t know before.
LBB> What’s been the most surprising thing you’ve learnt during this new role?
BB> That there is potential everywhere. It just needs unlocking.
LBB> As well as the global role, you are also ECD/CEO at Publicis Italy (with co-ECD Cristiana Boccassini) - how do you balance these two roles?
BB> I have a great team in Milan. They manage just as well without me. It’s the clients who want to see me the most. So, going into markets and meeting clients takes up most of my time.
LBB> You came to the role not so long before Arthur Sadoun became CEO of Publicis Groupe – between this and the ‘Power of One’ and of course Marcel, it feels like the Groupe is really engaging with the future and undergoing some really exciting transformation. Where does creativity sit in this vision of the future?
BB> It’s obvious that we need to evolve as an industry. Many of the services we provide can be commoditised. Hal 9000 is not necessarily a fictitious character. The only way to beat him is by looking into adjacent offerings that leverage creative and strategic capabilities, to increase the value we create.
I’m determined to deepen everyone’s understanding of the brand’s business/commercial aspects to grow effectiveness. And yes, that includes creatives. If you’re a one-trick-pony you won’t survive in this industry for long. Sorry, but it’s time we all stepped up and evolve.
LBB> We’re fairly nerdy here at LBB and we love to hunt out offices in unexpected territories around the world that are doing exceptionally creative stuff. Which Publicis offices have been exciting you recently?
BB> The guys from Publicis Romania are on fire. Marcel Sydney is top. Publicis NA has massively improved in recent years. And I’m very excited about all the changes in London. Bobby and his team in India are doing a good job. And I have been impressed by the team in Brussels, where I went recently.
LBB> We’ve seen your home agency, Publicis Italy, really grow in prominence too at an international level, particularly with the Heineken work which has been really doing well. How is the creative approach to Heineken evolving? More broadly in the Italian market, are you seeing a renaissance?
BB> Not yet, but I hope that’s going to change. So far, Publicis is still pretty much an exception. The problem is that most talents prefer to leave the country to work abroad, instead of fighting for better work in their home market.
LBB> What’s one piece of advice do you wish you’d had when you were starting out in your career?
BB> I was lucky enough to get the best advice from my professor at film school in New York.
He spotted my talent for telling stories but also my weakness for structuring ideas under the strict rules of cinema. So, he told me to give up and switch to advertising, which is more forgiving than Hollywood. Thanks to him I’m here.
LBB> What does your typical day look like?
BB> Calls, VCs, flights, client meetings and sometimes a shoot. 12 hours a day, 6 days a week.
LBB> I gather you fell into advertising following a chance encounter with a creative when you were working as a diving instructor… What was it about this meeting that made you think ‘this is the career for me!’?
BB> When I was working as a diving instructor in Seychelles, I met a copywriter who was on a round-the-world trip that he won as part of a creative award. I must have thought to myself that winning a trip around the world only through writing was something I could do myself. And so, I was investigating where to best learn how to write and that’s how I ended up in New York.
LBB> And how did you get your foot in the door with your first job?
BB> I was at university in New York, studying screenwriting, when I found this internship at Wurtzel & Glenn where they were looking for an Italian copywriter. At that time, there weren’t that many Italian copywriters around in New York, so I had a good chance of getting it!
LBB> Do you still dive?
BB> Unfortunately not. When on holiday, I prefer to hang out by the pool and read.
LBB> Outside of advertising what inspires you?
BB> Mostly movies and books. Anything with a great story or an inspirational person.
LBB> And who are your creative heroes and why?
BB> Not exactly a creative, but my biggest hero is Michael Jordan. His determination and excellence has always inspired me to try harder and never give up.
LBB> What’s the most frustrating thing about the industry right now? And the most exciting?
BB> The most frustrating thing is that it seems impossible to stop being devalued, although everybody in marketing would agree that creativity will always be a key success driver. What’s exciting is how vast the playing field for creativity has become. There is literally no limit to where and how one can tell a great brand story.