Newly appointed CCO at BBH USA speaks to LBB’s Addison Capper about joining her “dream” agency and the differences between it and her previous agency, Publicis New York
For Erica Roberts, September saw a dream come true: she became a zagger, not a zigger. The 15-year Publicis Groupe veteran left her role as Publicis New York CCO to join BBH - the agency that 'zags' when others 'zig' - as its USA CCO.
Erica has led business-transforming work across nearly every category, from CPG to QSR, financial services and retail. She is a champion of Publicis Groupe’s 'Power of One' model and recently helped relaunch 10 brands within The J.M. Smucker Company’s portfolio including Jif, Folgers, Milkbone and Café Bustelo. She led Jif’s brilliant, award-winning 'Jif vs. Gif' work.
In her new role, Erica will also bring BBH's cultural fuel and creativity to Power of One accounts she has nurtured over the years. Her appointment follows the promotion of Amani Duncan to CEO earlier this year, and Alex Grieve being appointed to a newly-created global CCO role as well as the launch of the new global BBH Board. What's more, it builds on a year of momentum for BBH USA, which has enjoyed strong growth over the past 18 months, with headcount increasing by 77%, and the agency landing new clients including LinkedIn, Google, Walmart, Mattel, Netflix, Lionsgate and Martell US.
LBB's Addison Capper chatted with her about how she's approaching this new venture, how BBH differs from Publicis New York, and Scrabble-related trash talk.
LBB> Congratulations on the new role! What was it about the task at BBH that tempted you to join?
Erica> BBH has topped my list of dream agencies for as long as I can remember. But it wasn’t legacy alone that convinced me that this was the right move, right now. It wasn’t even all their recent work that I’d been drooling over for the past two years (although that didn’t hurt). It really came down to the people - one in particular: Alex Grieve. If you just look at his work, the man is intimidatingly talented. But if you go to dinner with him, it’s a whole different story. Alex is so incredibly warm, open and humble - the kind of creative leader I strive to be every day. Alex has earned the right to beat his chest up and down La Croisette, but instead he prides himself on just getting on with it - doing the kind of work that’s a touch more relevant, more honest, more unexpected and better crafted than anything else out there. I’d get on board with that any day of the week.
LBB> You join BBH from Publicis NY - what different kinds of opportunities does BBH offer compared to your predecessor?
Erica> BBH is a very different kind of network. BBH says it ‘zags’ where others ‘zig’ and there is definitely truth to that. The agency has distinct strengths, attributes and leaders that cultivate an environment that allows our brilliant talent to thrive across diverse creative opportunities. It’s hard to put into words, but the expectations are different and the output is different. What remains the same across BBH and Publicis New York, my prior agency, is a deeply ingrained commitment to building transformative, culturally resonant work that helps propel brands to new heights.
LBB> You come to BBH at a time of momentum and growth, which I think can be an intriguing challenge because there isn't some 'big fix' that needs to be worked out and executed. How does that influence the way you're approaching your role at BBH?
Erica> I’m incredibly lucky to be joining BBH USA when I am, there’s no doubt. The team isn’t only stellar in terms of the work they produce – they’re absolutely lovely people who’ve welcomed me with open arms. And no one’s opened their arms wider than our powerhouse CEO, Amani Duncan. She and I have instantly locked arms, along with the rest of the BBH global board, to develop our vision for what’s next.
LBB> Having spent a good amount of time within Publicis Groupe, you're a great advocate of its Power of One model. How does BBH fit into that and how do you see it evolving during your tenure?
Erica> The beauty of the Power of One is that we can leverage the Groupe’s scale, expertise, and global connectivity without ever compromising what makes us Black Sheep and the agency that zags when others zig.
Publicis Groupe’s motto is ‘Viva La Difference’. They honour and celebrate difference because they believe it makes us stronger, and I think this sentiment is very much at the heart of what makes BBH such a successful entity within Publicis: BBH has a fiercely independent creative spirit, which sets them apart from any other brand in the network.
LBB> You've worked on some brilliant, big campaigns over your career. Is there one (or a few) that you're particularly proud of or that stick out as feeling really important?
Erica> I’ll always have a special place in my ‘ad’ heart for the work we’ve done across The J.M. Smucker Company’s brands. When we first won the business, we were asked to reposition and relaunch 10 of their most iconic heritage brands. It was absolute chaos. Beautiful, prolific chaos. Here are some of my faves…
Jif definitely tops the list. We leveraged alien invasions and internet debates to help us say goodbye to ‘Choosy Moms Choose Jif’ once and for all.
Then there was our over-the-top cop dramedy campaign for 1850 coffee, a premium sub brand of Folgers. It’s absurd in the best possible way.
Sticking with coffee, I’m very proud of the new Folger’s campaign, ‘Damn right, it’s Folgers’. The work takes on young coffee drinkers’ negative perceptions around the brand (it’s watered down ‘Grandma Coffee’) by leveraging the pride of our 35 million drinkers and all of the employees at Folgers’ home in New Orleans. Joan Jett’s punk anthem ‘Bad Reputation’ drives the launch spot and New Orleans native Trombone Shorty brings it home.
Last but not least, I love our newest campaign for Milkbone. It’s a philosophy we can all get behind (except maybe cat people): the world would be a better place if we had less fakeness, superficiality, excess, and BS and ‘More Dog’.
LBB> What kind of creative content inspired or interested you most when you were growing up?
Erica> ‘Big Mac, Mc DLT, a Quarter-Pounder with some cheese, Filet-O-Fish, a hamburger, a cheeseburger, a Happy Meal…’ I can’t remember the next verse, but I’ll never forget playing that little flexi-disc record over and over, hoping that the singers wouldn’t mess up and I’d win a million dollars. And when I wasn’t listening to the Menu Song, I was glued to the TV watching the most brilliant creative problem solver of my time, MacGyver.
LBB> Who really inspires you? Do you have any creative heroes?
Erica> There are a ton of creatives who inspire me, but I only have one hero. He is the most brilliant creative thinker, designer, problem solver and partner in the industry. He’s one of the most awarded creatives of our time (although he’d sooner deny it than post about his accolades on LinkedIn). He’s created some of the most iconic campaigns in the last three decades (although you’d have to ply him with a magnum of Cabernet Sauvignon to hear the stories). And he’s 100% responsible for me being in the position I’m in today (although no matter how many times I try to tell him that, he refuses to take credit). He plucked me out of obscurity and gave me a breakout shot in new biz six years ago. Since then he’s given me nothing but unconditional support. I wish everyone was lucky enough to have an Andy Bird in their lives.
LBB> Outside of work, what do you like to get up to?
Erica> I love cooking second only to Scrabble and Scrabble-related trash talk.