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5 Minutes with… Frank Hahn


The chief creative officer of BBDO Group Germany on how he “never planned a career in advertising” and why it’s important to lead culture rather than copy it, writes LBB’s Nisna Mahtani

5 Minutes with… Frank Hahn

REKORDER, the Berlin-based film and photography creative production studio, is proud to support LBB. Over the upcoming months, as part of its sponsorship of the German Edition, we will celebrate creativity and introduce some of the most innovative and creative minds in the industry. 

In this feature, Frank Hahn, the chief creative officer at BBDO Group Germany speaks with LBB’s Nisna Mahtani to share his journey into the industry and the experience he’s had over his career so far. With a passion for art and design at a young age, he didn’t think the path he’d take would lead him to advertising, but after some experience with communications and a taste of agency life, he found himself in the right spot. Now, he explains why it’s important to lead culture rather than copy it and how his international experience led him back to Germany.

LBB> You’ve been in the industry for over 20 years now. Can you tell us how you were first introduced to it and when you decided you wanted to have a career in advertising? 

Frank> I never planned a career in advertising. I had some early love for art and design and maybe some talent for making drawings. In the Academy of Fine Arts in Braunschweig (HBK) I started seeing a path towards communication. But I never lost contact with the art and film classes that were offered alongside, and never with the artists and creators themselves. That openness to the creative class was key for my personal development. 

After a couple of years in German advertising agencies, I found my real ‘Nirvana’ in Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam, at that time the agency for Nike and the leading agency for best-in-class storytelling, filmmaking and brand building. There couldn’t have been a better place in meeting global talents in one of the most relaxed cities in the world. Here is where my real journey started, with an endless income of inspiration from like-minded creators, amazing leaders and awesome clients.

LBB> This year sees you named chief creative officer of BBDO Group Germany - congratulations! We’re still in the first part of the year but how has the experience been so far? 

Frank> Pretty awesome. The culture is different compared to the agencies I was before. But I like those challenges and chances. I know I have strong people on my side that share my vision. There are a couple of things that will need to be worked on - and we are on the right track. 

LBB> How would you describe your leadership style? Is there anything you were keen to bring to the role?

Frank> Energy Giver. Through my roles in different agencies and parts of the world, I learned how to listen, how to take in different cultures and thinking and how to spit it out, transformed as a new thought. I love to mentor and inspire, to make people switch up their routines so they don’t fall into the trap of repetition. And I believe in shared goals where every single employee of our agency has the responsibility to make the creative product better.

LBB> Let’s take it back a little, you’ve worked across Amsterdam, Berlin, Barcelona, Shanghai, Tokyo and Los Angeles. What has each market taught you and how has that contributed to your career?

Frank> Where do I start…

Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam was an eye opener. I joined a global ratatouille of creative minds and we never felt like doing ads. Not one team was composed of the same nationality. Cultural insights and exchange led always to new outcomes and creations. And there I honed my main skills of global thinking, storytelling, filmmaking versus commercial making, and being meaningful. On a personal level, I developed into a European citizen.

Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai taught me humility. There was no creative communication in China. I speed-onboarded myself on Chinese culture and sensibilities - to understand how far we can push the Just Do It concept into a country that is dominated by censorship and fear of failure. Our mission was bigger than just doing ads. We needed to convince a nation that failure is part of life and sports. To encourage kids to make sports part of their self-expression. The outcome of our campaigns was groundbreaking.

Tokyo was the ultimate wake-up to the future and pop culture for me: hyper-creative, expressive, and always reinventing itself. The bar was high to break through in communication. Hiroshi Fujiwara once said it perfectly: ‘Don’t be a designer. Be a disturber.’ So we did. With W+K we built mostly digital brand experiences and platforms that enabled interaction with the audiences.

With 72andsunny in Los Angeles I joined an agency full of positivity and a ‘sky is the limit’ trajectory. The briefings were mainly pointing at film scripts, not a surprising task considering a country whose main media is focused on TV. Film productions and craft are on a different level here, and the opportunities to work with A-class film directors were infinite.

LBB> You’ve worked across many different clients over the years, can you tell us about some standout pieces of working during your career? 

Frank> The global Nike campaign ‘Secret Tournament’ for the World Cup 2002 In Japan/Korea started my international work. It was the first ever fully integrated campaign for Nike, where our campaign concept came to life in digital, outdoor and retail, during live events at the World Cup and in Nike Parks around the world. But also through music media coverage and a record breaking number one hit on the Billboard charts.

Nike's ‘Dare to Become’ in China was my most ambitious and meaningful campaign so far. Its purpose was to educate an entire nation that failure is part of sports and of life. And a means to betterment (I mentioned above). We created a documentary that aired on national TV and tailor made a campaign that called out a new Just Do It generation.  

LBB> You were raised in Germany and have now returned. Why was this the right time to come back?

Frank> I was asked to set the foundation for a new Anomaly office in Berlin where we were able to win clients like Huawei, Rimowa, Porsche and Zalando. But after almost 20 years abroad me and my family were also coming back to immerse ourselves again in the German language and culture. I’m still learning!

LBB> Can you tell us a little bit about the German market, German creativity and some of the trends which are at the forefront of your mind right now?

Frank> German creativity in advertising seems to have two main seasons: Christmas and award shows. That’s when storytelling and craft are pretty amazing. I wish that we recognize that the power of our creativity shouldn’t be limited to those events. It’s our responsibility as leaders to demand and push creativity and craft at all times and on all levels - it has to be standard throughout the year. I also love everything I see from Highsnobiety, a brand that started as a streetwear blog and turned into a culture leading creative powerhouse. It’s a good reminder to always reinvent yourself. 

LBB> What’s one thing creatives should keep in mind when trying to create a memorable campaign?

Frank> Don’t copy culture. Lead culture.

LBB> Where do you find sources of inspiration?

Frank> Art and artists. Films. Travel. My kids. People with stories. 

LBB> Aside from work, how do you spend your free time? Are there any hobbies and interests that you devote time to?

Frank> Diving. Unfortunately, not enough in Germany.

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REKORDER, Tue, 18 Apr 2023 14:30:00 GMT