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5 minutes with...

5 Minutes with… Jan Harbeck

One of DDB Berlin’s new creative directors talks about his perpetual dissatisfaction, creative marriage to David Mously and the importance of listening to his body

5 Minutes with… Jan Harbeck

After the departure of creative director Gabriel Mattar for Innocean at the end of March this year, DDB Berlin found a pair of successors with just the right creative clout to fill this prominent vacancy in the German capital. Jan Harbeck and David Mously stepped in to take up the mantle, marking the start of a new era for the agency.

Jan and David are an inseparable duo, having worked together since they met at Jung von Matt / Spree 15 years ago. They took over creative management of BBDO Berlin in 2010 and, thanks to new business wins there, increased the office to more than 100 employees. In 2016, they returned to JvM together, where, among other things, they supervised the 2017 election campaign for the Angela Merkel-led Christian Democratic Union (CDU). They also bring years of expertise with them from working on automotive brands such as Smart and Mercedes-Benz - experience that no doubt come in handy continuing DDB’s famous relationship with Volkswagen. 

LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Jan to get a flavour for what we can expect from the agency under his and David’s creative leadership.

LBB> What were you like when you were growing up? Were there any clues back then about what you would end up doing for a job?

JH> My teacher left a comment on the first essay I wrote in school. It was just one word: ‘Dreamer’. I think that would still be an accurate comment today.

LBB> When did you first consider going into advertising as a career?

JH> After I failed as a musician and as a nightclub owner I had to think of other ways of how to work creatively and finally earn some money. A friend showed me the copy test of an agency and I just thought, ‘this is a real job?’

LBB> Can you describe your creative relationship with David Mously, your creative partner? How has it evolved since you met at JvM / Spree 15 years ago?

JH> 15 years is more than an average marriage lasts. The secret is: we still manage to keep it exciting in the war room.

LBB> What lesson or piece of advice do you wish you'd had earlier in your career?

JH> Ideas don’t get better at five o’clock in the morning.

LBB> Which recent projects are you most proud of and why?

JH> I think pride gets pretty quickly in the way of coming up with new ideas and being open for new concepts. At Jung von Matt we learned to live by the principle of ‘Wir bleiben unzufrieden’ (‘we remain dissatisfied’) and I think I will stick to it to the end.

LBB> One of your more noteworthy recent campaigns was the CDU Bundestag election campaign last year. What was the experience like working on a political brief?

JH> This was probably the most intense working phase in my career. Instead of weeks or at least days you often only had hours to come up with a solution. And never before had I worked on a campaign that had an exact expiry date, it felt really strange to look at the campaign posters after the evening of the election.

LBB> What most attracted you to DDB Berlin?

JH> Great people to work with and a great task ahead.

LBB> What are your main creative aims for the agency in your new role?

JH> Living up to the formidable creative heritage of DDB.

LBB> Which aspects of the creative process are most enjoyable for you?

JH> The moment I hear about or come up with a really good idea, I am flooded with endorphins. I can tell by the reaction of my body when an idea is worth pursuing it. That’s enjoyable.

LBB> You've done quite a lot of car advertising in your career. What is the key to that category and how do you feel about the work that gets made within it?

JH> I think we will see a big shift in the way car advertising will look and feel over the next few years. Some brands have already started that shift, but others still feel very old-school. 

Autonomous driving, new digital ecosystems, shared mobility and the rise of new competitors will change the whole automotive industry and of course the communication and advertising will follow.

LBB> What do you like to do in your spare time? Any current obsessions?

JH> Preparing the career of my son as a professional football player. It is his first birthday today.
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