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5 minutes with...

5 Minutes with… Marco Venturelli

Publicis Italy ECD on returning to his homeland, global clients and the outlook of an over-discussed generation that he daren’t name

5 Minutes with… Marco Venturelli

While his fellow countryman and Global Chief Creative Officer Bruno Bertelli spends his life jet setting between the Publicis Groupe’s myriad offices around the world, Marco Venturelli’s job, together with his creative partner Luca Cinquepalmi, spends his time holding it down creatively in the Groupe’s Milan office. Leading the global accounts for brands including Heineken and Diesel, the agency feels like it’s fast becoming one of the Publicis’s leading creative hubs.

LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Marco to explore the sort of mind it takes to lead one of Italy’s premiere creative shops.


LBB> Did you grow up with appreciation for brands and advertising? How did you get your start in the industry?

MV> I first got in touch with advertising at university. I was studying in Sienna and one of my professors was to connected with the advertising world. I had a module about communication and advertising. Reading for that exam, I got really interested in the business. I dug a bit more to understand the role and I found out what a copywriter did. It sounded like my thing.

After that my teacher helped me get a placement in Milan and I managed to get my first internship in an agency that doesn’t exist anymore - BGS D’Arcy. I never stopped. I was supposed to go back to Sienna but I kept working in advertising. 

Since then I’ve worked for Publicis, BBDO, the Milan office of Havas, where I met Luca. We worked on Citroen, doing the Italian side for the international account. We started winning a lot of awards and pitches. Eventually we were called by the Paris office.


LBB> You moved to Paris in 2010 - what was most striking about that shift for you? How would you compare the Italian and French advertising industries?

MV> We moved to Paris to take care of Citroen internationally. It was a big jump for us to move out of Italy and play on a global scale. It was a very interesting experience. The big difference I found, apart from that they had a lot of big companies, was that French people are really protective of French culture and ways. Big French companies like to work with French agencies. So they feed the industry way better than Italians do. Italians admire what comes from abroad, especially in our field. The market is smaller. We have fewer international companies.

Another big difference is that in France there is big respect for talent and they try to preserve it, whereas in Italy that’s not always the case. When you have success in Italy, people try to find the reason why it’s easier for you than others or something like that. And that’s true even as a company. When Luca and I launched a new agency called Les Gaulois, in the first year we did very well, winning many Cannes Lions. Following that, we had a lot of goals for the business that we were able to achieve. In France, the creative work tends to translate into business opportunities more easily.

In France there are maybe up to eight good agencies producing constantly award-winning and creative work on an international level. And that pushes the whole industry up.


LBB> When we spoke to Bruno Bertelli recently he mentioned that local talent too often leaves Italy to work abroad. Why is that and what is key to preventing it?

MV> On the one hand it’s a normal consequence of what I’ve told you already. At the moment advertising is not the most exciting business to be in, in Italy, while abroad it can be. It’s normal that the good people who really care about doing the best work go elsewhere.

On the other hand, one thing that makes me pretty proud is that we as an agency are trying our best to turn that around. We work on international brands, so we need to be an international agency. We don’t want to be limited to Italy and Italian culture. We’re recruiting international talent. We keep in touch with advertising schools. We go to schools to screen new talent and have them moving to the agency, which is sometimes an issue for us because Milan is not a sexy destination for advertising. But a lot of young talent is coming here and producing global work and making us proud. Slowly this thing is spreading, so every time it gets easier to recruit.

It’s healthy. To be honest, today markets are wider than a country for any brand. So it’s important that the agency, whichever one it is, has an international vision and is never too connected to one country. 


LBB> How has the Italian advertising landscape changed since your career began 16 years ago?

MV> It’s changed in two different ways I would say since I started and since I went away and came back. It got a lot more international. There is a new generation of creative directors and creatives that grew up online and that opened their minds to work from different places. The general creative industry also got more international by itself. The new generation is more up to the standard of communication for the rest of the world. 

What wasn’t that great is that Italy suffered a very long economic crisis. When I started working we were in the aftermath of 2001. We were recovering a bit and then 2008 struck really badly. I would say that the Italian economy is just starting to recover now. We’re not a very fast growing economy and obviously that impacts our industry a lot. I think we lost more than half of the people in the industry in recent years, or something close to that.


LBB> Publicis Italy have become one of the Groupe’s leading agencies lately, working on global campaigns for clients like Heineken and Diesel. What has been key to that success?

MV> The main key is definitely Bruno and Cristiana [Boccassini]’s vision. They’ve been working constantly to create this agency. It’s a long term process, but they want to create a really strong creative agency that can compete on the same level as the best agencies in the world. I think they have put in place all the things we need to do to achieve that. I think Luca and I are part of it. 

The reason we chose to come back to Italy was that we wanted to take this chance; we felt it was a great opportunity to create something with potential. There’s a strong drive to focus on creative excellence and to change the business for our clients, which is quite unique. There are many great agencies but if you put together the size we have, the kind of work we do and the relationships we have with clients, it’s a very nice position to be in at this moment.


LBB> And you’ve done a lot of work on the Heineken account - a brand with a long history in advertising and a long relationship with Publicis. What are the key considerations and aims for that brand right now?

MV> That’s the secret. It’s a very long-term relationship that goes back many years with Bruno. Heineken is a trusting client that believes in creativity as a driver of sales and success. I think this has created a very healthy foundation. The agency is trying to do the best it can to help the client. But at the same time the client is really willing to perform in the best possible way in the creative world. That’s a pretty rare thing. So many times working for international clients, creativity feels like it’s not necessary, but for Heineken it’s key to the success of the brand. The same goes for Diesel. It’s DNA stands for creativity and so is the perfect match for us.

We don’t invest in making campaigns for award shows. That’s not a shortcut we need to take because we have reliable partners.


LBB> What do you find most inspiring? Do you find yourself turning in a particular direction for inspiration?

MV> Professionally, one thing I do is try, even though my agenda now is really busy, to dedicate a lot of time to keeping myself up to date on what’s going on the creative world in the widest sense of the word. Not just advertising. To be honest, it was something I did in an almost obsessive way when I first started working. It was my way to learn. But now I oblige myself to do it because it’s work. There is so much content and new things that just to try to be up to date takes so much of your time. 

And then there are the normal things everyone else does. One thing I try to do is sometimes is try to understand things outside of our industry. Sometimes we can be a bit of a closed circle… but we’re more and more open to the real world. We used to talk in a a language for ourselves but now that’s dissolving because we live in an era where everyone sees content. 

It helps me a lot that I’m lucky enough to be working on global accounts like Heineken that let me move around a lot and see the world, different cultures. For example, we’re trying to involve talent from other offices around the world that work on Heineken, which is already establishing the base of this ‘Marcel’ [Publicis Groupe’s upcoming AI collaboration platform] approach. We’re already kind of doing it; when we have a big brief or something really interesting we try to involve the best talent from around the world. Opening your mind to different views and approaches is vital for a client like Heineken, who operate in 192 countries. 


LBB> Much of your best recent work has some kind of social purpose behind the strategy - e.g. Diesel on ‘imperfections’, Heineken on drink driving. What are your feelings on that trend?

MV> I used to think of it as a political approach that sometimes shouldn’t be a matter of discussion for brands, but that was my very first reaction many years ago when this started. It’s been a strategy now for a long time. But with time passing and maybe my growing up and being exposed to real consumer dynamics, I am beginning to understand that it’s actually the only direction to go. The more we work, we have to deal with a generation of people - and I won’t say THAT word - who are very cynical about advertising but who are really looking for meaningful things. And in this search for meaningful things even the role of a brand becomes important for them. 

It’s also true that we’re not in the USP world, where you just have to tell people what makes you different. People are really into what a company stands for, how it’s behaving and how it’s connected.

A social conversation is easier to have now, too, because of the internet. I do think a company that wants to grow should keep their brand healthy and relevant and true to what they stand for. So I think it’s a good thing. I don’t feel it’s a creative trend anymore. I see it as a business necessity. And new brands are born in that cradle. We are living in the world of Airbnb and Tesla. It’s a different environment. It’s right for a brand to communicate clearly what they stand for and why.


LBB> Who has had the greatest impact on your career and why?

MV> One person that had a lot of impact on my career is my partner Luca. We’ve been working together for over nine years. Then there’s a list of people that’s huge and nobody would be interested in listening to it. At the moment, the biggest impact is coming from Bruno and Cristiana, our partners in this adventure. They designed the plan. They’re like the coaches and we’re the players. One of the main reasons to come and start this adventure was to work with them. 


LBB> Moving forward, what are your biggest ambitions for Publicis Italy?

MV> I think we have to always looking for the newest and most creative paths to help our clients businesses grow and serving their brands in the future landscape. And I think one good indication is the creative quality of the work we do. I know everyone in my sort of job says something like that in some way - everyone has their own slogan - but I’ve been in many agencies and this is the one place where I can most clearly see the fact that creativity matters a lot. It’s not for about ego or awards or recognition. We do believe creativity is what can change or improve our clients. It’s not just a little treat we get from them to keep us happy. It’s what they ask for from us and what they relentlessly challenge us to do.