Q&A: Bruno Bertelli, Global CCO of Publicis Worldwide

Bruno Bertelli via The Cresta Awards

From ironic anti-ads to opening a ‘pub’, there is a quest for playful disruption at Publicis this year.

As release of the ‘new’ James Bond film gets put back a third time (now possibly October 2021 but subject to Covid-21 variants), we are so delighted that we can all enjoy James Bond, or at least Daniel Craig, doing his stuff in a high-energy two minutes of action and wry amusement.

Yes, we mean the multi-award laden spot by Publicis Italia for Heineken, Daniel Craig vs James Bond.


To gain a little insight on the creation of one of Cresta 2020 best films of the year, and to go behind what drove the terrific performance of Publicis Italia in our last awards, we caught up with Bruno Bertelli, worldwide CCO of Publicis and CEO/Executive Creative Director of Publicis Italia.

The pandemic made it a challenging year for all in many ways. How have you adapted as a creative leader?

It has accelerated the role of communication and how we work for brands. We have to be highly reactive, quickly responding to changing situations, whereas in the past the ad communication could perhaps be more detached. We can still set about creating aspirational brands, but we just use storytelling in different ways. We must give a point of view on people’s lives. The most successful work does.

When looking around at other people’s work, I really like some of what I see from Nike. It shifted from being purpose-led to being responsive. And also Apple work.

And, of course, the work we have done with Heineken. In the past it was more about social life but now we need to be more reactive, identifying problems and giving solutions. We perhaps forgot a little how advertising is a problem-solving thing. It is important to deal with how people are feeling and respond to that. Now we should not be too challenging, we must be hopeful and inject some positive perspective.


“Heineken is humor” says Bertelli of the emotional connection within the brand

With the Daniel Craig film, the starting point was something real: the stories about how Daniel Craig did not want at first to do the film, how people might identify him too much with James Bond. So we started with that and played with it. Heineken always like to play this ironic aspect, anti-ad and more relate-able.

How has the pandemic affected your work day-to-day?

We cannot produce content how we used to so we have to be more adaptable — perhaps use animation, or existing footage, or find simple ways. We must still differentiate an idea, keep consistency in tone of voice, but perhaps we must do it with a different canvas.

In some ways in how we differentiate ourselves the tone of voice matters more than strategy — brand behavior, brand attitude matters. People are getting back to emotional relationships.

You saw something similar after World War Two. People need to feel safe, they need solid things, more emotional and less rational.

Your work with Diesel seems full of attitude.

With Diesel we focus on the brand attitude more than the specific strategy. We show how it challenges conformity in a very natural way. The Diesel strategy is based on being very reactive. Instead of claiming things about challenging conformity, it does so in itself.

In this time, more than ever, we all need to be consistent and not just jump on causes. People need to see your consistency.

How has the challenges of lockdowns, and working from home, affected how you lead and manage creative people at Publicis?

The leadership approach has changed. At the beginning of the pandemic, you get more united and support each other, so you get stronger. The first three months of lockdown was relatively easy to handle, we were talking to each other every day. But long-term as a leader you need to give objectives, set things to be reached, so that people are clear at home what to do. Then every day, every week, they can work towards something.

Bruno Bertelli: “We must give a point of view on people’s lives.”

Of course, I do a lot of meetings, a lot of calls. But I try to do more intimate calls with a maximum of three or four people. I don’t like it when there are 20 or more on a call. With smaller groups you can discuss but with big calls, you tend to stay very much on the surface.

What do you do as a leader to keep pushing the standard for innovation?

It is easy to get satisfied or even to make excuses that you don’t have all the resources at this time. My obligation is always to ensure the quality of the work. So when we have a good idea, I don’t stop there. I try to ask for other ways, look for three other ways.

I hate it when a story is expressed the same way as in the past. It has to fit with tone of voice and it has to be right for now. But it has to keep moving forward.

Heineken is humor. Diesel is a bit controversial. We have to keep that in the style of the communication while finding new ways.

Have there been some changes that will stick in the agency world?

We are learning in ways that will last for us long term. We see more that an agency will work with another agency. It is less about ‘my p&l and my client’. The pandemic has accelerated the process that was already there of seeking more collaboration. In Publicis, as a network, there are incredible patterns of working together.

It is what clients need, they need us to find the best possible ways to solve their business issues, using data and strategy, along with the media. This calls for big collaboration. In how we work, we must not waste energy, we must keep and improve efficiency.

In practice, that means, for example, small meetings. Relevant people. Have diverse people to support each other and find many ways of responding so as to get the best solution.

What plans for 2021 do you have from a ‘creative development’ perspective?

It should be easier to sell an idea to a client… perhaps in front of a beer rather than with lots of communication. And so, with Heineken, we are opening Le Pub, in a real pub, in Amsterdam. Amsterdam will work with Publicis Milan, using data insights to explore and find relevance. It is a new kind of agency model.

If you could change one thing about your work as a senior creative leader, what would it be?

I am never happy with my work. Do I push it enough? This is always my question. But timing, deadlines, sometimes means we have to stop. My tendency is to take it further. I’d like to think that would be always possible.

Francesca, for Diesel, takes forward the continuously ‘controversial’ positioning of the brand in a charming and yet edgy story of gender transitioning.


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