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Agency Life

Being the Black Sheep

Being the Black Sheep

Sulaiman Beg

Sulaiman Beg

March 27, 2019

When the world zigs, BETC Paris’ Stéphane Xiberras says you have to zag.

"Creativity is at the heart of our profession: strategically, conceptually and in terms of execution."

Stéphane Xiberras joined BETC as a Creative Director in 1999 and was named President and Chief Creative Officer in 2007. Since then BETC Paris has turned into the largest agency in France, and one of the most awarded in the world. We spoke with Xiberras about why creativity is at the heart of our profession, why he eschews social media, and the importance of being the black sheep.

 

In a 2014 interview with Ad Age, you said you weren’t on any social network because you don’t like being in the limelight; is that still the case?

Coming to social media I’m more of an observer, lurking in the background. Grabbing the social media microphone to shout out my personal beliefs/breakfast preferences/morning run in backlight to strangers isn’t my thing. When it comes to talking about my work, however, I don’t mind at all, like I’m chatting to you now!

You’ve been at BETC Paris since 1999; what is it about the agency that has kept you here?

People in this agency have an amazing capacity to do completely unexpected things, in terms of strategy, creation, production, and organization—it is incredible. That brings out energy that I’m not sure I could ever find elsewhere.

BETC is a creative powerhouse and has won numerous awards and accolades under your leadership; how do you inspire those around you?

I genuinely believe that awards and accolades are a nice recognition of the quality and effort gone into the work. It’s flattering and ever so sweet for the egos involved. But winning awards is never a goal in itself. The real reward is to see you have helped create and develop a brand with campaigns that people love.

You recently become the head of the Creative Council at Havas. First tell us about the council: How’d it come about? What’s the mission? Which countries and regions are represented in the council? How often do you meet?

The mission of the Creative Council is to develop the culture and creative productions of Havas Creative, notably through the creative awards. All countries are represented and each region has a creative leader. For the moment we meet every three months approximately. It is a great honor and a big responsibility for me and my friends in the Council. I am also lucky enough to have the chairman and legend, our own Albus Dumbledore, Jacques Seguela, by my side.

What impact do you hope to have as the leader of this assembly? What impact do you want to have on the industry?

Creativity is at the heart of our profession: strategically, conceptually and in terms of execution. Creativity is not just the work of “creatives.” It is a collective responsibility, because our collective capacity to create integrated platforms and new, engaging ideas is our only hope if we want to cut through the noise and reach consumers who are drowning in branded messages. This is the only way we can make a real difference for our clients’ business.

"If you want to be the one giving the spark, you have to be that black sheep."

Tell us: How can someone spark creativity—in themselves and other people?

I love the 1982 BBH campaign for Levi’s. A visual of a troop of white sheep walking from right to the left. And in the middle, a black sheep going the other way. The words written below say: “When the world zigs, zag.” If you want to be the one giving the spark, you have to be that black sheep.

What is meaningful storytelling?

Meaningful storytelling is what happens when the right strategy meets great execution. It becomes a “story” that gives sense to the strategy and impacts the customer.

How important is creative reputation in this industry?

The reputation of your agency is more important than ever. It is your reputation that attracts new business, it’s your reputation that protects you in client negotiations, it’s your reputation that draws new talent, it’s your reputation that helps you build a real company culture.

Tell us about your fledging days as a young creative; what excited you about the industry?

I remember extraordinary meetings with fun people, cultivated people who never seemed to be working but rather amusing themselves. I immediately thought: “OK, I want to become like them.”

What excites you now?

I get real satisfaction from introducing young people to our profession. It is fascinating to give them a taste for this amazing industry.

What do you hope to change about advertising?

I think lack of bravery and risk-taking is a real poison for our agencies. We are paid to create an impact, evoke emotion. If we don’t even dare to be brave and show real emotions within the walls of our agencies, I think we’re pretty screwed.

What do you hope never changes about advertising?

I think we need to be careful to keep a distance between what we do and who we are. We don’t save the world; we’re not artists, poets nor engineers. However, we know how to tell stories about brands in a funny and informative way, and we know how to surprise and seduce people.

Any advice for those starting out in the industry?

Give me a call!

Advice for creative veterans?

Talk to the youngest, be curious, look at the long lists of work in Cannes, read Sapiens, install new apps, learn to code; you’ll feel a lot younger for it!

What’s next for you?

Do better!

"Creativity is at the heart of our profession: strategically, conceptually and in terms of execution."

Stéphane Xiberras joined BETC as a Creative Director in 1999 and was named President and Chief Creative Officer in 2007. Since then BETC Paris has turned into the largest agency in France, and one of the most awarded in the world. We spoke with Xiberras about why creativity is at the heart of our profession, why he eschews social media, and the importance of being the black sheep.

 

In a 2014 interview with Ad Age, you said you weren’t on any social network because you don’t like being in the limelight; is that still the case?

Coming to social media I’m more of an observer, lurking in the background. Grabbing the social media microphone to shout out my personal beliefs/breakfast preferences/morning run in backlight to strangers isn’t my thing. When it comes to talking about my work, however, I don’t mind at all, like I’m chatting to you now!

You’ve been at BETC Paris since 1999; what is it about the agency that has kept you here?

People in this agency have an amazing capacity to do completely unexpected things, in terms of strategy, creation, production, and organization—it is incredible. That brings out energy that I’m not sure I could ever find elsewhere.

BETC is a creative powerhouse and has won numerous awards and accolades under your leadership; how do you inspire those around you?

I genuinely believe that awards and accolades are a nice recognition of the quality and effort gone into the work. It’s flattering and ever so sweet for the egos involved. But winning awards is never a goal in itself. The real reward is to see you have helped create and develop a brand with campaigns that people love.

You recently become the head of the Creative Council at Havas. First tell us about the council: How’d it come about? What’s the mission? Which countries and regions are represented in the council? How often do you meet?

The mission of the Creative Council is to develop the culture and creative productions of Havas Creative, notably through the creative awards. All countries are represented and each region has a creative leader. For the moment we meet every three months approximately. It is a great honor and a big responsibility for me and my friends in the Council. I am also lucky enough to have the chairman and legend, our own Albus Dumbledore, Jacques Seguela, by my side.

What impact do you hope to have as the leader of this assembly? What impact do you want to have on the industry?

Creativity is at the heart of our profession: strategically, conceptually and in terms of execution. Creativity is not just the work of “creatives.” It is a collective responsibility, because our collective capacity to create integrated platforms and new, engaging ideas is our only hope if we want to cut through the noise and reach consumers who are drowning in branded messages. This is the only way we can make a real difference for our clients’ business.

"If you want to be the one giving the spark, you have to be that black sheep."

Tell us: How can someone spark creativity—in themselves and other people?

I love the 1982 BBH campaign for Levi’s. A visual of a troop of white sheep walking from right to the left. And in the middle, a black sheep going the other way. The words written below say: “When the world zigs, zag.” If you want to be the one giving the spark, you have to be that black sheep.

What is meaningful storytelling?

Meaningful storytelling is what happens when the right strategy meets great execution. It becomes a “story” that gives sense to the strategy and impacts the customer.

How important is creative reputation in this industry?

The reputation of your agency is more important than ever. It is your reputation that attracts new business, it’s your reputation that protects you in client negotiations, it’s your reputation that draws new talent, it’s your reputation that helps you build a real company culture.

Tell us about your fledging days as a young creative; what excited you about the industry?

I remember extraordinary meetings with fun people, cultivated people who never seemed to be working but rather amusing themselves. I immediately thought: “OK, I want to become like them.”

What excites you now?

I get real satisfaction from introducing young people to our profession. It is fascinating to give them a taste for this amazing industry.

What do you hope to change about advertising?

I think lack of bravery and risk-taking is a real poison for our agencies. We are paid to create an impact, evoke emotion. If we don’t even dare to be brave and show real emotions within the walls of our agencies, I think we’re pretty screwed.

What do you hope never changes about advertising?

I think we need to be careful to keep a distance between what we do and who we are. We don’t save the world; we’re not artists, poets nor engineers. However, we know how to tell stories about brands in a funny and informative way, and we know how to surprise and seduce people.

Any advice for those starting out in the industry?

Give me a call!

Advice for creative veterans?

Talk to the youngest, be curious, look at the long lists of work in Cannes, read Sapiens, install new apps, learn to code; you’ll feel a lot younger for it!

What’s next for you?

Do better!

Sulaiman Beg is Havas' Director of Global Internal Communications. He has never eaten canned tuna fish.

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