Sébastien Desclée zooms into FCB

FCB New Zealand CEO Sébastien Desclée touched down in the country this week to join his Auckland-based team. StopPress spoke exclusively to the Belgian about implementing his global integration initiatives locally and taking Kiwi creative to the next level.

In the two months since Sébastien Desclée was appointed as the new CEO of FCB New Zealand, to his touchdown in Auckland this week, New Zealand has gone from being the most open, Covid-free country in the world to a locked-down, Delta variant battleground. The excitement of bringing his family to an aesthetically appealing Aotearoa, with its natural beauty, friendly people, and creative work environment, has been hit with the reality of a two-week spell in managed isolation and possibly further working from home.

With luck, the lockdown won’t last long and Desclée will be able to get to work to fulfil his ambition of taking FCB New Zealand to his proposed ‘next level’. “You’re already up there,” he told StopPress. “But it’s what the next level is and how, together with the team, we’re going to be able to define and bring this agency to this next level that is the challenge.”

Desclée sees the challenge as being one of continuing to leverage the existing FCB New Zealand, an agency he has admired from afar as one of the more successful shops in a New Zealand advertising environment he rates highly in creative terms.

“I’ve been twice to visit in the past, but my knowledge of New Zealand is limited to the office in Wellington Street, and then maybe one or two restaurants. I wouldn’t say I know New Zealand, but I’ve been there a couple of days, a few times just to meet the team in my previous capacity with FCB.”

Desclée references a seminar he hosted about creativity in his home country, Belgium, where, on a map showing the most creative countries in the world, both Belgium and New Zealand rated highly. “That’s where I discovered how creative you guys were,” he says. “Of course, since then, thanks to my visits here, I have always been amazed by the freshness of the creative in general, and how it travels well internationally.”

Impressed by the creative quality of New Zealanders, Desclée is enthusiastic about the potential for improvement and hopes to use his experience to achieve his aims. His international role at FCB, from 2013 to 2019, was to help Draft FCB, a conglomeration of disparate cultures, transition into a top functioning network with a common purpose and common values using common tools. At that time FCB New Zealand was a source of inspiration for how good an agency could be.

His task was to help transform smaller agencies around the world, in Asia, Europe and the Middle East to share best practices. “In that context, FCB New Zealand helped me a lot in bringing some of the knowledge, the culture, indeed the creative culture, to these agencies.”

In that process, Desclée had the opportunity to encounter many different agencies, with varying capabilities and a diverse range of clients, facing distinctive situations. “What I would like to be able to do, is share these experiences with the teams and clients in New Zealand. Many things have been evolving and some of the markets have been accelerating, for example, on data capabilities, on technology capabilities, and some have been facing extremely challenging situations given Covid. My intention would be to bring these tangible capabilities into the New Zealand agency and make them available for clients.”

Desclée’s approach is not a ‘one size fits all’. “How are we going to be able to adapt our offering to our clients’ needs?” he muses. “I’m a big fan of integration because I’ve seen that work for clients on a local level, in countries like Belgium and others, but also on a global level. When you put into the equation, the need to help our clients drive business results in the short, mid, and long-term, being able to control and help them envision the spectrum of all their activities is often more efficient and effective. This doesn’t detract from more specialised offerings, which are also sometimes needed, depending on the client’s needs and their business situation.”

The new CEO has a desire to integrate data with creativity and wants to strengthen the integrated capabilities FCB has to offer. On the other hand, he sees local initiatives creating a positive dynamic, “because it forces changes and change is good”.

StopPress has in recent months spoken on diversity to several new foreign CEOs at the likes of Ogilvy and DDB, who have raised concerns about the lack of diversity (reflecting all New Zealand culture) in creative coming out of the country. We raised this with Desclée who references creative that reflects the diversity of Belgium saying it will be interesting to see how he can find bridges between what’s going on over there and in New Zealand.

Coming from a manic environment, where he was the global client lead for Heineken, Desclée may have to adjust to the way New Zealanders think and work, but from what he has observed, and the Kiwis he has interacted with, he already believes New Zealanders are “extremely forward thinking and progressive”.

Meeting the people is a priority for Desclée, “having a good beer around the table to discuss where you want to go as a team together, nothing replaces that.”

Having only met many of his future campadres on Zoom, the new leader may just have to be content with Zooming a little longer.

About Author

David Nothling-Demmer is Editorial Director - Business Titles at ICG Media. Titles include: StopPress, NZ Marketing magazine, Idealog and The Register.

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