Peter Ampe, CCO of DDB Brussels, tells what it takes to run a great agency.




DDB Brussels has had a pretty great year. Back in June, they were named Agency of the Year at Belgium’s top creative show the CCB Awards. They were the #1 Belgian agency at the Cannes Lions Festival too and, in the recently released Global Creativity Report, they ranked #16 in all of Europe. They attribute their success to strong work for strong brands. We asked Peter Ampe, CCO of DDB Brussels, for his secrets to running a successful agency.

Is the work coming out of DDB Brussels indicative of Bill Bernbach’s philosophy?

Most of Bernbach’s thoughts are as true now as much as they were sixty years ago. Nowadays we call them quotes, but at DDB Brussels we still see them as beliefs you can live by. It is indeed the core and DNA of DDB, an unchangeable philosophy. All the rest is trendwatching.

You have around 60 people total in the office. Do you think this size makes it easier to be more nimble? What are the challenges?

60 people makes us big enough to tackle anything. It also makes us small enough to be very agile. One of the advantages is that next to the planned meetings, there is still room for unplanned ones. And most of the time, these unplanned meetings are the most fruitful. Of course we still want to grow, but it’s important to stay an agency where all departments interact as one.

What are your current favorite campaigns and why?

My favorite campaign is always the one coming up.

Much of you work seems to come from a media agnostic approach. How much of this is driven by your clients or is this something you’ve ingrained in the agency?

Our view on media is simple: the idea determines the choice of media. This way of working is driven by both the agency and our clients. It’s not the easiest way, as it demands efforts from both agency and client. Last year IKEA wanted us to turn the catalogue into a design reference again. They suggested social media, CRM and in-store as media. We came up with the idea of shredding old catalogues and use them as the filling of a newly design pillow, the IKEA Küss. This was a design object, showing that the world’s most widespread catalogue can also be the world’s most sustainable one. To launch the product we did use the media suggested by the client, but we added PR, product design and an in-store experience to the mix.

When speaking about your award-winning Stardust for Bowie campaign, you called it a true piece of teamwork, emphasizing how your creatives teamed up with in-house experts in Design, PR, Digital and Strategy to turn around such a well-crafted and efficient idea in 48 hours. Is this collaboration becoming the norm? Does it changed the way you staff your teams or structure the agency?

Stardust for Bowie is a good illustration of how things are evolving. One evolution is the need for speed. Brands and clients are living in real time, as Wendy Clark pointed out during her speech in Cannes. Another evolution is the added value of experts in different domains. A team doesn’t consist of 2 anymore, but of 20. The creative teams remain important, because they provide the idea, but once the idea is found, there are many people who can push it further, make it bigger. We know the importance of sharing, that’s why we only hire creatives who are open enough to share their ideas.

You were nearly 30 when you joined the world of advertising. You were a journalist and a Dutch teacher for political refugees. And you are a published writer and poet. Besides never having made it on advertising’s “30 hottest under 30” list, what impact has this had on your advertising career and the type of leader you are today?

I lived in the “real world” before joining the “advertising world”. Maybe this explains why I like DDB so much. I hate advertising, but I adore ideas that are built on real human insights.

You’ve said the mind works best when running. Care to elaborate? Do you make you teams run the Woluwepark at lunchtime?

It’s the dream of every creative: you don’t have to look for ideas anymore, ideas just come and look for you. If you run at the right speed, you get a spontaneous flow of ideas. I discovered this a couple of years ago, and I’m not the only one at DDB. Just ask Ben Priest.

Always had hoped the secret was Scotch. Guess we’ll just have to wait for your book, The Mind Works Best at Running Speed, to come out in November.