Tom Bernardin, Jarek Ziebinski on the Burnett agenda

By Savia Jane Pinto , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | April 29, 2009
In a visit to India, Tom Bernardin and Jarek Ziebinski of the Leo Burnett Group speak to afaqs! about the global restructuring and coping with adverse economic conditions. The duo also divulges that Burnett India has won a portion of the Samsung mobile business

Recently, Leo Burnett India picked up a handful of awards at the Goafest and the Pattaya AdFest. Prior to that, the India office was ranked as the Global Agency of the Year among its worldwide network, which has made its worldwide top honchos do a double take.

To get closer to Leo Burnett India, Tom Bernardin, chairperson and chief executive officer, Leo Burnett Worldwide, is touring its offices in the country. He is also here to introduce Jarek Ziebinski, the agency's new president for the Asia Pacific region, who was so far the CEO of Leo Burnett, Central and Eastern Europe.

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His replacement at Europe is soon to be finalised. In APAC, Ziebinski takes over from Michelle Kristula-Green, who has, in turn, moved back to the headquarters in Chicago as the global head for HR.

afaqs! met with the two gentlemen to discuss the current and future plans of the agency.

According to the duo, the restructuring came about as a result of a strategy to have a diversity of the global company represented in the management, and to rotate the top talent around and give them more responsibility.

"Kristula-Green was moved back to Chicago because she will bring Asia Pacific closer to the headquarters," says Bernardin.

The big question: Recession/Slowdown

Bernardin admits that this year isn't as smooth as the previous year for the agency because of the current state of the global economy. Leo Burnett recorded a 4.5 per cent global annual growth last year. There were layoffs in a few offices, particularly in the US, but the idea is simple: to keep a close tab on the headcount and not go into overdrive while hiring people.

What marginally eases the tension, says Bernardin, is that the core group of clients that Leo Burnett works with (such as McDonalds, Procter & Gamble, Kellogg's and Phillip Morris) are relatively stable and that's a good sign. "We won't finish 2009 as well as 2008, but we hope to perform as well as the market does," says a hopeful Bernardin.

Ziebinski, who is moving from recession-struck Europe to the APAC region, which is relatively less hit (and is undergoing slowdown in parts), can perhaps heave a sigh of relief. He assumes office in Singapore in June '09 and compares the two markets, finding some similarities in the fact that both Europe and the APAC region comprise very diverse cultures. "But the diversity here is even more and this cross-culture environment is a great source of creativity…loads of opportunities here," he says.

On new businesses, Samsung and more

However, one cannot ignore a niggling worry: Leo Burnett hasn't won too many significant pieces of business globally since it won Samsung in 2005. However, Bernardin waves those thoughts away, insisting that the agency is in no way "complacent" on the new business front.

He adds that there has been considerable business flowing in, including the General Motor's Buick and GMC accounts in the US market (without a pitch, too), and many regional businesses that have added to the growth in the last year.

Interestingly, the agency works on about 40 telecommunication brands in 36 countries. When asked whether Leo Burnett India will ever work with Samsung in India, Bernardin smiles mysteriously. "Oh yes, you'll soon hear from us on that. It should be fructified in two month's time," he acknowledges.

When prodded further, he confirms that Leo Burnett India has won a portion of the Samsung mobile business and is soon to kick-start an assignment for the brand. However, the details are sketchy at this stage and are in the process of being worked out.

Creative churn

The worldwide chief regrets the recent loss of its creative hands in the form of Santosh Padhi, Sukumar Menon and some others (as well as some on the business side such as Srikanth Sarathy and Rameet Arora), but then accepts that this is a two-way street. "If we lose someone like Paddy, let's not forget that we shall also take people like him from other agencies," he shrugs.

The agency that has been having an incredibly good run on the awards front in India says that the mantra is the focused investment and energy diverted towards creativity. "Creativity is the connective tissue," says Bernardin, and hence, the agency strives to devote 60 per cent of its staff to the creative process.

The Ziebinski report

Ziebinski aims to make good of every opportunity in the APAC region.

Sharing his agenda, Ziebinski tells afaqs! that he aims to build hubs within the Leo Burnett network, where a region will be known for a particular strength it possesses, like a certain region could be a digital centre while another could create great work on retail.

Of course, he is expected to accelerate growth - "Triple the growth" - as Bernardin puts it; Ziebinski is confident enough to say that he sees all chances for business in India to grow doubly within the next three years.

"In tough times as these, ideas become currency," states Ziebinski, and it is this same thought that will be his armour in his new role.

HumanKind Brands

Incidentally, it was Bernardin who famously coined the term 'HumanKind Brands' some two years ago.

He believes the two words describe the work process at Leo Burnett. It essentially means finding a human purpose for every brand and then focussing on that. HumanKind Brands believe that creativity can transform human behaviour if the human purpose of the brand is understood. "And then, we can do the best job of creating ideas," says Bernardin.