Brigid Alkema, CCO, Clemenger BBDO Wellington: “In order to better the world we live in, our industry has to reflect its diversity”
Following Brigid Alkema’s appointment as the first female Kiwi to the BBDO Global Board and her promotion to Chief Creative Officer of Clemenger BBDO Wellington, Alkema chats with CB on what it means to her.
What does the role of CCO and your appointment to the BBDO Global Board mean to you? Can you explain what your role on the BBDO Global Board will actually involve?
BA: CCO is a pretty impressive sounding title, and one that is well regarded within the BBDO network, so hopefully it’ll act as a healthy driver to live up to it! To me, it means not only maintaining exceptional standards for the work and results for our clients, but also an increased focus on growing our emerging leaders and giving them the room they need to flourish.
It’s also a huge privilege to be a part of the BBDO Global Board. The minds around this table are some of the best in the world. We’ll be working together to ensure we’re nailing an incredible ‘tomorrow’ for BBDO’s creative communities all around the globe. This has me fizzing. It’s going to be a journey of sharing and learning – challenging us all to continue to evolve and find new and fresh ways of solving the wicked problems our society, and therefore our industry, faces.
You’re the first female Kiwi to be appointed to the Board, what does this mean to you, and what do you hope other women within the creative/advertising industries will take from this?
BA: There have been two other appointments made alongside mine: the talented creative leaders of AMV BBDO; Nadja Lossgott and Nicholas Hulley. So with Nadja, that’s two female members now on the board. Go the girls! Go the boys! Go BBDO! I started my career in a very male-dominated industry, it’s brilliant to see this is changing.
In order to better the world we live in, our industry has to reflect its diversity. Diversity of gender, race, backgrounds, beliefs, age and identity, equals diversity of thought. Diversity of thought makes for a far more powerful creative product. We’re not there yet as an industry, but you get the sense there is a commitment, and new ways of thinking and operating to be more open and inclusive. Let’s all keep that spiral moving upwards.
And in terms of leadership, as long as we continue to celebrate individuality in our industry, support different working styles, and explore challenging perspectives, we’ll avoid having one type of person that keeps rising to the top.
What’s the piece(s) of work from Clemenger BBDO that you’re most proud of?
BA: Conscious Crossing, Give Nothing to Racism, Voice of Racism, Gen Less, Belted Survivors, Unsaid, Unite Against COVID-19… we’re proud of lots of our work, especially the ideas that get into culture and are owned and loved by people. You know instantly when an idea is born, whether it’s got potential or not. But the thing I dig the most is the way it’s brought to life – the people you work with and the journey you all take together; the unity and resilience you show as a team, to build, shape and evolve an idea. It’s a wild ride.
In your opinion, what is it that sets Clemenger BBDO apart from the rest, and has seen you and the agency recognised on the global stage?
It’s where our government lives, and where all of the incredible opportunities lie when helping to shape a better New Zealand. We’re tasked with working on some of the most complex problems of our time. These problems have attracted emotionally intelligent, incredible human beings that care about doing meaningful work. These problems have made us think and develop our work differently. We love learning about people – their lives, values and beliefs – it’s magic. We tell newcomers, Clems is like a Uni – it may be filled with ‘adult students’, but it’s a really fucking cool one.
What’s the most common misconception about the agency / the work you do?
BA: Our size.
People always think we’re bigger than we are. We’re tiny. We have a team of 38 people. We’re small, we’re nimble, we’re tight. The thinking is not over-analysed or scrutinised by too many. We move fast, and we achieve a lot for our size.
What does it take to be a creative at Clemenger BBDO? What do you look for when hiring?
BA: Regardless of disciplines, when hiring, we’re after curious people – people who do well in this game are eager to learn, open to getting it wrong and never willing to give up. We’re also after team players – people who can play, grow, win and lose together.
I asked the creatives ‘What does it take to be a creative at Clemenger BBDO?’
“We are rarely selling things, instead we are trying to change things. This means the truths are baked in people, not ‘products’. That’s a mindset shift as a creative, especially if you come from working mostly on brands.”
“You need to be a team player, everyone has something brilliant to bring to the table (the beauty is you wouldn’t really know it as no one here carries a big ego). You can’t lone wolf anything, diversity of thought and approach seems to be where the magic happens.”
“I think it takes patience, you must get comfortable in trusting the process of exploration and be willingly to be vulnerable. You have to understand that it’s okay to be wrong. You need to be able to hunt for deep, human based truths. And you must be willing to go back to the beginning. There is no failing, only learning. You’ve got to love gnarly cultural and behavioural complexity. And at the same time try find simplicity that people will lean into. It’s a lot to get your head around.”
“Obsession about culture. Empathy. Comfort with chaos. A desire to continually learn. The ability to put yourself in others shoes.”
You’ve now moved to Level 2 in Wellington, but how do you stay creative in lockdown?
BA: By approaching life and work the same way you do out of lockdown. I think for all of us, in our industry the world over, we learned our imaginations are not hindered by being under house arrest / lockdown! It was incredibly empowering to realise this.
Where do you see the future of Clemenger BBDO, and creativity in New Zealand in general?
BA: It’s great to see that design, innovation and creativity are beginning to have an equal seat at the table with strategy and policy within business and organisations, which will only see the opportunities to change the world multiply. It’s satisfying and motivating as an industry to have our creative problem solving and imaginations valued more highly. For us specifically, we believe the past couple of years have really confirmed the need for behaviour change approaches to evolve, particularly with mature programmes where the returns are getting harder to achieve. We’ve been busy developing a new approach to solving these challenges and are excited to share it with our clients in the coming months.