Simon Gunning is Global Head of Digital Media and Technology at advertising agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH). We catch up with him, taking a good look into his Little Grey Cells…
When did you first get into tech?
I worked in the record business for long time, managing record producers and artists, and it was clear that it was an industry that was getting into trouble. At the same time, billions of pounds were spent trying to prevent the Y2K disaster, and the dot com bubble was growing. So I went to work for a company called Flextech television, which became Virgin Media television.
Quite extraordinarily I was appointed head of business development, and my job included setting up web sites for the four biggest channels in pay TV at the time. I had to set up their presence online, in mobile telephony and red button interactivity, which was seen to be the future of the world as we then knew it.
Is digital the future of communications?
The future of communications will be the same vibrant mix of channels that we’ve seen for the last 10 years. It will be governed by consumer demand and expectation and efficiency of the channel. TV is not in any trouble, it doesn’t need any augmentation. The problem lies with the audience expecting to do more things and wanting more from brands.
So what do audiences want?
Audiences want things faster. A one-way communication broadcast doesn’t deliver on that. On efficiency – TV is expensive. The problem is that the cheaper options in television are less effective and reach smaller audiences – which is not the case in digital communications, where you can get to a large audience effectively with a smaller amount of money. The problem is that the stakes are so much higher with how you communicate with your audience once you get there.
What has working at BBH taught you?
Dogma can be good. If you look after the work, other stuff looks after itself. The only thing to focus on is the quality of the work that you put out the door. Just do that and everything else will come together. Now I don’t just mean the creative solution, I mean everything that goes with it: from the strategy to the creative to the making of the things… and then operating them. If you only think about what it is that you are putting in front of people, then good things will happen.
Has there never been a better time to be in communications?
Absolutely. I am in a place here where I can make a broader variety of communications assets than ever before. Having made records, that was lovely; having worked for television companies – I thought ‘there’s no broader canvas than this’; when I worked at Yahoo I thought ‘this is incredible’.
But arriving at BBH, I found the breadth of what we are doing just extraordinary. We have to view ourselves as product companies, and as such, completely rid ourselves of any limitations as to how we execute a creative solution. I don’t think there’s another industry where you can do that.
If you work in media, you are limited by the core platforms of what you are trying to sell. If you work for a brand, you are limited by the product. In communications agencies, we are free of the restrictions of format. Communications is media and utility and entertainment – and as such there’s never been a better time to be working here.
What do you do to relax?
I swear at Arsenal and Arsene Wenger, and I play the guitar obsessively. I hide guitars from my wife – that’s my hobby. The secret is to buy guitars of a similar colour and move them around frequently.
The most beautiful place you’ve ever been?
7.45 on a weekday evening at Highbury
The last CD you bought?
The brilliant White Rabbits LP – Milk Famous.
The most insane job you ever did?
My first job after University, in 1992, was promoting Reading Festival. I was paid about £60 a week, and, being the only person under 40, found myself representing the Festival, hanging around with the likes of Kurt Cobain and New Order.
The highlight of the two years of madness has to be either Flavour Flav running round Reading town centre wearing his big clock having lost the band’s bus or standing on stage with Nirvana as they played to 60,000 people. I thought life would always be like that and though BBH is fantastic, I have to say that was pretty good.
What else can we look forward to from BBH in the near future?
We are making some very interesting things that do not directly relate to client work, and we’re doing it in a very responsible way. We’re not betting the farm or anything – we are taking the lead from our in-house brand venture company Zag – and making useful stuff.
There’s our game platform that we’ve created called Chuck Studios – and there’s a product in the US which I love called While You Were Off: when you turn your phone on again after a flight (for example) it pulls bits of information from the net to let you know what’s been happening – not news, not football but stuff from the internet and your social networks – its an iPhone version of the classic pink While You Were Out Memo pads of old.