Advertising and the Culture of Creativity

By keeping workers happy and engaged, Bleublancrouge’s Bernard Asselin is helping the ad agency remain approachable, flexible, and collaborative with clients

It’s 4:00 p.m. on a Friday, and Bernard Asselin, president and COO of Bleublancrouge (BBR), knows exactly where his employees are: the beer cart. The award-winning advertising firm is built on creativity, and what better way to kick-start worker ingenuity than by wetting their whistles? The weekly beverage service is just one of the elements that Asselin hopes stimulates his employees.

“We’re trying to create a culture where we’re all equal—and somewhere we can all have fun,” Asselin says. In a field where collaboration fuels creativity, having an upbeat atmosphere free of ivory-tower thinking allows the company’s big ideas to be unrestrained, and in addition to Friday refreshments and other diversions, the company pushes its positivity through just one strictly enforced rule: no assholes. “What goes hand in hand with respect, teamwork, and a high work standard,” Asselin says, “is not having any assholes.”

5 Questions with Bernard Asselin

What does innovation mean to your company?
To always go beyond a client’s expectations. Think and execute the impossible for a “wow.”

Is there a technology, trend, or idea that’s driving your company forward?
It’s ideas that drive the company, and our people’s brains are the raw materials for success. Technology is just a tool. A trend is a trend. Ideas are things that can stay.

How do you innovate on a day-to-day basis?
Process, environment, and collaboration with clients. It’s as simple as that. Eyes, ears, and an open mind are our tools.

Where do you hope this innovation will lead you in the next five years?
To be the most sought-after agency in North America. It’s a big one, but why not?

How do you cultivate innovation within your workforce?
It’s a daily cultivation. It’s embedded in our culture. Constantly coaching, training, and pushing the limits

The ethos helps BBR connect with employees and clients alike by making the company, as a whole, down-to-earth and approachable. It’s a mentality that has led to award-winning campaigns spread across two continents, including ones for brand leaders such as Apple, Toyota, Loto-Québec, Lucasfilm, the Montréal Alouettes, Sico Painting, Air France-KLM, Bell Media, and the daily French newspaper 20 Minutes.

Asselin is sure of these clients’ satisfaction because, before he became president of BBR in 2010, he had already been a client himself—twice. While working for the Gazette, a Montréal daily newspaper, he partnered with BBR to launch a campaign called “Words Matter,” which included a front page devoid of words. It ended up winning the Best in Show award from the International Newsmedia Marketing Association in 2008, beating out the likes of the Times of India and the New York Times. Soon after, BBR CEO Sébastien Fauré brought Asselin to the company for his experience with the client side of the equation as well as his management skills.

Today, as not only BBR’s president but also its COO, Asselin looks to collaborative elements that set the agency apart. “We’ll never be a big, multinational, 5,000-employee company,” he says, explaining that by hovering instead around 100 employees, BBR can remain nimble but still attentive to clients’ needs. “All the employees need to act like entrepreneurs.” This, Asselin believes, is something that companies lose when they grow too large.Asselin is sure of these clients’ satisfaction because, before he became president of BBR in 2010, he had already been a client himself—twice. While working for the Gazette, a Montréal daily newspaper, he partnered with BBR to launch a campaign called “Words Matter,” which included a front page devoid of words. It ended up winning the Best in Show award from the International Newsmedia Marketing Association in 2008, beating out the likes of the Times of India and the New York Times. Soon after, BBR CEO Sébastien Fauré brought Asselin to the company for his experience with the client side of the equation as well as his management skills.

Flexibility also helps BBR retain its status as a one-stop shop for advertising, with creative services, media services, in-house production, public relations, linguistics, and even sponsorship specialists. The advertising landscape is usually fragmented, but BBR eliminates the need to go to multiple firms to set up a multifaceted campaign. The company recognizes, though, that it can’t be an expert in every field, so it sometimes creates “dream teams” for clients, made up of in-house employees and freelance professionals in niche fields who can help deliver even better-tailored solutions.

BBR is expanding, too, and recently it partnered with another advertising firm, DBB Canada, to address both firms’ absences in each other’s locale. BBR is based out of Montréal and is strong in the Québec region, while DBB Canada is based out of Toronto and is more accustomed to dealing with the rest of the country. BBR is unafraid to recognize where it needs help, which is also why it’s working with the French trend-watch company Soon Soon Soon, whose more than 800 scouts around the world feed BBR information, which Asselin and his teams use to stay ahead of best practices in industries and locales that are outside of their usual scope.

HOW ARE YOU GROWING?
“Growth is a perpetual project. I’ve always said, ‘the more you know, the more you realize you need to learn more.’ That’s so important. If you listen and have respect for others, you’re going to grow.”

To remain competitive in-house, BBR has created a couple of processes to save time and money and create a better understanding of its clients: it worked with Toronto-based Scientific Intelligence to spin off a company called L’Institut Idee, which concentrates on upstream development and helps clarify a business’s brand essence through a structural mapping process, and it created a process called Brandcasting, which dissects a brand and aligns all its stakeholders with a single vision.

As the company continues to develop, though, its ongoing stimulation of its employees will continue to be its meal ticket. “We’re selling ideas where the raw materials are the brains of the staff,” Asselin says. “That’s our number one product.” Besides the beer cart and a series of parties, BBR has also created BBR University, where employees attend seminars then present them to the rest of the staff. By prizing its employees’ minds, the company is ensuring its continued growth.