Dan Burrier is a veteran of the agency world, with long stints at networks like BBDO. Most recently, he spent 14 years at Ogilvy, climbing the ranks to become North American chief innovation officer in 2010. Before that, he led Ogilvy West as co-president and chief creative officer. He’s now signed on as CEO of Common, a startup venture launched by ex-CP+B star Alex Bogusky in January of last year to help build businesses with "consciences"—putting on competitions for cash prizes, assembling custom teams to tackle client briefs, and trying to build an umbrella brand for social entrepreneurs. Adweek spoke with Burrier about his new role at the organization, what it’s accomplished so far, and where it’s headed next.
How'd you come into this opportunity?
Really, for a couple of years, I've been looking at similar models and how to execute them, how to start shifting the capitalist equation and work with social entrepreneurs—not NGOs and not charities, but how do you generate profit or benefit that flows in all directions. About a year and a half ago when Alex launched Common I took note of that. We ended up talking, and one thing led to another and here we are.
What does Common do, in the plainest language?
We describe it as a collaborative brand. So you can look at it, on the simplest level, as an umbrella brand that social entrepreneurs can come under, with the advantages of a global brand. We also think of it as an accelerator for those entrepreneurs. We've got a consulting arm where we do MBAs—"Maniacal Business Attacks"—which are intensive consulting engagements to help define vision and strategic approach to market and marketing plans and creative execution. We also have the pitch events where we bring together a community to celebrate and launch social entrepreneurs.
What products have you launched under that global brand?
That's the part of the business that we're really evolving and developing. There's [a lot to figure out] in terms of licensing and royalty and how to share the brand so I'm spending a lot of time working on that right now. We're probably getting two to three requests per week from social entrepreneurs who want to be part of the brand. We’re being very deliberate about which we align with as part of this first round. We're looking at coffee and cocoa out of South America, possibly alignment with a condom company.
Last year, Common was working on developing a Common-branded bamboo bicycle. Have those made it to market?
Are they still in development?
That is not going forward at the moment as a Common initiative. That was before my time, so I don't know the whole history.
Is the idea to have Common become a certification of sorts that you can sell to brands that meet your standards, to appear alongside their individual logos?
What we're not doing is just slapping a logo on anything like “Here, we'll sell you our logo.” It’s more about the ethos of the company, how you operate, how we share that brand going forward — that, as I said, is probably one of my primary assignments coming in is how to get that model running. None of us want to see it just become a stamp of approval. We're looking at how you actually build a collaborative ecosystem [with] shared experience and knowledge so that each company is helping the other, and so that, for example, you wouldn’t have to replicate resources across companies.
What about the money? What’s your cut?
So as this is evolving, we envision taking a percentage or a licensing fee… but that would determined on a case-by-case basis. Some of our other services, like the MBAs, are a little more fee-based. We're trying to diversify revenue streams.
What are the pitch events you run?
The pitches have been city by city. We've had a pitch in Boulder last August, Cape Town in February, New York City also in February, and Milwaukee in [June]. Generally, 600 to 1000 attendees show up. [They buy tickets to the events,] which are typically two and a half to three and a half days. There's a mentorship day where we pull together a team of experts to mentor the 8 [socially conscious] companies who have been selected to take part in the pitch. The winning presentation typically gets a cash prize as well as in-kind support from some of our partner companies.
What came out of the pitches?
In Cape Town, the winner was Dr. Johnny Anderton with his startup, EarthBag Building. [That was to] scale the availability of Earthbags, [a sustainable building solution]. In New York City, it was Good Karma Clothing, which was a collaborative consumption model for baby clothes—you sign up and as your child ages out of your clothes, the clothes go on to someone else, true collaborative consumption. In Milwaukee, it was Flint and Tinder, an American-made premium made men's underwear line. There's been some press recently with Alex's involvement with Made Movement—the "Made in America" agency. They're not working together right now, but I see a possible connection there. The next one up is in Santiago Chile, in November. Virgin Mobile is the title sponsor, and an excellent lineup of keynote speakers, which I can't announce quite yet. We try to give each one a theme so that we can curate who ends up stage so we can provide more focus and entertainment value.
Are you starting the new gig in part to free up Bogusky so he can devote more time to Made?
Alex is an investor and creative adviser to Made. He's very much still involved in Common, but my job is to run the thing so we can use Alex and co-founders Rob [Schuham] and John [Bielenberg] and Mark [Eckhardt], my COO in the way that they're best used. Alex I don't think wants to or needs to run the business day-to-day. But he's fully in. Rob is fully in and they'll engage in the way that's most powerful. Obviously Alex and Rob are great spokespeople and creators, and we'll all do what we do best. I get the job of orchestrating it and making it all go.