La Vie TBWA

Jean-Marie Dru loves to debate. True to his advertising credo of “Disruption,” he welcomes verbal sparring—even if, as president and CEO of TBWA Worldwide, he calls the shots.

Los Angeles office president Rob ert LePlae knows this first-hand. “We had a lot of heated debates,” says LePlae of his two years working with Dru on Nissan, the $9.7 billion network’s largest global client. “But it was good.”

So when Dru, at a recent powwow with 90 top executives in Madrid, talked about LePlae going at him “right between the eyes,” LePlae knew it was a joke. As he says, when you speak your mind to Dru, “you don’t feel like it’s going to have repercussions down the road.”

Healthy debate aside, Dru sounded a call for greater collaboration at the gathering, urging regions, offices and disciplines to work together more closely—an approach that, historically, the network has not embraced. Dru, however, cites several improvements, including global wins such as Adidas and Häagen-Dazs and the multidisciplinary team TBWA Connect.

When Dru, 55, ran TBWA’s Paris operation, it was said within the network to be its best practitioner of integration. He later steered TBWA’s international operation before taking the top global post in March 2001.

Dru entered the TBWA fold in 1998, after Omnicom paid $235 million for GGT Group, parent of BDDP Worldwide, the international network Dru co-founded.

Lee Clow, chairman and worldwide creative director of TBWA, describes the Frenchman as “very European” and “very smart”—a “neat contrast” to Clow, the “California kid.”

“He brings a level of civility and style” to the job, says Tom Carroll, president of the Americas. “That is certainly French, but certainly refreshing to work with.”

Dru has also become known among his executives for engaging in discussions that lead people to his way of thinking rather than dictating his opinion. “He has a way of copywriting you into his point of view,” says New York office president Shona Seifert, who joined the agency in February.

During a recent interview in his sparse Madison Avenue office, he reflected on misconceptions about his network, the state of creativity in the industry, his new book (Beyond Disruption) and talk of clients not respecting agencies—a topic that he clearly has no patience for. “Stop worrying about your credibility,” says Dru, and “be credible.”

ADWEEK: There’s a perception that your agencies compete more than they collaborate.

DRU: The idea that we compete against ourselves is a story about a company that does not exist anymore. TBWA is … more effective and efficient as a network than agencies that have been on Madison Avenue for more than 50 years.

In terms of global organization … nobody beats us. In reality, we are one of the most effective agencies, and proof is the fact that we have been awarded four Grand Effies for effectiveness in the last five years and more Grand Effies than any other agency—nine in the last 16 years.

Want more proof? Just take a look at our recent wins in Adidas and Häagen-Dazs. Both clients wanted global brand stewardship and quality control without sacrificing creativity and local relevance.

ADWEEK: What are TBWA’s biggest weaknesses?

DRU: We have two weaknesses: the lack of knowledge of our global capabilities—we are in 62 countries with 8,500 people—and the size of our client base in New York is not large enough. We need a phone company and a bank in New York.

ADWEEK: How about its strengths?

DRU: Most would consider creativity our greatest strength. We would also consider our proprietary tools such as Disruption and Connections to be strengths. And then I would add that we are second to none in terms of efficiency. Nivea, Apple, Sony, Absolut … all these are great global case histories; Nissan is an incredible one in the making.

ADWEEK: How would you describe your leadership style?

DRU: I don’t know about my leadership style, except that I don’t have a great sense of humor!

ADWEEK: What are your goals for the network in, say, the next three years?

DRU: My job is to try and get the best people, and try to give them as much as they give us. This is my goal with our two new blue-chip presidents in Los Angeles and New York, Robert Le Plae and Shona Seifert. And with everybody else in the network.

I believe that if we can stop underleveraging the resources we have, we can be very successful. And grow much faster than the market. Size will follow. It is a consequence, a way of keeping score.

ADWEEK: How often do you talk to [Omnicom CEO] John Wren?

DRU: Every week.

ADWEEK: What have you learned from him?

DRU: Wren has his finger on the pulse of every piece of the company. He gets to the core of the issues instantly and doesn’t get sidetracked. I try to do the same.

ADWEEK: How do you feel about the state of creativity in the industry?

DRU: Not great, but I won’t elaborate. It’s time to stop complaining about ourselves the way some of our competitors did at the last 4A’s session.

ADWEEK: What are your favorite spots on TBWA’s reel?

DRU: You are only as good as your last spots, so my favorite spots on the reel are the last three: Apple’s “Window,” Nissan’s “Master of the Sixth Speed” and Kmart’s “The Stuff of Life.”

ADWEEK: Why do you think TBWA\ Chiat\Day was unable to crack Levi’s?

DRU: Lee Clow told me the other day: “Big ideas win, good ads don’t.” We forgot that on Levi’s.

ADWEEK: What are your passions outside of advertising?

DRU: I love sports and music. But my only real passion is my family. They inspire me in many ways, least of which is my business life.

ADWEEK: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in your career?

DRU: Having bought one of the largest agencies in New York [Wells Rich Greene] in a previous life with the bank’s money. … Mary Wells may have left the company the day we bought it, but the truth is she had been away from the agency for 10 years—her influence had vanished.

The Wells we bought had very little resemblance to the idealized Wells she writes of in her book. It’s more a fruit of her imagination than our reality.

ADWEEK: What’s your proudest accomplishment?

DRU: Having recovered from it.