Yannick Labbé (pictured above) arrived in Australia with a few misconceptions. Firstly, he’d planned to surf every morning before work.
The Grabatz & Partner creative director had come to Sydney from Germany to work at DDI in July, and on his first morning discovered that Bondi Beach in the middle of winter isn’t exactly the same as it’s depicted on tourist sites. Slipping into working life in adland Aus, though, went much more smoothly.
In fact, Labbé’s stay in Australia confirmed an idea he came up with while working freelance in Europe, “It doesn’t matter where you are, as soon as you’re in an agency environment you realise that you always have the same characters. The same people – they speak different languages, but they’re the same.”
Caroline McLaughlin & Yannick Labbé
Labbé is the second “exchange creative” in what DDI used to call the Cossie Experiment. Cossie, aka Kaustubh Lele, was the first creative to spend a month at DDI in an exchange project that DDI managing director, Caroline McLaughlin, devised with Kiran Khalap, founder and brand guru at Mumbai brand consultancy, Chlorophyll, after both struck up a friendship during thenetworkone’s Indie Summit in 2016 in London.
Clearly the project needs a new name. DDI creative director, Chris D’Arbon, is also currently in the middle of his three months at Grabarz & Partner.
McLaughlin had invited The Stable to meet Yannick and find out what he’d brought to DDI, and vice versa. He’s a true top tier creative – in other words, he’s utterly charming. He’s also a walking encyclopedia of culture – and not just pop culture. It’s easy to see why he would fit in anywhere.
Apart from the fact that Australia’s famous fun-in-the-sun beach is freezing in winter, Labbé was particularly struck by the friendliness of his new working environment. “The kindness of the people working here struck me. Really, really friendly, inviting people. Not much of an ego fight here, which I think is not usual.” I assured him, on your behalf, that he was right.
“I worked for two clients here and both were extremely open-minded,” Labbé added.
“That’s not usual – for clients to be so appreciative of what you’re doing. Everything went very, very smoothly and that was a super cool experience for some random guy who just arrived from Europe.”
“That actually says a lot about Yannick,” McLaughlin interjected, “that he was able to just walk in and put everyone at ease, both with our agency folk, because there was a little bit of nervousness about this hot-shot creative director coming from overseas, and with our clients. Everything Yannick said about us, I’d say about him. There’s no ego. He’s incredibly nice, super friendly and great to work with. And that has to have an impact on the kind of work that gets through. I don’t think it’s by accident that while he’s been here, we have two really fabulous campaigns that are being made.”
“How long has Yannick been here,” I asked?
I was curious to know what Labbé had expected advertising in Australia to be like.
“I didn’t come with lots of expectations because I don’t see myself as an ambassador of Grabarz,” he answered.
“I’m just like one piece of the puzzle. I’ve only been there for a year and a half – there would have been more suitable ambassadors. I came with a certain skillset and I’ve worked as a freelancer, so I know that my skills get me through all kinds of job situations, no problem. I’m also very proud of the two campaigns, because they were done in so little time and the work is good. They look good and could have been done by a company like Grabarz…
[Grabarz, one of Germany’s top creative agencies and Clio’s Agency of the Year 2015, also created the VW Laughing Horse viral that was admired and awarded last year.]
…There are interesting ideas in there and they’re insight based communications,” Labbé added.
What was he packing up in his suitcase to take home, I asked him?
“What I’m taking back is that if you work in advertising and you really like to work in advertising, it’s cool to focus on ideas and generate ideas and not think past that. But sometimes it’s even cooler to think past just the great idea and focus on how you make advertising work. I realised, because the work here was very hands, that advertising can work – which is something you don’t often see as a creative in a big agency.
“And passing on the reins to other creatives. I see myself now in another role, perhaps. I feel as though I have empowered things and stuff worked out and in the end the client liked what we did – so I might be good at that and that might be that path I travel on.”
What about working in another culture?
“It’s not difficult because the needs are all the same. I th
ink that if you have developed a skillset as an ad guy, are always interested in concepts and have some kind of empathy towards people, you should always be fine.”
What has Yannick brought to DDI, I asked McLaughlin?
“I think he has brought an understanding of where the connection happens. The truth in an ad. Its humanity. The desire to achieve that is probably a common thread across both agencies. Yannick has added an ability to add into execution just a wonderful way of expressing it – it doesn’t feel like advertising, doesn’t feel like design. Yannick has an incredible skill in devising how that comes to life through the execution…
“He’s also the most relaxed advertising dude I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. For someone who comes with a really impressive pedigree, Yannick has come in with an amazing warm, calm manner that has pushed people here to be their best. Without cracking a whip. He’s a consummate professional and his standards are really high, but that just comes with him. He doesn’t have to enforce it. His amazing chill factor actually opened people up. They felt able to offer their own ideas knowing that he would nudge them, rather than fearing that he’d yell at them to get to a higher level.
“There’s a lot of ego in this business and a perception around what a super-hot creative needs to be – how they need to behave. Yannick has just thrown that out the window.”
DDI has now had two creatives from vastly different adlands and very different cultures assimilate themselves into working life at DDI. Has DDI changed, I wondered?
“It’s the best thing we’ve ever done. Just having that influx of totally different perspectives and different cultures has rekindled a bit of a love for our quirks and nuances as Australians. And in terms of the work, it has definitely pushed that forward. I think that’s from bringing a freshness and an injection of new energy. Both Yannick and Cossie came in fresh and excited to be here. It’s like taking on a new staff member who has brought all of their good stuff with them. That’s had an impact on the whole team. I’ve already contacted Yannick’s boss about how can we keep this connection going, about co-collaborating.
“There are not many industries where you can walk in, in any country, suss it out and settle in, immediately. I love doing slightly out of the box things like this creative exchange. In any network, what you get out of it depends on the effort you’re prepared to put in.”