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Rosie Bardales is glad to be breaking norms and glass ceilings, both professionally and creatively. She tells David Knight how she believes that her agency’s supposed troubles are just little bumps along the way that she’ll be able to banish, using warmth, enthusiasm and a dark sense of humour

 

After a 20-plus-year career in advertising, working at some of the world’s most creative ad agencies for seriously high-end global clients, Rosie Bardales is facing her biggest challenge yet.

Bardales was appointed chief creative officer at BETC London in March this year. Having joined the agency as executive creative director in 2014, she joins a select band of female creatives to crash through the glass ceiling and claim the top job at a British ad agency.

And it is a big job. The Havas-owned agency lost their two biggest clients in Diet Coke and Bacardi in 2015, and the London office operated for most of 2016 without a managing director. With a new management team now in place – Andrew Kay arrived as MD at the end of last year – Bardales’ responsibility for leading the agency’s creative resurgence is now confirmed. Her track record, and her experience dealing with global advertising accounts, including Levi’s and Coca-Cola, say she is equipped to do just that.

“I think it’s great that so much attention is now being paid to diversity and women in these types of roles, and I’m glad to be a part of that.”

The secret to keeping clients – and babies – happy

BETC won the Rimmel account last year and Bardales’ team has lost no time in revitalising the make-up brand. The impulse to engage with a youthful target audience whose lives revolve around their smartphones has translated into content that includes a pulsating ad shot by hip young director Dexter Navy, and a slick, stylish music video by leading British promo director Emil Nava, featuring Cara Delevingne and grime artist Nadia Rose.

“The Rimmel win has been great for us,” says Bardales, speaking in the new BETC London offices in Shoreditch’s Tea Building, a few days after the announcement of her promotion to CCO. “The client is very ambitious, and so are we. The challenge was really clear – to refresh and modernise Rimmel. Together we’re trying to break some beauty category norms.”

 

 

Then there is The Happy Song, an envelope-pushing music experiment created for Cow & Gate’s C&G baby club online community. Released last October, the song was composed by Grammy-winning musician Imogen Heap, alongside child and music psychologists Caspar Addyman and Lauren Stewart, from sounds uploaded by C&G baby club’s UK members, which they say make their babies gurgle with joy. The project is touted as the first song scientifically proven to make babies happy.

“It’s great to come up with things that don’t have a format, that isn’t about TV or a print ad,” Bardales says. “I think we’re now on a really good journey with those clients [Danone]. They’ve been pushing the type of work we’ve been doing.” She adds that this form of unconventional creative marketing is all part of the BETC ethos, passed on from the mother agency in Paris, which has pioneered blue-sky projects such as launching a radio station and a record label. “Part of BETC’s DNA is about exploration,” says Bardales. “That’s also something we care about here in London.”

 

 

She adds that BETC in London was “in flux” when she arrived at the agency as ECD in 2014. She reasons that it was a time when, a couple of years after it had launched in London, the agency was experiencing a not-untypical bout of turbulence. “These bumps had just started when I took over!” she laughs. “But now we’re moving forward and we’re growing and it feels positive.” Bardales’ natural charm and warmth makes this assertion convincing.

Her outlook derives from her experience in building relationships with demanding multinational clients in the toughest of situations: developing creativity for global ad campaigns. She is very much a global player, having worked in some of the hottest creative shops around the world, in New York, London, Amsterdam and Buenos Aires.

 

Not for her the tame enjoyment, pioneer, o pioneer!

Throughout her career, Bardales has demonstrated a dedication to creative work that is forward-looking, attention-grabbing and at the cutting edge of craft. Ads like the hilarious, 2001 Cannes Grand Prix-winning campaign for Fox Sports, directed by Traktor, which featured fake VHS footage of made-up bizarre local sports from around the world, helped establish Bardales’ creative profile when she was an art director at Cliff Freeman & Partners in New York in the early noughties. More recently, there was the remarkable AG Rojas-directed video for Powerade, featuring the true story of a boy who battles with disability to play competitive soccer, made while she was creative director at W+K Amsterdam in 2013. In between she rolled out Levi’s’ Go Forth campaign globally in 2011 and previously, while at Mother London, brought Monkey back to TV for PG Tips in 2006.

“They were giving me the opportunity of a role that I hadn’t really known I wanted. I thought, ‘Ok, this is the next thing, let’s see how it goes.’”

“I never thought: ‘I know how to do this, I’ve got this sussed out.’ You’ve got to be crazy to be thinking that,” she reflects. “But I went in there knowing my craft, really caring about that, and trying to break some boundaries, to do different types of work, that even an agency hadn’t cracked yet.”

Does she feel like a pioneer now, being a female leader of a big agency? “Definitely. I think it’s great that so much attention is now being paid to diversity and women in these types of roles, and I’m glad to be a part of that,” she responds. “But for me I think what’s important is how we as an industry move forward. Giving people more opportunity. And I think that’s going to take a lot more doing.”

Bardales is from Austin, Texas. Her father was a watch designer, something that had a big, if subconscious, influence on her growing up. “I was kind of a self-taught designer,” she says. “I didn’t realise that design was such a big part of who I was until I got into school and started to unravel that a bit.”

“When Robert Saville was talking about Morecambe and Wise I was thinking ‘Who’s that?’”

She was first drawn to advertising in her teens, in the 80s – in particular the now classic Norwegian Cruise Line ads out of Goodby Silverstein, which turned her into an avid fan of art director Steve Luker. She then studied at the University of Texas at Austin, which, with alumni like Robert Rodriguez, had a reputation for producing exciting filmmakers, although, as Bardales says: “I knew I wanted to get into advertising.”

Straight after college she headed to LA to work for start-up agency Ground Zero, but quickly decided she’d rather be in New York, a focal point for global advertising creativity. Cliff Freeman & Partners was one of the hottest agencies in town and her dogged persistence in trying to get an interview with the creative director paid off. “I caught him on the phone and he asked me to come in. We hit it off when I said ‘I’ve never done TV. I want to learn.’”

 

 Fox Sports' Slap, part of the Cannes Grand Prix-winning campaign.

 

From Cliff Freeman & Partners to Morecambe and Wise

Bardales was the second and youngest female creative working at Cliff Freeman & Partners at the time, but she says it was not the gender imbalance that daunted her. “The craft level intimidated me, because of the standards they set. Presenting a script – having to be hilarious – to a roomful of hilarious people, that terrified me!”

She describes Cliff Freeman as a kind of exclusive club, obsessively dedicated to a single objective. “They just wanted to do funny,” she says. “That was it. And they were very strict on the kind of level you needed to be to walk in the door.” Over nine years, mostly spent working with copywriter Dan Morales, Bardales grew her reputation working on several Coca-Cola brands, Sauza Tequila, and for Fox Sports.

“At the time there were a slew of directors we worked with on that kind of stuff,” Bardales says. “Rocky Morton, Fredrik Bond, Traktor – they were the ones that helped us do that consistency of standout comedy – or dark humour, depending on how you look at it.”

It was her dark humour that led her to be headhunted by Mother in London in the agency’s early days. Yet her first impression of London was all about the difference in senses of humour across the Atlantic – and frames of reference. “When Robert Saville was talking about Morecambe and Wise I was thinking ‘Who’s that?’” But she says she was mostly drawn to the outstanding craft in British and European advertising at the time. “There was so much great work happening here – beautifully crafted work that was super smart and simple. That was what interested me.”

Bardales was at Mother for six years, working on the PG Tips brand relaunch with Johnny Vegas and Monkey, and the launch of Miller Genuine Draft in the UK – “a big global piece of business”. She left London for  Mother’s offices in Buenos Aires and New York, but returned to take up her first creative director position, at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, where she worked on the Britvic brands. “I really enjoyed it. But then I got an opportunity to run Levi’s globally at Wieden+Kennedy in Amsterdam.”

This was 2011, and W+K had just pushed out their arresting Go Forth campaign – launched in the US two years earlier – across the world. Bardales became a creative directing team with W+K veteran Alvaro Sotomayor – her guide in the W+K way of working, with whom she also worked on the Powerade global campaign, coinciding with the 2010 World Cup.

 

 

Sharing, caring, trusting, creating, integrating

So what does it take to work on a global account and do good creative work? “I think it’s about the relationship with your client. At the end of the day it comes down to the trust you have in each other. Then you can push things and find a commonality in what you’re both working towards.”

She adds that “sharing, being integrated” is crucial to building that kind of relationship, “versus a ‘let’s wait and show the client later’, or ‘once we’re there’ [position]. You just start to build that relationship early on and make the message simple for the client to grasp and understand, and make it translatable to the world.”

She says the chance to become executive creative director at BETC in 2014 was unexpected. “They were giving me the opportunity of a role that I hadn’t really known I wanted. I thought, ‘Ok, this is the next thing, let’s see how it goes.’” Now having settled into the role, and taken the step up to CCO, she says she has tried to establish a collective approach to creativity – a touch of the old days at Cliff Freeman.

 

Rosie Bardales, CCO at BETC London.

 

“I like the open table with everyone sitting around and pitching in. I started at a table, cracking jokes. For me it’s about creating a space that allows people to do that.” She says that creating that kind of atmosphere, where the eureka moment is a shared feeling throughout the creative team, is a real priority.

“I’m really focussed on achieving that – how do we make this a better place to work creatively? How do we inspire, how do we grow in the right way with the kind of clients that will let us flex our creative muscle? That’s the thing we’re trying to get to.”

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