Peter Biggs admits he is learning how to be a better client after farewelling Clems Melbourne

Biggsy-234x350The former CEO of Clemenger BBDO Melbourne Peter Biggs said he is learning to be a better client now as he settles into his new role as the inaugural chair of the board that oversees the new region-wide Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency.

Biggs retired from Clemenger BBDO Melbourne in September after 15 years with the group, announcing at the time his intentions to retire to his native New Zealand.

Speaking at last night’s Communications Council event branded as his “exit interview”, Biggs spoke on the things he has learnt about throughout his career in advertising, offering advice and anecdotes to those looking to excel in the industry.

“I’m three months into it, it’s the best fun I’ve ever had,” Biggs said on his new role. “I am completely out of my depth. But I’m having the best fun I’ve ever had and the best training for this role I’ve ever had was advertising.

“I’m re-reading Ogilvy’s Confessions of an Advertising Man because I’m a client now. I’m reading that book because there’s a chapter in there how to be a great client. It was written in 1963, every word in that book is so relevant today.”

In terms of advice, Biggsy said: “One of the first things that I do when somebody comes to me and ask how do I get into advertising or how do I further my career in advertising, I don’t give them advice, I don’t give them a book, I give them a poem. And the poem is called The Song of Wandering Aengus.”

After quoting the poem Biggs explained: “I give them that poem because it sums up advertising to me, it sums up what I found in advertising.

“Advertising, if you really, really love it, you have a life ahead of you and you live a life of ceaseless exploring. You live a life which is a quest.

“Secondly you live a life that also knows defeat. It is a cruel business this business we call advertising and you’ve got to be tough and resilient. And if you’re not tough and resilient because you pitch and lose pitches, you win and lose clients, relationships break up, your best people may move on to more exciting opportunities, they all hurt. But that’s good, if you’re tough enough you learn from that and you get better.

“Thirdly, what’s important about that poem is, in advertising, if you are really into advertising don’t plan anything. Because advertising will be something enormously exciting.”

To prove his point Biggs related the story of being promoted to his first creative officer role at Ogilvy & Mather in New Zealand, a surprise that came to him when he was standing at a urinal.

“You can plan everything, but it probably won’t happen. What will happen in advertising is the world will surprise you, in good and bad ways,” he said.

On questions of what type of study is needed for success in advertising Biggs said it does not matter.

“Be an interesting person and be an interested person. It doesn’t matter what you do, you can do classical greek, you can do Latin and English like I did. You can do anything eccentric you like but be interested in stuff and be interesting,” he said.

“The best preparation for advertising is get Kenneth Clark’s book Civilisation, a great overview of western culture, and go to Europe for a year and see what art and literature moves people and what endures. If you understand that you will learn more from that than from any multitude of focus groups you could ever experience.

“You will learn about beauty and truth and what truly captures the human spirit and the human heart and isn’t that basically what we do in this business? We understand the mystery of the human heart and the mystery of the human experience and we tap into it.

“And in a way through doing great work we make people’s lives and brands better,” he added.

Miranda Ward

The Song of the Wandering Aengus by WB Yeates:

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor

I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering

Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

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