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FCB's Worldwide Creative Partner on the positive impact of social media and the need for diversity on judging panels

Fred Levron joins the ‘Love This’ podcast to discuss tackling social issues with creativity and how a great idea is meaningless without craft

Fred Levron is recognised as one of the advertising industry's leading creative thinkers. He was named #1 Chief Creative Officer by The Drum in 2020 and has worked with household brands such as Coke Zero, Perrier and Ford. When Levron joined the advertising agency FCB in 2017, the company was in a challenging place. Together with Global CCO Susan Credle, Levron led its recent creative transformation, putting the creative expertise of the agency in the “middle of everything”.

FCB scored big at the 2020 D&AD Awards, picking up two Black Pencils for The Gun Violence History Book – which encapsulated the weight of America's troubling history with guns into one weighty tome shot through with a bullet, and for Go Back to Africa – which subverted the abuse from racist trolls to reframe and reclaim tourism of the continent for Black tourists. And in 2021, FCB won another Black Pencil for Boards of Change – encouraging Black Americans to vote by turning plywood boards that barricaded storefronts during the Black Lives Matter protests into booths that provided a place to register to vote.

Having served as D&AD 2021 Digital Jury President, Levron talks to podcast hosts Beth O’Brien and Joe Carter about how the next generation of judges are bettering the process, how brands can navigate challenging social issues, and utilising social media to save a troubled business.

The Love This podcast spoke to several D&AD jury presidents, and will be broadcasting those interviews over the summer. You can listen to the podcast here. Here are our top takeaways from Levron’s episode. 

Why creativity and collaboration are crucial to success

[FCB] was the oldest advertising network in the industry, but from a business and creative standpoint, it was in a very challenging place. So, I think it starts, like everything else, with sharing the same agenda, the same commitment with all the different leaders. But one thing that really helped us is our CEO [Connor Murray] really committed to putting the creative product in the middle, and that makes the difference. What helped us, before we did anything, was we were ready to go through the steps and to go through what it takes to transform the network into a creative network.

How social media saved a Covid-hit business

The world is spending so much of their time on social media. And at the end of the day, it's a very crowded, real space where brands are over communicating. But how do you make sense out of it? How do you find ideas that could actually have an impact on the business, on the work?

The Big Issue/LinkedIn Raising Profile Yellow Pencil, [social media] literally saved the business. When everyone went into lockdown, they went from 8,000 magazines sold every week to zero, literally zero. And you know what that business problem means for the vendors, who are already struggling to live decently every day. 

The idea to leverage the data of LinkedIn, that knows who is working where, and to recreate digitally, the environment of the vendor, and then to train the vendor to be on LinkedIn, and to be able to interact with the same people that they were used to seeing in the street, but this time to have a rich conversation with them. Ultimately, selling the magazine through digital, this was a game changer for them. Their sales went up 400% and it literally saved the business.

Why diverse panels are vital for award shows

There is a new generation of judges that are coming in. Different shows are really pushing to get a better representation of the world we're living in. So finally, there are 50% of women in those rooms; finally we see people of colour in the rooms. 

The industry was dominated by white males, so reaching 50% you have to go to the next generation. There were a lot of people in my jury that it was their first time judging. We have so much to learn from the new generation because they come in with surprise eyes, they come in with an understanding of the world that is not tainted. I find them extremely tough with the work but that’s for the best, right?

Creative approaches to social issues must offer real change

As a creative network we just wonder — witnessing what is going on in America with the Afro-American community — what can we do? What is our role in that? Our answer to “what can we do?” was to come back to the only thing we know how to do, which is using our creativity. That's the one thing we can try to bring to the world.

When the protests were pretty much done in the city of Chicago, we collected the boards that were put up in the streets, by buildings, businesses... You look at those boards that capture what that community is going through at that time, it's a mix of great need for change, hope, hate, hunger. So we took down those boards, and we turned them into voting booths. Our literal emotional way to replicate what we wanted that community to do — use your voice, one more time, but this time to create a legal change.

A great idea is only the beginning

Most of the work that we're putting in the world is actually invisible, and that's just a fact, it’s because we stop at the idea.  And so often I hear the same story of a client telling us “I don't understand, it was so great in the meeting room, but then the work is okay.” Yes! It’s craft. Don't stop when you’ve got an amazing idea, it’s actually just the beginning. 

Then you're gonna go on a long journey, where you will have to explore. Exploration in craft is crucial. You're not going to get it the first time, maybe not the second, maybe not the third. So it's that relentless driven energy that will push you to keep trying and looking.

Let go of ego to create your best work

I wish someone would have told me “Fred, spend every minute of your time trying to kill your ego.”

We all have an ego and in this industry we have a lot of things to fuel that ego. All of that is actually blocking, in my opinion, blocking ourselves from doing more exceptional work. Because when your ego gets in the way, then you protect it. And that's a mistake. When you know you have something a bit special, you get protected, you try to make it individually.

Because of the difference to the creative approach today and the difference of the creative product — how much more complicated the creative product is — you absolutely need collaboration. You can't be the best at every step of the idea.

So what's gonna happen if you haven't killed your ego — is your ego’s going to get in the way, you're gonna get protected, and you're gonna end up with something invisible.

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