Kris Hoet (FCB): Being passionate about your job is a responsibility you have to yourself

The challenge of the future is imagination, not technology. In an ever faster changing media landscape, where we are exposed to new technology on an almost daily basis, the challenge to keep up with it and, more importantly, figuring out what we do with that, is big. As a result we tend to focus on the technology more than on what the impact is on people’s lives, how it changes behaviour. We interviewed Kris Hoet, Global Head of Innovation FCB and Chief Innovation Officer of Happiness, and found out more about how happiness plays a big role in his everyday agency work.

interview by Romanita Oprea

What determined you to make the leap from mathematics to advertising?

Math was just high school, it was a good solid basis for whatever came next. And back then I didn’t have advertising on my radar either. I am now grateful of that math background as it helped me a lot in overall logic thinking, looking at patterns and stuff. Which is good when developing strategies for clients.

What are the best decisions you took in your professional life and why?

To stand up for what I believe in, and sometimes make hard decisions because of it – like resigning from a job, for instance. To make sure I’m always passionate about a job, so it never really becomes just work. It’s a responsibility I believe you have to yourself, don’t wait on others to make it exciting for you. And finally experiment with ideas & projects during your own time, some of these experiments have paid off both in my personal life as well as my career.

What does it mean to be Chief Innovation Officer of Happiness?

It’s two fold. First of all, it’s about making sure that we keep innovating ourselves, making sure that we’re always staying relevant for our clients in a changing world. And second, which is more operational, it’s about organizing the digital business of the agency.

What does happiness mean to you in life?

I think most importantly it’s about focusing on the good things in life, how small they can be. And do away with the things that aggravate you, I haven’t watched the evening news for ages for instance, because of the negative energy it gives me, so I’ll do without, thank you. Appreciate the good stuff, be content with what you have. That’s what happiness is about. Of course, my life could be bigger, better etc but it’s good as it is, and I’m happy about it.

How do you make sure, exactly, that the agency’s employees are happy?

There are a range of tactics, but since Happiness is personal the most important thing that is, it’s a key question during the annual review we have with everyone – literally asking “what makes you happy” and see what we can do together moving towards it. Even if that has little to do with work. That’s a commitment.

What would you say that are the main differences between the advertising in Belgium and Saigon?

The scale of advertising operations for brands in the two markets is a big difference. And the stage of where they’re in, Vietnam is more traditional still compared to Belgium, but it’s changing rapidly and they are just like most Asian markets skipping the whole PC era, straight to mobile, so it’s going fast.

In Romania it seems that people’s enthusiasm and passion towards entering the industry diminished during the last years. Do you see that happening worldwide or not? Why?

There are a lot of people questioning our industry, what it is about. And there’s a lot of pressure on budgets related to that. So, it’s not too hard to understand that people can lose some excitement over it, and yes, you see that happen globally. And especially in the smaller markets (which are essentially most markets). But if you believe you can make a difference, if you believe you can be part of the ones re-inventing the business, then it’s still a pretty exciting place. If not, it feels like you’re on a ride downhill, and you’re not even at the steering wheel. I chose to believe I can be one of those people that can help change it.

In your opinion, do sabbatical work (people coming back to the industry after that period of time, getting the creativity level back on, etc) or not?

It’s good to step away from the day to day business, it’s good for everyone. But it’s something we should all do throughout the year – I think that sometimes the sabbatical is needed because one had too little diversion throughout the year. In any business, I believe, if the day to day is pretty much all there is then you’ll run into problems. Not only because you might get bored, but also because most inspiration comes from outside of what we do. I try to focus as much time as possible on inspiration from outside. And of course, traveling around the world, working with all our agencies helps me a great deal with that.

You are also Global Head of Innovation at FCB, leading initiatives worldwide. How are you, and the department you are running, growing and stimulating innovation?

The initiatives that we run within FCB are all focused on dealing with the transformation issues our agencies and clients are presented with. Working with the agencies and sometimes clients on these issues together, define different ways of working (together), dealing with technology as to human behavior, managing the platform relationships etc.

What are the most innovative projects and campaign FCB had in the last two years, in your opinion? 

For me the most innovative project we did was the hackathon we did in Silicon Valley the last 2 years. As an initiative developed by FCB, we sent teams of 3 people (planner, creative & maker) from 15 countries all over the world to go and hack on a client brief at Google, Facebook & Twitter in their offices. That was a great new way of exploring how to make sense of these platforms in strategy & creative and hugely supported by the agencies as well as our platform partners.

You said that the challenge of the future is imagination, not technology. Can you please develop more the idea?

It’s important to understand how tech is changing our behavior, how it fits in our lives – much more than understanding the pure tech of it. If you can imagine how a brand can play a role making good use of that tech, matching that behavior you get to the best ideas. Too many are focusing on doing ideas with tech, and then you wonder why anyone would ever use that. As it makes no sense in a life.

How do you find inspiration?

Reading – books, tweets, blogs, …. Listening to other people, whether it’s the Lyft driver or a colleague. Going for a walk. Whatever. But not in meetings in the office, get out there, and just open your eyes to unrelated things. And you’ll start seeing connections to the problems you’re trying to solve.

What would you say that represents you more – working for the client or the agency? Why?

I personally like it more if I can drive change at an agency – as it’ll show itself in work for multiple clients. How cool it is to be able to contribute a big change on one specific project, the idea that you’ve been able to make a change that is more transformative and long term excites me more.