Published 27th June 2013
It’s intriguing to speculate what might have been had Matt Boffey and David Kolbusz — chosen by the headhunter LIZH as the most likely contenders for next year’s A List — ever merged their talents into a “dream team”.
Intriguing but pretty pointless, since the pair already have formidable and burgeoning records of individual achievements.
Boffey, with more than a decade’s worth of award-winning brand-planning experience under his belt, developed the strategy for the memorable Adidas Olympics campaign, galvanising young people across Britain as it urged them to “take the stage”.
Meanwhile, Kolbusz continues to ensure Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s long-running Lynx advertising retains a spring in its step while producing outstanding one-offs such as The Guardian’s “three little pigs” film. Is he an executive creative director in the making?
No surprise, therefore, that Boffey and Kolbusz should themselves be taking the stage in A List Contenders, Campaign’s look at the potential A Listers-to-be in association with LIZH.
What’s more, both embody the kind of originality LIZH was looking for when making its selection.
Liz Harold, the LIZH managing partner, says: “As a creative, David is also a very strategic thinker, while Matt is just as much a creative as a planner.”
When Kolbusz returned to Britain two years ago, having devoured all of San Francisco’s vibrant — but limited — cultural delights, he had planned to take advice from LIZH about life after Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.
Harold says: “We were going to talk to David because he wasn’t sure where he wanted to go.” In fact, Bartle Bogle Hegarty made up his mind for him, swooping in with a job offer before his CV even began doing the rounds.
His subsequent success at Kingly Street — “BBH is a perfect fit for him,” Harold observes, provides even further evidence of how sensitive the agency’s antennae are when it comes to identifying and capturing the best creative talent around.
That said, Kolbusz, 36, has a creative track record that compels attention with a string of award-winning work on both sides of the Atlantic, including D&AD accolades for the Orange Gold Spots he produced at Mother London.
Kolbusz, who has found time to write a couple of plays — as yet unstaged — while doing his day job, has been described as “a Renaissance man” by Nick Gill, BBH’s executive creative director.
What’s more, Gill, who predicted that the newly hired Kolbusz would be “a fantastic addition to the agency”, has been more than vindicated by Kolbusz’s work on Weetabix and Lynx. Not to mention his provocative “three little pigs” film for The Guardian, which took a gold at the Campaign Big Awards.
Not bad for somebody who admits abandoning an early career in journalism because he hated offending people by asking them difficult questions.
Kolbusz came into advertising from a truly cosmopolitan background, having been born in Ottowa to a Polish father who was a college principal and an English mother who worked for the Canadian government.
He says his strong work ethic comes from his father, who stamped firmly on giving in to his natural inclination to “live the moment” with stern warnings about the perils of poverty and his dreams of one day becoming a full-time playwright.
For the moment, he is happy that BBH’s sound strategic thinking allows his creativity to fly. “I just like to crack on,” he says of his approach. “I don’t like to overanalyse what I do. I’m a great believer in ‘first thought best’.”
It is a philosophy that has served him well ever since he first arrived in the industry via an internship at TBWA in Toronto.
Whether his current contentment and his huge respect for Gill — “He comes with ideas that shit all over everyone else’s” — is enough to contain his ambition remains to be seen.
“Do I want to be an executive creative director? That’s a difficult one,” he says. “I love my day-to-day work — but you always want to challenge yourself.”
Update: It was announced on 8th October 2015 that David would be departing W+K New York, the agency he left BBH to join in May 2014, to become the Droga5 London Chief Creative Officer.
Boffey may have cause to be grateful that he heeded Harold’s advice not to throw away a burgeoning career as a planner in order to move into a creative department.
“Matt is quite unique. He has taken advertising convention and turned it on its head,” Harold says. “The London Strategy Unit is such an original way of working, in my mind, you have to be creative to get there.”
Now Boffey, 33, may be about to reap the reward for not acting precipitously. The newly launched LSU aims to get deep under the skin of clients’ business problems and come up with answers to fundamental issues that may not necessarily involve communication.
“We have decoupled strategy and creative,” he says. “What we offer is pure strategy. We’re a home for gifted oddballs.”
Nick Grime, a LIZH partner, says: “An operation like LSU is rare. This is a unique blend of the smartest strategic talent, which competes with the best commercial strategic consultants as well as creative agencies.”
Boffey sees LSU partly as a response to the dearth of well-trained planners. This has a lot to do with agencies’ reluctance to have trainee planners honing their skills for many months before they can add any value to the business, he says.
Even Boffey is reluctant to predict the demise of agency planners, but claims his own experience caused him to discover flaws in how agency planning departments operate. As a result, he believes that clients of the future will choose to have their planning needs handled by the likes of LSU, which are not beholden to a vested creative interest.
“The way that agencies are structured means they have in-built bias,” he asserts. “They can’t approach client problems with the necessary objectivity. If the agency creative department is good at TV, the planners will likely play to those strengths when they advise clients.”
A Scouser with a Philosophy, Politics and Economics degree from Oxford, Boffey began his working life selling TVs at John Lewis — “It was marketing at the sharp end” — before getting his first agency job at Boase Massimi Pollitt: the agency that pretty much invented planning.
Since then, his experience working alongside some of the discipline’s outstanding exponents, including Dylan Williams when at Grey and Russell Davies at Wieden & Kennedy, have helped define his approach to planning challenges.
Boffey concludes: “The market’s appetite for LSU demonstrates there is a different and better way.”
First published in on 27th June 2013 in collaboration with Campaign Magazine as part of our A List Contenders series.