Virginie Berger — Founder, DBTH

The always brilliant Virginie talks to TheNextGag about the genesis of her agency, what she gets from talking at international events and how an artist can succeed in today’s world.

Virginie Berger is the Founder of DBTH agency in France.

DBTH (for “Don’t Believe The Hype“) is a leading creative and development agency for international brands. The agency specializes in working with individual artists, creative industries and emerging entertainment technologies on their innovations in digital strategies, including branding, globalization and consumer engagement.

THENEXTGAG: CAN YOU PLEASE TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND ?

VIRGINIE BERGER: My many years of studying in specialized law, taxation and business management — though still useful on a daily basis — are quite remote from what I do today. In the long run, daring to get my hands dirty, I have taught myself to develop a digital strategy and to accurately choose the appropriate networks. When I started my career at Microsoft as a project leader, I lied when asked if I knew how to use such or such tool. In the end, I just jumped into it head first and have never stopped ever since. Afterwards I worked for Omnicom, NRJ (largest radio media group in France), then as marketing director for MySpace which I developed in France. And every time, each experience has allowed me to explore further into the digital expertise.

TNG: HOW DID YOU END UP CREATING THE DBTH AGENCY ?

VB: In 2009, MySpace decided to shut down foreign subsidiaries. 23 out of 28 were stopped, including the French one. I then grabbed this opportunity to reflect on how to develop and optimize my whole experience. Was I to join a large group once again? I had been working for that kind of company for more than 10 years… So I decided to launch my own blog focusing on music marketing and digital strategies. At the time, it didn’t exist in French and France was a long way behind in that domain. In addition, the industry really opposed it and, in the beginning, I would get some hostile reactions for I would convey pieces of information which apparently were not supposed to be. I changed the balance of power… I was also the very first one to talk about Direct To Fans in France….. Then, in order to meet all demands, from the blog I founded the agency.

TNG: HOW BIG IS THE AGENCY NOW ? WHAT TYPE OF CLIENTS DO YOU HAVE ?

VB: We are a small agency, in craft-like fashion and in direct link with our 80 clients, more than 50% of whom are international. I intend to preserve a privileged contact with our clients. We get chosen because of our professional skills, our expertise and also our professional ethics.

TNG: DO YOUR WORK ONLY IN THE MUSICAL FIELD OR DOES YOUR EXPERIENCE COVER OTHER DOMAINS AS WELL ?

VB: In fact, music only represents 20 to 30% of our clients. We really are frontrunners in terms of “Creative Tech Culture”. The agency offers marketing, international expansion and business management consulting for innovative and creative players at the crossroads of of music, TV, mobile and technology. Therefore, we work with a large number of startups dealing with both content and technology and which we support with strategic consulting. We also provide massive groups like Twitter with vertical music expertise, or France Media Monde (RFI + TV5) with the development of a mobile application contest in Africa. We work with Ubifrance to coach startups for SxSW. We also work with several artists and labels with whom we know we share a digital compatibility. Switching towards technologies isn’t that easy. And I am a speaker, panelist, jury member or coach in the marketing or technology domains for numerous conferences, schools (Berklee, Sorbonne, Celsa..) or startups contests (Rethink Music, UbiFrance, France-China exhibition…). To date, I have had the opportunity to be part of more than 200 events. My development goals concern Africa — namely Sub-Saharan Africa — and its creative-tech startups, as well as the development of music tech startups throughout the world.

TNG: I SEE THAT YOU TALK A LOT IN CONFERENCES AROUND THE WORLD. DO YOU FIND THAT IMPORTANT ? HOW VALUABLE IS IT TO YOUR WORK ?

VB: I think that this is vital to get the message across ! I don’t depend on any lobby or institution and I don’t defend any policy whatsoever. This keeps me absolutely free to say and do what I believe in. I therefore rarely follow ready-made ideas (« Spotify is evil, being an entrepreneur is good »), and conferences allow me to speak my mind. That’s also a reason why I’m invited to conferences: no doublespeak with me ! This is highly important for the Agency and for my work, and allows me to bring forward a genuine credibility and visibility concerning what I do. Being French makes it much harder for me to stand out as opposed to Anglo-Saxon or American people, so these conferences do help me to acquire a larger notoriety as well as to exchange opinions with my peers, get a different point of view and build an international network. As a matter of fact, I often happen to be the only French (and the only female) guest. I believe that in France I am one of the most specialized expert in terms of creative tech which allowed me last November to set up a program and take 5 French startups to the SFMusicTech of San Francisco. I also managed to let them meet with the Twitter teams (specialized in the Fabric offer), organize a pitch coaching with the French tech hub and ask my international contacts to be jury members or make contact with Ubifrance.

TNG: WHICH ONE OF YOUR PROJECTS ARE THE MOST PROUD OF ?

VB: I am very attached to each of my projects however I am particularly proud of what we have accomplished for the TV film « La Loi » (The Law), broadcast on France 2, which covered the itinerary of the then Health Minister Simone Veil, and namely the events linked to the French National Assembly vote concerning the right to abortion in November 1974. The film followed the 3 days of harsh debating which took place at the National Assembly and the incredible hardships Simone Veil had then to face… The network broadcast it to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the right to abortion. On this project we set up the whole digital strategy around the movie. Today’s context is a sensitive one and the climate can get very tense when we deal with such societal topics but we chose center our strategy on Twitter and a timeline on France 2, based on historical captions (an image taken from the film with a chosen quote), vines, as well as a historical timeline of everyday events in 1974. We also managed (and this is a world first) to set up a Q&A between the government Twitter account and the movie Twitter profile. The movie profile would post questions about abortion and the government profile would answer these, all publicly accessible. It is a world first because never before had a Q&A like this been set up between a fictional entity and a governmental website. We then live-twitted the movie during its TV broadcast, posting, after each important sequence, the caption or vine video. As a result, we reached 1st place among trending topics on Twitter (ahead of soccer !) and received more than 8000 mentions ; which is quite remarkable for a TV film about the right to abortion…

TNG: WE’VE READ THE BOOK THAT YOU WROTE FOR IRMA AND LOVED IT. HOW DID THE BOOK HELP YOU IN YOUR ADVENTURE ?

VB: This book was a beautiful gift and a great opportunity but I don’t know whether I helped the book or if the book helped me. It happened quite early in the agency’s development but I think we mutually helped one another. Without my blog or the conferences, this book would have had no visibility, for I was already quite renowned through my blog. So it mostly allowed to underline what I talked about and to concretely put on paper what I stood for. Still, my goal is to write other books, namely about the artist entrepreneur.

TNG: DO YOU HAVE ANY UPCOMING PROJECTS THAT YOU CAN SHARE WITH US ?

VB: Always many projects in mind! For now, I have two main goals. I would really like to set up an incubator dedicated to creative industries. Project promoters often join incubators which have no experts in these domains and have no law background so it seems essential to me to launch such initiatives. You don’t work on creative industries as you would on analytics, so I really wish I can develop this. Let me then add a special condition to it : 50% of project promoters should be women. I’m growing tired of seeing male-only teams during pitches. I’m therefore planning to convince and finalize this in the year to come. (if you are insanely and want to invest in this fantastic, please let’s talk!) My second project is the writing of a new book, really focused on the artist entrepreneur, artist in the broad sense.

TNG: DO YOU BELIEVE THAT ARTISTS SHOULD BECOME ENTREPRENEURS NOW IF THEY WANT TO SUCCEED ?

VB: I do believe so. I don’t see how an artist could succeed without a minimum of control or knowledge concerning his/her career. Anyway, an artist is a natural entrepreneur, he/she made the choice of independence. The independence must then be dealt with in the best manner to allow a development and an access to as many opportunities as possible. Being an artist entrepreneur also means creating your own team. Being an entrepreneur inside a major doesn’t prevent anything but I can’t see how artists can develop without knowing about their market, opportunities, business model… I understand that it can be painful for some but in order to survive there is no other option. It is not about who is the best artistically but about who will actually be able to show it.

TNG: IN YOUR OPINION, IS IT OK FOR A COMPANY TO USE CROWDFUNDING PLATFORMES SUCH AS KICKSTARTER OR SHOULD THAT BE THE TOOL OF INDIVIDUALS ?

VB: First of all, the use of crowdfunding by companies is still tightly controlled, in Europe at least, so it is not as easy for companies as it is for individual projects … Then, it all depends on the project when you’re a company, unless you’re a non-profit one, but we are supposed to be able to develop a project. So, if you call for public donations, you have to be able to set up a project which serves the common good. Or save a company (since banks don’t really do their job…) but you ought to remain reasonable regarding constant calls for donations.

Virginie Berger

DBTH

Founder

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