Changemakers: Giles Jepson

The CMO on building a new creative services model to help businesses better define and solve their problems


Carlsberg. A global name in beer, with a pedigree of more than 150 years. By the 1980s, it was distributed in more than 100 markets around the world and its strong brand presence and consumer loyalty gave it the confidence to promise that it was “probably the best beer in the world”.  

It might have been. Then.      

But by the mid-2000s, the craft beer revolution was in full swing. Beer drinkers had developed a taste for the influx of new artisan products from microbreweries popping up like mushrooms after the rain around the world. The sobering reality for the Danish brewing giant was that its mainstream lager segment had got stale.

Sales started to decline in the UK, threatening to wipe the froth off its business. In 2018, Carlsberg was forced to accept that its loyal drinkers had upgraded their taste buds and potential customers were spoiled for choice by a host of new entrants.  Carlsberg needed to act quickly – and cleverly – to win back their target market, appeal to new audiences and turn things around.


“Carlsberg approached us,” said Giles Jepson (Sloan Fellow 2008) Chief Operating Officer of BeenThereDoneThat. “They were looking for a big idea; a disruptive, unorthodox, creative idea that would stop people in their tracks and reset mindsets about their brand.

“From the conversations we had with the Carlsberg management team, we put the problem through our usual process: a rapid definition and framing of the problem, which is crafted into a brief and signed off by the brand team.

“For many years, the agency model has not enabled the ideal conditions for creativity”

We then identify the three most relevant members of our community of 180 experienced strategic and creative professionals, whose career backgrounds are as varied as the range of geographies they cover, to create three solutions each within 48 hours. The nine are then presented to the client. In this case - Carlsberg.   

“This is the model at BeenThereDoneThat. All nine ideas get submitted to the client. The whole point is to offer the client best-in-class solutions to their business challenges from a community of world-leading creative strategists who will approach the problem from different perspectives and different life and career inputs.

“Our job is to choose the most suitable three professionals from our community for each job – and make sure the brief is watertight before they start to work on it. Our community members are registered on our bespoke platform and are tagged with their previous experience and passion points so that we can easily identify the most appropriate person for each project.

“This takes the cognitive bias out of the process. It takes the politics and power dynamics you get in a traditional advertising agency out of the process. And puts agility into client delivery. It is highly unlikely that Carlsberg would ever have been presented with the “probably not the best beer in the world” concept – an inversion of its 1980s tag line – by a traditional advertising agency. Yet Marketing Week readers voted it the best campaign in 2019.”

Probably the way forward?

You have probably heard of Carlsberg’s “Probably Not” campaign. But you probably haven’t heard of BeenThereDoneThat, a platform business giving marketers access to a growing community of best-in-class creative and strategic talent from around the world.

That’s because, as Jepson explains, it’s not about them. It’s about the value that can be created from directly facilitating the exchange between one group who have demand and another who can supply - in this case, those needing ideas on how best to connect with their target market with those best placed through talent and experience to provide those ideas. 

Platform businesses in different markets and with different ambitions have been on the rise for years, enabled by cheaper internet packages and more reliable broadband connections. Facebook, Uber and Alibaba in China are just some of the biggest, most well-known platform businesses that have created large, scalable communities that allow their users to network, exchange information and transact on demand.     

Now, the model is refreshing – and potentially upending - B2B markets, a trend that could be accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic forcing digital innovation and transformation in every sector and market.       

 “For many years, the agency model has not enabled the ideal conditions for creativity. It has inherent bias and politics, ” says Jepson, former Chief Marketing Officer for Kraft Heinz Europe and a former marketing director at Swiss chocolate maker Lindt.

“Typically, creative teams get briefed by the accounts group, who handle the client relationship. In a traditional advertising agency, the creative teams will have to present their approaches to a number of internal stakeholders, including the account team, who will be loathe to present anything out-of-the-box to their client that could risk the business relationship.    

“The friction and internal politics creates a bottle neck in the creative process and time delays, as well as preventing the client from receiving the most innovative and impactful creative approaches,” Jepson adds.

“As a CMO for years, I have been on the client side many times and been frustrated by the traditional advertising politics and sameness.  I would have been delighted by this approach. Efficient, quick, with the potential for some really out-of-the box – wow – results leveraging the cognitive diversity of our community.”

Skål to that

Jepson was introduced to the founders of BeenThereDoneThat in 2017. Back then, the business was a London start-up with just five employees. One of them was advertising veteran David Alberts, a former Chairman and Executive Creative Director at Grey. He had set up a technology-solutions business for content creators called MoFilm. Ed Rogers had been an Account Director at McCann Erickson. He had also worked in advertising recruitment – executive level, during which time he gained a deeper understanding of the advertising business model and formed a strong network of some of the world’s leading creative strategists.

“I had developed an interest in entrepreneurship during the Sloan and attended the School’s Entrepreneurship Summer School after completing the degree”

“I was intrigued by the model,” says Jepson, who at the time was working as Chief Marketing Officer for Kraft Heinz Europe. He had joined Heinz UK as marketing director in 2008 after completing London Business School’s Sloan Masters’ in Leadership and Strategy and had steadily worked his way up the ranks.

He had been promoted to European CMO after US private equity firm 3G Capital bought the UK’s much-loved baked beans-to-ketchup brand, a role that became super-sized when 3G,  backed by Warren Buffett, bought Kraft Foods and then tried to merge the two consumer goods’ companies together.

“There was a lot of change; a lot of cost cutting,” Jepson reflects. “I started noticing much more innovation in the consumer goods market from challenger brands. Setting up a supply chain and route-to-market was becoming easier and cheaper and fundraising also seemed to be more accessible, with more appetite to take risks on niche and artisan products.

“Meanwhile, Kraft Heinz was like an oil tanker. It wasn’t that we didn’t have the ideas. It’s just that it’s a traditional consumer goods business with a heritage dating back to the 1800s. It has many legacy brands specific to local markets. Running a P&L was becoming increasingly challenging. Also, I was starting to feel that I was hitting a glass ceiling. The next step probably would have been a general management role in the US, focused on their key North America market. But my wife has a family business in London, so that wasn’t an option.

“I had developed an interest in entrepreneurship during the Sloan and attended the School’s Entrepreneurship Summer School after completing the degree. That was back in 2008. I always had the feeling that I’d like to work with a start-up. So, when I was introduced to the founders of BeenThereDoneThat, it felt like the right thing for me to use my marketing, corporate and business experience in helping them grow. I believed that the business and model could fill a growing client need that wasn’t at the time widely available: not just creative, but strategy and innovation challenges too.”

Now that’s refreshing…

Jepson gives an example of how being able to connect a client with creative and diverse thinkers helped one client to develop a brand proposition, purpose, name and identity in three-week “sprints”.

“Tesco was in talks with Unilever about developing an all-natural ice cream. The supermarket said if Unilever moved quickly to create the offering, they would get it on the shelves fast. Unilever came to us. Together we defined three segments to the challenge: first, the purpose, then the name and brand proposition and lastly the initial brand design identity.

 We took this to our community.

“The upshot was Nice by Nature, a new brand proposition, manifesto and identity for pure-fruit lollies with no additives, delivered in just over a month – a timescale unheard of in the industry.  

 “The question really is, why wouldn’t you want to harness the world’s best thinkers, best strategists, best creative talent – those who have BeenThereDoneThat - to solve your biggest business problems? And for our global community of diverse experts, they are empowered to work in the way that suits them, on fantastic briefs, with flexibility of location and no internal friction. We are able to offer the ideal conditions for creativity.”

Communication planning is another service line the business is developing, which Jepson says will be hugely disruptive, taking the current bias, both personal and financial, out of identifying the best consumer experiences strategy and channels to deliver a creative idea. Jepson believes the model could be replicated to support other sectors, like law, where specific expertise and experience is needed on a project-by-project basis.

But right now, he is focusing on growing BeenThereDoneThat in Europe and the US. The firm opened an office in New York at the end of 2018 to tap into the multi-billion-dollar advertising opportunity.

“Our ambition is to grow the community of top creative and strategic talent around the world, for the benefit of our clients as well as the benefit of those people with exceptional CVs and big, creative deas who either don’t want to work in traditional advertising companies for any number of reasons, or physically can’t because of geographical location.

“But this will a gradual process as our focus will always be on quality as well as making sure there is work and revenue opportunity for the community on our platform. Watch this space.”