Graham Fink is enjoying a stint at the D&AD, but what next? Emma Hall
When Graham Fink was running for president of the Designers’ and Art
Directors’ association, he sent a letter to every single member asking
them to vote for him.
‘Some people have D&AD coursing through their veins and Graham is one of
them,’ David Kester, the chief executive of D&AD, says.
Such reverence for an institution that sits at the heart of the ad
industry’s establishment might seem odd from the man who, in the past,
was well known as the enfant terrible of British advertising.
But Fink has not accepted the D&AD status quo and has fought to bring
about some changes to the notoriously reactionary institution. His ideas
for change have been received with distinctly varying degrees of
Changes to the structure of the judging; the attempted inclusion of
celebrities on the juries; a new category for art direction; and the
introduction of a D&AD education initiative, will be Fink’s most
tangible legacies to the organisation.
Fink complains: ‘I have lots of ideas, I go off and do them, and then
people criticise you and say you are destroying the whole thing - which
But this year’s D&AD president is not frightened of exposure to
criticism. Tim Mellors, the creative partner of Mellors Reay and a
former partner to Fink at GGT, says: ‘Fink likes to set the fox among
the chickens, his nature is to change things, although sometimes it’s
just for the sake of change and that’s when he becomes vulnerable.’
Fink stands by his decisions and defends the lack of awards this year,
which saw only one gold in all the categories, and no Pencils at all for
copywriting or photography. He says it is a good thing for the juries to
be tough, because it makes the Pencils more sought after and encourages
people to try even harder next year.
The awards ceremony last week had Fink’s mark on it. A lot of people
were grateful that it was mercifully brief, with the nominations
appearing on-screen during the meal, and a pacey presentation of Pencils
by the comedians, Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer.
Mellors says: ‘When you look the way he does, you get used to standing
out from the crowd, but with D&AD, he has been nervous because he has
such a reverence for the organisation.’
Mellors praises Fink’s attention to detail: ‘He spent hours fiddling
with the menu and trying out different recipes, and I bet he spent just
as long trying on different outfits. On the night, of course, he looked
as handsome as ever.’
Fink still sees himself as a rebellious figure. He says: ‘People think
I’m a lunatic but I don’t think I am. I just get really passionate about
stuff and will always say what I think, which can get taken the wrong
Although it hurts him, Fink perversely admits to liking criticism. He
says: ‘In the end, it’s really quite fun.’
Despite his impressive record of hard work for D&AD, Fink continues to
battle against conformity. His current favourite saying, posted up on
his office wall, is: ‘In a beginner’s mind there are many possibilities.
In the expert’s mind there are few.’
Fink expands: ‘I like not being safe, I thrive on controversy. You have
got to be out there and be scared. I love it when I am told that
something will never work - it makes me get on and do it.’
Robert Campbell, the joint creative partner at Rainey Kelly Campbell
Roalfe, admires the progress Fink has made in modernising D&AD, but sees
his effect as a subtle chipping away at convention, rather than the
dramatic actions of a rebellious upstart.
As well as making a difference at D&AD, Fink has been trying to make his
mark as a director. He has just finished a job for Persil through J.
Walter Thompson, which he claims is ground-breaking for a soap
Fink reveals: ‘With the Persil ad, I felt I’d stepped up a notch. It was
a long shoot - 11 days - and a lot of the stuff I had never done before.
But at last I felt I was getting some of the images I want, which made
me feel a lot more confident.’
He has also made a fan out of Patrick Collister, Ogilvy and Mather’s
executive creative director, with whom he has just finished an ad for
But it hasn’t always gone well. He made a disastrous building society ad
that had him ‘almost in tears’ when the client hated it and insisted on
a fierce recut.
Mellors says: ‘Fink has to learn about the real world. He is from the
‘advertising is art’ school of thinking, and so he often collides with
the commercial side of the business.’
But Fink has no regrets about becoming a director. He explains: ‘I love
being out of an agency. Every time I go back in, I thank God I’m not
involved when I see the same old arguments going on about the size of
the logo, clients still worrying about the pack shots, and meetings that
go on for hours and hours.’
When he quit GGT, he left behind a fat-cat salary but claims to have
enjoyed the novelty of being ‘poor’. He admits: ‘It was fun doing sums
to work out whether I could afford things and finding out how much a
pint of milk costs.’
One hangover he still has from agency life is that he persists in going
in to the office every day, whereas most of his fellow directors would
rather wait around at home until a good script shows up.
He loves being in Soho, and prefers to have an office base for all his
D&AD responsibilities. However, his office is a complete tip. The desk
is piled high with papers and reels, and it is difficult to see how he
can get to the TV and VCR to watch anything because every inch of floor
space is covered in videotapes and junk.
Nevertheless he has approached the D&AD presidency with a tidy
professionalism at odds with the state of his office.
Mellors describes the conflict in Fink’s persona: ‘Graham has such a
cavalier image and a louche air, that people make the mistake of
thinking he’s casual. But when he gets his teeth into something he bites
the nuts off it.’
During his year as president- elect, and his six months so far as
president, he has never missed a board meeting, and is always there on
time for the monthly 8am sessions.
Kester says: ‘Graham has thrown himself into it with gusto, and it is
especially difficult for him, because most presidents take on the mantle
at a later stage in their career, when they are established and can
relax a bit. Fink still needs to put a huge amount of energy into
directing as well.’
Kester admires Fink’s enthusiasm: ‘He has the absolute pre-requisite for
being an excellent commercials director. You have to get the most out of
a whole team and he’s good at that. Of course he has his own views, but
he listens carefully and is good at creating a dialogue.’
Once his year as president is up, you can’t help worrying that Fink will
wilt a little without the constant nurturing and attention that the
position gives him.
Mellors says: ‘Graham was lapping up the attention at D&AD. He found his
first year as a director unbelievably difficult because he was used to
being feted, and suddenly people were cancelling lunches with him.
‘For such a social person it was very difficult to put on a new hat and
find that he was now a service provider, and that everywhere he went,
people assumed he was touting for work.’
Fink used to hang out of windows, wear a fur coat in the summer, or turn
up at the opera in full Mozart costume for attention, but he says he has
moved on from such stunts. ‘You can only do those things once,’ he
He claims that he will be pleased at the end of this year when he can
get back to concentrating 100 per cent on commercials.
But after such a high-profile presidency, he will have to make some
exceptionally good, or exceptionally controversial, films to keep
himself in the limelight to which he has become accustomed.