Close-Up: Newsmaker - President Davidson plans to take on the world

This year's D&AD president vows to raise awareness as the organisation moves on to the international stage.

Another year. Another D&AD president. Another manifesto full of aims that seem doomed never to be fulfilled during the incumbent's all-too-brief, year-long term of office. Tony Davidson, the latest to assume the mantle, understands the cynicism - and why the annual ritual must be tied in to a longer game.

"No company would work if it changed its managing director and its agenda every year, and D&AD is no different," the Wieden & Kennedy joint executive creative director explains. "It's important that we have a long-term plan."

In looking to extend D&AD's activities and reputation beyond the UK, Davidson claims he is simply adding impetus to a process that began well before his arrival in office and will continue long after he leaves it. He acknowledges that transforming D&AD into a truly international organisation will upset a few traditionalists. Yet, he argues, this should be the inevitable consequence when more than 70 per cent of awards entries come from abroad, as do more than 45 per cent of the judges.

Little wonder, he suggests, that outside Britain D&AD is recognised mainly as a body that bestows coveted awards and less for its education programmes or as a creative evangelist.

Davidson's presidency will reflect the new internationalism. The 2007 D&AD Annual will be the first to be designed abroad. At the same time, he intends that the quality of D&AD juries should be further enriched by seeking out the finest creative exponents in their fields, irrespective of where they work. "It doesn't mean having judges from every participating country," he adds. "But we need to ensure our judges are not just the best creatives from every discipline, but that they come from all over the world."

"We have a plan for going international, but it's not just about flying around the world to meet people," Davidson says. "It's more about spreading the word about D&AD's achievements and acknowledging that the climate has become a lot more global. D&AD should represent the gold standard in creativity. To do that, we need to be at the top of our game."

Davidson's love affair with D&AD began in the early 80s when he was a design and communication media student at Manchester Polytechnic. For six weeks in a row, he would travel to London for a D&AD evening workshop, arriving back in the North-West during the early hours of the morning.

"I was struck by what an amazing place D&AD is," he recalls. "I don't know of any other industry that could boast of a body that could persuade a top person to give three hours of their time to critique students' work." Davidson, a D&AD executive committee member for the past two years, wants to ensure that pool of goodwill is expanded. "It's really important that the people with the knowledge continue to share it," he declares.

Certainly, D&AD has a good record of harnessing the expertise of the best advertising and design professionals to its cause. The advertising workshops that first alerted Davidson are held around the UK, while the University Network also allows lecturers and students to plug into the top talent.

Spending £2.3 million annually on education, D&AD is a world away from the corruption-riddled organisation it was in the late 80s and early 90s. Davidson is full of praise for the way Michael Hockney, the chief executive, has carried on the businesslike style of his predecessor, David Kester. But he admits there is still a way to go.

"D&AD lacked a bit of flair before Michael and I think he's doing a sterling job," he says. "But I find it incredible that we've been in existence for 44 years and the Government doesn't seem to know who we are. We have an amazing list of players who have been willing to commit to us. If we're going to get better-known beyond the industry and build our education programme, we need to leverage that."

With most of its income ploughed back into education, D&AD reported a modest £250,000 surplus last year. However, Davidson says there are more income-generating ideas yet to be exploited, although he declines to say what they are.

"There are some revenue streams we've not yet looked at but I can't see us beginning to tap into them during my presidency," he admits. "We've one big idea, but I think that is two or three years away from being realised."

Some suggest D&AD will always find it difficult to present a united front because of what is perceived to be an uneasy alliance between designers and agency creatives, and the "political" nature of some of the judging. Davidson acknowledges the difficulty of keeping politics out of the jury rooms, but claims jury chairmen have a role to play by making it clear what they expect at the start of the process.

As far as fostering greater rapport between D&AD's two constituent groups is concerned, he concedes there will always be some tension between the two sides, but says it need not necessarily be unhealthy. Indeed, he suggests an evolving communication world is having the effect of drawing the disciplines closer together.

"Design people are ideas people," Davidson says. "If you're launching a brand, what's more important than the packaging, the typography of the label and the interior of your shops? If you have sorted all that out at an early stage, I guarantee that you'll get better advertising."


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