Creative Britons

The image above, and over the next few pages, was taken by the photographer and publisher Howard Webster to celebrate the people who are putting advertising at the heart of Creative Britain.

He explains why he was inspired to take the picture and the creatives featured talk about why creativity is more potent than ever.

When I first came to London after graduating from Durham University in the late 80s, the ad industry was one of the coolest places to want to work. The selection process was notoriously rigorous and they only took the best and brightest graduates to work in the holy land of advertising. For my friends who landed jobs or placements at agencies such as Bartle Bogle Hegarty, it felt like they'd just joined the SAS. They were now roadies for the best bands in the world. I was jealous.

That was then. Jump forward to 2002 when I came to launch a glossy, boutique magazine called Factory, aimed initially at film and television insiders in LA, New York and London. I was interested to see what the people who'd collaborated with and helped shape some of the greatest movie directors in the world were up to. I was in for a shock. The advertising industry in the UK wasn't as cool as I remembered it. It seemed large, bloated, middle-aged and rather pleased with the sound of its own voice. Where were my creative director heroes of the 70s and 80s? They seemed to have got lost in a maze of Sage spreadsheets.

This wasn't how I remembered the ad industry. Advertising, to my mind, was always a business born naturally from a commercial need for great ideas and innovation that could make you stand out - not balance sheets and takeovers. Then someone showed me BMW Films and the work of companies such as Fallon. It was the first, as far as I can recall, "pull" as opposed to "push" ad campaign that utilised the fact that PCs now sat on nearly everyone's desk at work. Plus, it was fun and cool. It wasn't TV, posters or print. It was something else. I saw the future - and promptly headed to the US to find out more.

The result was a big group photoshoot for Factory comprising the leading advertising creative directors in New York at the time. The shoot, Factory and I made the pages of the New York Post and Ad Age. Since then, Factory has kept a close eye on communications technology and digital media. We have even tested theories out there in the real world on branded digital content and been nominated at Mipcom/Cannes and had the IP we created picked up by a Hollywood studio. Inspired by this, we've been busy writing about people, creativity and innovation and continued to test ideas out online in real time.

As Factory moved through into its eighth year, I thought the time was right to look again at the UK advertising industry and give it a second chance. I knew that the startling rise of digital technology and the recession had hit it hard. I also understood that it was going through a revolution of its own. That it was redefining its own role with its clients and therefore its commercial psychology. What I found was an industry forced to get creative again. Everything, it seemed, was up for grabs. And I was interested again. Advertising was cool once more.

Also, being a Brit, I wanted to make a point. We're really good at being creative (just look at music, fashion, art and design) and have some of the greatest creative minds in the world working in the UK. And there has never been a better time to embrace creativity in its broadest definition. We desperately need creative solutions to business, environmental, economic and life issues.

That's why I thought I'd gather some of the most exciting and brilliant advertising agency creative directors together and celebrate their creativity, innovation and insight.

When I put the cast list together for the shoot, I didn't want to simply focus on the big agencies and all the usual suspects (although some of them are creative heroes in my book). That would be too obvious. I really wanted to mix it up, put them together with some exciting talent emerging in hot digital shops and small boutique agencies currently off the radar. Ultimately, it is the best ideas that win.

For me, the best advertising is always entertaining and fun - and that's why I couldn't treat this shoot in a traditional way either. You've got to walk the talk too. So we used a simple metaphor that is truly British and unique. A bus-stop brimming with ideas waiting to move forward. Could someone cue the new national anthem: Oasis' Acquiesce - now they've split up, they're cool again too.

Photographer: Howard Webster (www.howardwebsterphotography.com)
Compositing: Tim "Bloke" Haughton
Hair/make-up: Fiona Fletcher
Lighting: Callum McInnes
Photographic assistant: Brenda Spooner
Location: JWT London
Company: Touch The Sky Productions
Interviewer: Marcus Gilbert
Assistant (Day 1): Edith Bukovics
Assistant (Day 2): Tom Reed

According to Danny Brooke-Taylor, the creative director at Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy, the future is going to be an interesting one: "The future is bright and it's not just orange - it's all sorts of shapes and colours."

Damon Collins, the executive creative director at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, goes one step further. He believes we are living in remarkable days: "In 50 years' time, everyone will be looking back at this period and saying do you remember the time when all that stuff happened - it was a fantastic time. Wow, it was like the 60s, wouldn't it have been great to have been alive then? We aren't going to realise how amazing this time was - until a few years down the line."

Things have been so in flux that, according to Mick Mahoney, Euro RSCG's executive creative director, advertising has become "a bit of a frontier town". He feels that the new media world we live in now threatens the old order of things. And, for Mahoney, that's a good thing.

Technology has always brought big changes. Paul Brazier, AMV BBDO's creative director, points to the time when TV was created and the impact it had on communications back then. The only difference today is the twoway nature of the digital revolution.

With TV and radio, dialogue between the consumer and brand was one way and allowed 100 per cent contol. Back then, brands shouted at the consumer. Now, the consumer can shout back.

Fernanda Romano, Euro RSCG's global creative director for digital and experiential advertising, is excited by this new dialogue. And the challenges that brings have, for her, made advertising "more fun, more creative".

Flo Heiss, a creative partner at Dare, says advertising is becoming idea-led again: "It is about coming up with ideas that can be advertised - and not just advertising ideas."

TBWA's executive creative director, Mark Hunter, believes that people of his generation are now facing a career of two halves. One half spent honing traditional skills about how to make great TV, print and poster ads. And a second half spent figuring out how to exploit all the new media channels. He says this is "daunting", while also "pretty exciting".

The Red Brick Road's creative partner, Justin Tindall, feels we should move on from the digital debate and just start working with the new tools. He says: "It is becoming a bit boring for me - the whole digital revolution thing. We've been talking about it for a long time. And I think a lot of people have been focusing on when and where - the media issue. I think it is more a production issue - how than where."

Dave Trott, the creative director at CST, thinks the digital debate has got ahead of itself. Everyone, according to Trott, thinks it's monumental and makes a massive drama out of it. Digital, for Trott, is just another chapter like television and radio. For him, advertising at its core is still all about people. People don't change - the only thing that changes is how you reach them. It is all about understanding people and what motivates them.

At McCann Erickson, they've gone one step further. Simon Learman, the executive creative director, says that they've banned the word "digital".

While advertising will always be about impact, communication, persuasion and the psychology of the consumer, the rise of social media has created, in the UK, the potential for 60 million people becoming spokespeople for a brand or product. Evangelists who can be communicated with almost instantly. Ewan Paterson, the executive creative director at CHI & Partners, sees this as a radical shift. He says that consumers are now transmitters as well as receivers. That they are sending out messages - and are part of the communication.

Another major change is the relationship between media agencies and advertising agencies. In the past, the media agencies used to dictate the reach of a TV ad - this is now no longer the case. In today's wired world, it's the consumer that does. Saatchi & Saatchi's creative partner, Kate Stanners, says "media planning ... has to happen in the agency and creative department now".

Mark Fiddes, the executive creative director at DraftFCB, agrees that agencies should be mindful that the contract with the consumer has changed. He says that brands have to go beyond being just sideshows, that they are going to find that they've got less time to engage the consumer. This new consumer contract is echoed by George Prest, the executive creative director at Delaney Lund Knox Warren. He says that there is a whole generation coming through now of people for whom the digital world is seamless with their real world.

Dave Bedwood and Sam Ball, the creative partners at Lean Mean Fighting Machine, warn that despite the advances in technology, we must keep in mind the things that don't change. Such as how you write with charm and wit. For them, people don't change; it is only the technology through which you reach them that has. People have more power than ever before not to see your ads. Bedwood and Ball say that you have to be really good to stand out because you are now up against people's right to choose - not the fact that the Cillit Bang ad comes immediately before your spot.

Paterson feels that, on the whole, the recession has been good for creativity.

When the market becomes more cautious, it allows the brands and the companies prepared to take a risk to really stand out. For him, the brave come out of a downturn far stronger.

Al Young, the creative director at St Luke's, agrees. He says that he loves times like these. Because the clients' masks are off. They know that change has got to happen. And it is not just meddling around the edges or a little experimentation. It isn't about whether we can fine-tune the vehicle anymore because, frequently, the vehicle is broken and needs to be replaced. It is commercial reality and necessity that breeds invention. Young says that "this is a great time to be in the business". He also says that as soon as it gets good again, it will get boring.

Hunter thinks that, increasingly, it is all about asking clients to grow their ambitions for their brands. He says that in the past you would find the truth about the brand and dramatise the truth - increasingly, he doesn't think that is enough anymore. Brands need greater ambitions. It is about how you behave as a brand, and he cites the example of Haagen-Dazs in the US and its "help the honey bees" campaign (and the eco-threat to natural food supply with the dwindling numbers of bees) that went all the way to Capitol Hill. It was a massive amount of positive PR for the brand.

And Hunter believes that this is how you convince people that your ambitions are true. It is about making your brand relevant. There is so much competition for an audience's attention -you need to be useful to them or simply be entertaining.

Charlie Wilson, OgilvyOne London's creative director, believes that with the increase in consumer power, the old preaching advertising model has gone. For him, advertising has to make sure brands engage and are being useful. Five years ago, Wilson says, you would never have expected any brand to be useful in its advertising.

The agency-client relationship is also due for an overhaul. Jeremy Craigen, the executive creative director at DDB, says it is time for clients to see their ad agency more as a business partner over a medium-term timescale. According to Craigen, real industry change will only happen when the mindset of the client changes.

This is a sentiment echoed by Jon Williams, the chief digital officer of Grey EMEA and the global creative director on Allianz. Williams says that you've got to talk to your clients about business solutions, rather than marketing solutions. Because the answer will always be, if you are a digital shop, something digital - or if you are a traditional shop, a 30- or a 60-second spot. He believes that trust in a client relationship is incredibly important.

Brooke-Taylor agrees that clients need to trust their agencies more. He thinks that all the courage and conviction and bravery disappears when the money dries up. You have to do three or four variations of an idea until all the life has been kicked out of it by research groups: "I get frustrated when our trust is superseded by some fat person in a research group."

He thinks that clients are so driven by fear of making a mistake, they don't make any creative leaps. And he argues that when you are not afraid of messing up, you can do something extraordinary - history proves that. When you add helmets, armbands and stabilisers, you are probably going to fall over anyway and look stupid.

Tindall says that one of the reasons people talk of the golden age of advertising being the 70s and 80s was because the relationship between agencies and clients was much better then. For him, a lot of people in agencies now consider that building a relationship with a client is sending them an e-mail every day. The best, long-serving relationships between clients and agencies are built around friendships.

There is even change in the central philosophy of how advertising agencies work internally; a battle between creativity and innovation.

Romano says innovation is the labour of hard work, getting lots of information, trying things out. It is not creative. Trial and error - 25 things happening at the same time. The industry hasn't been working like that. It was about being creative. The next model is when innovation and creativity are on the same floor.

Another big challenge facing the advertising industry is one of remuneration. Fiddes says that in other creative centres such as Hollywood or Silicon Valley, if you have a good idea, you are paid every time it is played or appears.

You own the IP: "Here, we are paid like taxi drivers. A guy gets in the back of the cab - you are paid as long as you drive them towards their destination. If you were actually paid for your ideas here, the UK would be a powerhouse of creativity."

Prest agrees with Fiddes. He says we have to look at new-business/remuneration models where you get paid on success and results rather than paid for delivering work. The risk is that you may end up working for clients for nothing if it doesn't work - but if something outperforms, then the agency should be paid commensurately.

Paul Banham, JWT's digital creative director, concurs. He says we need to work less on just delivering a message for a product or a brand and more on actually creating more business ideas. We need to move from creating creative ideas to business ideas.

His colleague at JWT, the executive creative director, Russell Ramsey, says that while payment in the past has been time-based, this now needs to be results-based. He thinks that agencies aren't rewarded properly for great ideas. "There are some instances when taking longer to do something can be more financially rewarding, which is crazy," Ramsey says.

Tindall is circumspect. He says they are also in the process of trying to redefine the role of the agency for the client. He laughs and says some smart bastards will work it out - and will create a new system. His own feeling is that it will move towards production companies rather than ad agencies.

And Tindall has the last word. He reminds us that the advertising industry should primarily be an entertainment business: "If you run a TV ad, you are invading someone's home. As far as I am concerned, you have an obligation to entertain them. It is like turning up to a party uninvited and empty-handed - it is really f*cking rude. If you are going to turn up uninvited, then bring a gift - be entertaining. The best advertising does that. A lot of agencies forget that at their peril."