Creative Sidelines

From selling old-fashioned sweets to working up a sweat, writing novels to inventing football games, there's not a lot that creatives won't turn their hands to outside office hours, Anne Cassidy writes.


Creative director, Grey London

Vicki Maguire missed the traditional sweetshops of her childhood so much she set up her own one two years ago. The Grey creative director's charmingly retro shop, Suck and Chew, sells sweets in jars, such as pear drops and rhubarb and custards, as well as vintage gifts such as school satchels and toffee tins.

The shop, on Columbia Road, is only open at weekends, which makes it easier to fit around her job. It also helps that extra-curricular activities are actively encouraged at Grey.

The downside is that a lie-in on a Sunday is not an option, as it opens at 6am for market traders.

Before setting up Suck and Chew, Maguire travelled round the country visiting old sweetshops and tracking down suppliers. Then she pulled in a few favours. Andy Dimock, the typographer, did her logo (she paid him in sweets) and Mark Denton, the managing director of Coy! Communications, gave her his collection of vintage games. She believes opening in the middle of a recession was, in some ways, good timing. "In these troubled times, there's something comforting about buying a quarter of sweets that have struck a chord from your childhood."

Maguire, who has previously worked at agencies including Ogilvy, StrawberryFrog Amsterdam and Wieden & Kennedy, says being a shop owner brings her closer to her clients: "I think they like the fact I can talk about protecting margins and business rates from experience, although they're talking millions and I'm talking chocolate mice."


Copywriter, Leo Burnett; copywriter, Work Club

Daytime TV doesn't usually inspire much more than weight gain and depression, but in the case of Chris Birch and Ben Harris, who shared a flat at university, it unleashed a surge of creativity. "The boredom of Countdown forced us to draw stupid things," Birch explains. The pair produced hundreds of naive, witty drawings, recalling David Shrigley, and they were encouraged by their friends to publish and exhibit them. After starting their careers in advertising, the copywriters went to different agencies, but continued with their art, naming their collaboration Properghandi (www.properghandi.com).

Their respective agencies, Leo Burnett and Work Club, have been very supportive, lending printers and exhibition space, and their colleagues have bought many of their pieces. "We probably couldn't put on the shows without the people at work," Birch says. Having this outlet provides some relief from the world of advertising, according to Harris: "It's not good to think about ads too much."

Birch, who works on McDonald's, Department for Transport, Homebase, Shelter and Kellogg at Burnett, likes that people look at their art through choice rather than being hit over the head with a media plan. Harris, who works on Land Rover at Work Club and previously Phones4u at Adam & Eve, has high hopes for it. "Our next exhibition involves massive canvases and sculptures so if we sell a few pieces, we'll quit our day jobs and begin work on Properghandi the film and the theme park 'Properghandiland'," he says.


Creative director, MCBD

Danny Brooke-Taylor was bored one day between takes on a TV shoot. After playing around with a few funny hats and a prosthetic arm to stave off the tedium, the MCBD creative director and his friend, the producer Colin Offland, struck on a new game.

They got hold of a lighting stand, a hula hoop and a football; stuck the hoop to the lighting stand and then took turns trying to kick the ball through the hoop. After happily playing the game for hours, they realised they were on to something. That was five years ago.

The pair, with the help of their friend Marc Ingham, devised a new football skills game for kids. They then pitched their idea to a toy manufacturer called TP Toys, who agreed to make the game. Ballooppa now sells at Tesco Extra, John Lewis and is the sixth-best-selling football product on Amazon (beating the vuvuzela at seventh).

It is not only a hit with children but parents like it too, as the ball is attached to a tether, which prevents it from landing in neighbouring gardens. An online version of the game and the Ballooppa TV ad are available at www.play-ballooppa.com.

The experience of walking around the toy factory where 40,000 units of the game were being boxed up for shipment for the first time is one Brooke-Taylor is unlikely to forget.

He recalls: "Col reckoned I walked a bit like Prince Charles. We tried to chat to some of the factory workers and explain it was our game, but they just thought we were a bit mental."


Creative director, Euro RSCG

There's nothing Eloise Smith likes more than a good sword fight after work. The Euro RSCG creative director, who has been fencing since the age of seven, has represented Great Britain at the Olympics and was a member of the British Fencing Team for 13 years. She has won two Commonwealth individual gold medals and one team gold, and was the British number one for several years.

She hung up her sword after her last Olympics in Athens in 2004, but recently took the sport back up again. But now she does it mostly for fun, training in the evening if she finishes work early enough, and entering a few domestic competitions.

Smith, who worked at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, St Luke's, AKQA and Work Club before joining Euro RSCG this year, still trains with the British squad and is competing in the National Championships. Her fencing training also inspires her as a creative. This is, in part, thanks to her Polish coach Ziemek Wojciechowski, who has a set of strange, often mistranslated mantras, such as "If not you, then who? If not now, then when?" and the more cryptic "Very good, said Robin Hood".

Fencing also gives Smith a different outlook on the world of advertising. She explains: "When you have someone running at you brandishing a sword, it puts worrying about logo sizes and client comments into perspective."


Copywriter/creative, Glue Isobar

When a young single woman working in a Soho ad agency works on a project involving speed dating, all sorts of romantic entanglements ensue. So goes the premise of Step On It Cupid, the first of Lorelei Matthias' novels. It was published in 2006 and followed a year later by her second, Lost For Words, also in the "chick-lit" vein but this time set in a publishing house. Matthias is a creative at Glue Isobar, working on accounts including The Sun, Toyota and Visit Sweden with her creative partner, Nathalie Turton. Before going into advertising, Matthias worked in publishing. "Clearly I write about what I know," she says.

Step On It Cupid has sold around 35,000 copies, and both titles have been translated into French, German, Dutch, Turkish and Russian. The success can give Matthias a welcome lift during a hard day at work. "The nicest measure of success is when you're at work tweaking some bit of copy or other and get a lovely e-mail from a reader," she says. She is hands-on when it comes to marketing her books, with an award-winning film for her first book on YouTube, and a fictional MySpace profile and blog for the book's heroine. She also made a trailer and ads for her second title. Matthias, who is now working on her third book, believes her roles as copywriter and novelist are similar as both connect with people "whether they're walking past a poster you've written or looking down the pages of your book".


Creatives, TBWA\London

The Tidbull twins not only look identical, they have twin obsessions with sport. Steve and Nick, both creatives who work on the Adidas account at TBWA\London, set up their own extreme sports design brand, Vollebak, last year. Their first commission was designing a new range for Cyclefit, a high-end bike shop in Covent Garden, where the bikes are worth the same as cars. They also work with some of the world's top extreme sports athletes, such as freedivers, kitesurfers and base-jumpers. The creatives are responsible for every part of their Vollebak brand, from writing and designing to sales, and say the experience helps inform their approach to their work at TBWA\London.

But the sport fixation doesn't end there. They are also very committed athletes and have raced ultramarathons for Berghaus, the outdoor brand, as well participating in bike racing and triathlons. Their sideline perfectly compliments their work for Adidas. As Steve puts it: "Working with Adidas and on the Olympics in particular, you have to be fluent in sport."

Resisting the temptation to train all day is difficult for the hyperactive duo, so instead they channel all of their energy into their work for Adidas. Racing and ultramarathon running significantly raises their endurance capacity. "A long day at the office can never compare with trying to run across a desert or through a jungle at 45-degree heat. You totally reframe what you're capable of after that," Steve says.


Art director, Mother NY

Walking round a Dada exhibition at MoMA in New York, Christine Gignac and her husband Justin got an idea for a project that would allow them to get everything they wanted in a simple, and inventive, way. Gignac, an art director at Mother New York, realised they could paint items they wanted, sell the paintings for the price of those things and then buy them.

After setting up a website wantsforsale.com in 2007, they did just that. When the couple put their paintings up on the site, they sold out in minutes. Their painting of a plate of buffalo wings costs $12.70 and one of a Nintendo Wii is $270.92. They have bought a Wii, an iPhone, dinner at Nobu and a week-long vacation in Las Vegas thanks to their art work.

It's been so successful they set up a sister site needsforsale.com following the same concept but with the proceeds from the paintings going to charity. Having a creative outlet outside work is important for Gignac. "You're not restricted by anything. There's no brief, no clients," she says.

When they first set up the site, they sent it to a few friends but within weeks they had more than 40,000 visitors. While the couple don't yet make a monetary profit, they gain by getting to do and buy lots of great stuff. Gignac says: "When our painting of a huge stack of money sells at the asking price of a million dollars, then we'll really have made a profit."


Creative, WCRS

If you've ever lost a piece of luggage, it's probably worth getting in contact with the WCRS creative Katy Hopkins. She keeps a stack of lost luggage at the agency, which she buys from airport auctions. She photographs the luggage and then uploads it to her website (www.isthisyourluggage.com) to try to find the owners.

Hopkins' quest came about after watching a news report on luggage going missing at Heathrow's Terminal 5. She began to wonder where all the bags were going, went to a lost luggage auction to buy a suitcase to see what was inside, and ended up buying three. "There is something intriguing about other people's things. Especially personal things like clothes," she says. Then she found she wanted to match a face to the case and set up the website two years ago. She also enlisted the help of her copywriter Steve Hawthorne to lug cases around and help keep check on the website. The site has had more than two million page views by more than 200,000 people, but sadly Hopkins hasn't found an owner yet. Nonetheless, she enjoys doing something outside of work purely for the fun of it and having no-one else to answer to. She also receives lots of encouraging responses to her website from strangers. Though there is the occasional head-case among the suitcases. One guy e-mailed her to ask if he could buy all the underwear, used and unused.

Hopkins was unfazed: "What can I expect? I'm weird enough for buying it in the first place."