Creatives: The new generation

Blasting off to outer space, dispensing with an open-plan layout in favour of more offices and sitting the entire agency on one giant chair are just some of the unconventional ways the new breed of ECDs are meeting today's creative challenges. Here, they explain the method behind the madness.

  • Lolly Thomson and Rob Doubal

    Lolly Thomson and Rob Doubal

  • Orange Gold Spot 'Snoop'

    Orange Gold Spot 'Snoop'

  • Coca cola

    Coca cola

  • Nestea




It's like my great-grandmother used to say: "Inheriting a department, or indeed an agency, is a bit like suddenly being in charge of a big spaceship." And we've been handed the keys at a time when space missions have become a little less well-defined. Which is actually a good thing. It means we can boost off to any part of the universe, grab what we like and then bring it back to Earth. The only challenge is making sure we're heading in the right direction and that we've got the best team on board for when we get there.

So, where are we flying to? We're aiming for the same place as everyone else. That part of the universe that allows for the nurturing and modernising of current clients while prodding and probing into the new world of advertising - the place where monkey-powered Twitter feeds infiltrate 62-second global brand films. In this quirky space-time continuum, it seems the agencies most willing to experiment, while still within reach of their spaceship, will be most successful.

What crew will we need? Well, we don't need another knife-thrower. We'll need the same crew as any spaceship on a futuristic endeavour. A visionary, hardworking, polite, talented, eccentric, straightforward, one-of-a-kind, genius, digital, PR-savvy, traditional, non-traditional, copywriting, art-directing, presenter-type, all-round nice guy, with a good sense of humour and an ability to sell TV formats and fridge magnets sort of android person. Just like everyone else.

And what are we going to bring back to Earth? We're going to bring back whatever Earth needs to solve its problems. From global brand communications to innovative business solutions. All of which engage, entertain and enable. So, we better get started. Beam me sideways, Lolly. My legs hurt.


Orange Gold Spot 'Snoop'

Coca-Cola 'yeah yeah yeah la la la'

Nestea 'the start of something different'


If you ask me about the new way to run a creative department, I would say without hesitation that it involves something really revolutionary, something that none of us has seen for ages. It's what I call "sitonthatchairandthink aboutthisprojectuntilyouhaveagreatnewidea".

This business is, was and I hope always will be about that. Sitting on a chair and looking for great, brave, brilliant ideas.

The only thing we are changing is how, when and with whom you sit in that chair.

The chair might be in the agency or abroad. It might be a simple chair for creative, or we could sit all together in interdisciplinary teams. Sometimes we spend months on that chair, or we have a really intensive session to crack a problem in a short period of time. But it can't be an old-fashioned, creative department closed chair and, more, it must be a collaborative and open one.

We have to share the chair with clients, in a much more open way of working. We have creative workshops that result in really good pieces of work. We have left the traditional teams behind and now have a chair full of people from different disciplines, both from inside and outside the agency. It's a really interesting creative mess.

We have invited people - normal people, not related to the industry - to have a sit with us and think with us. You would be surprised how many good ideas these people have.

We hold really intense sessions, where people have to sit for a short period of time, and come back with five great ideas by 5pm every day, because we truly believe in the power of not "overthinking".

We've had the entire agency seated together on the same chair to find a solution to a problem.

We have chairs around the world, with friends of Fallon collaborating across different markets, in our search not solely to be a UK-oriented agency, but to have global influence.

But we never forget that the most important thing is to sit on that chair and not to stand up until we've found a great idea.


Nokia 'qwerty me'

Nike 'suda el jamon'

Natura 'amor America'


The challenges executive creative directors face today are perhaps more multilayered than those of the past. You still have to motivate and guide talented and difficult people, but also get their heads out of their laptops and YouTube. You still have to know how to manage them between boredom and excitement, jealousy and ownership, but also have to teach them how to actually sell work.

My job is to keep people away from harmful modes of thinking that constipate the work. Two of the biggest enemies to any creative organisation are trend and logic. Internal structures tend to pull people back to logic and rationality while, externally, clients tend to follow trends for safety. How many times have you heard someone ask for a certain type of ad like the one running on TV with that track? Sometimes you lose the battle (I know I've lost a few). But you have to keep finding different ways to remind people that the great stuff doesn't always make sense.

The hardest challenge is consistency. For that to happen, you need a long-term view. This is not easy when everyone around you is saying things like: "I want a 'gorilla' or a 'Dollar Shave Club'." I'm like: "I bet you fucking do, but do you have the vision to see it through long term?" Short-termism will kill any agency. Listening to too many people will destroy focus. And trying to find consensus will become a disease your agency can't cure. The best way to solve this is to hire kick-ass imaginative people who consistently produce great work. I have the most talented creative department in the UK. The quality of ideas and output is well beyond any top-tier agency I have worked at. I would say that, but if you are a creative director and can't say that (or don't believe that), then you have a major problem.


The Natural Confectionery Company 'trumpets'

Tate 'Tate movie project'

Freeview 'corgis'


I don't think there is a creative out there who would have said: "When I grow up, I want to be a manager." And this is exactly the problem that faces them today. They have graduated from creative to creative director and then to "management".

Holy shit! What went wrong?

The creative director knows more than anyone that creatives become bored in corporate structures.

So a big challenge is how do you keep your teams entertained, interested, involved and engaged in the company.

One solution is to give them responsibility. If you are a successful company, then give them money to play with - to produce, make, bring to life an idea. If you can't afford the money, then you perhaps can afford the time. This way, they will fulfil their ambitions while fulfilling yours. The closer you can make work feel like play, the better you will be. After all, only when you are happy do you do your best work.

We turn up for work because we want to engage an audience with entertaining, effective communications that will be remembered and talked about. Information is cheap, emotion is valuable.

Realise that the people you employ are the company. Without them, there is no company. Don't make the mistake of hiring people for being good at one thing and then ask them to do another.

Dispel a myth. We bump into quite a few creatives who think it should be easy. It's not. It's hard work. You have to be disciplined; hard work produces great ideas. So let's get real.

With the constant pressure to deliver, the best agencies empower their teams - they let them breathe, let them put their stamp on the world, let them do the things they are passionate about; and if you can let them make their own mistakes too, then they are really going to grow with you rather than apart from you.

We need to make, assess and make again. This is why we have a studio mentality at Fabula, to make things, to work things out by doing it, not hypothesising about it.


Dr Pepper 'emergency'

Orange Film Board Gold Spots

Wellcome Collection 'Superhuman exhibition'


We started by doing something very unhip. We junked the open-plan space and put the teams back into offices. In open plan, everyone instinctively puts on headphones to create their own cocoon. Which stops people talking. Which makes the place like a morgue. Offices just make it louder, busier, buzzier.

We then hired eight new teams. A new head of design, Jamie Craven from Fallon, and a new head of broadcast, Trudy Waldron from TBWA.

We're only just starting to find our rhythm, but the first nine months have been encouraging. This year, we were suddenly the UK's fifth-most-successful agency at Cannes.

A lot of old mates have asked us: "So ... what's it like?" Well, it's intense. As a creative team, you're always busy, mostly with your feet on the desk, dreaming up your next award-winner. But sometimes it's different. On a pitch, the tension cranks up and work is the first thing on your mind when you wake up. All creative teams know that strange, fearful, churning, exciting feeling.

As an executive creative director, you have that feeling every day of the week. Because, instead of two or three projects on the go, you've got 20. And, on top of that, you've got two or three pitches as well. And don't fuck it up ... everyone's watching you.

You talk so much that you become dehydrated very quickly. And when you're in back-to-back meetings all morning, you can't fart. However, nothing beats the unparalleled luxury of never having to do time sheets. (Thank you, Ms Brookes.)

Jeremy Craigen once told us that being an ECD was a job you never ask for, it's a role that comes looking for you.

We're so glad it did. And that it was the team here at DLKW Lowe.


Halfords 'the trip'

OMO 'dirt is good'

Microloan Foundation 'pennies for life'


As the new executive creative directors of Adam & Eve/DDB, we face quite a lot of challenges. Here are the ones that spring to mind as we sit down to write at 9pm on Monday 9 July at the end of our first full day in Paddington.

How are we supposed to write this article when the air con has suddenly decided to blast out really hot air and roast us to a crisp? How do we merge a small agency with a big one? How do we make an agency that was born in the 60s feel like a start-up? How do we combine two different cultures?

How do we mix all the disciplines together? If we spread the creatives around the agency, how will that work exactly? How do we convince some people that sitting open plan isn't the end of the world? (OK, Mike and Rob, we understand it probably is the end of your worlds - but, for Christ's sake, man up. IT'S ONLY A FUCKING OFFICE.)

How do we control our tempers in difficult situations? How do we not buckle under the strain and kill each other? How, if we had to, would we kill each other?

How do we make work that appeals to 60 million people and also six people on a jury? How do we continue to annoy our lovely clients by coming to all their meetings and being in their faces? How do we make tea without a kettle? How do we make the three ECDs thing work? How do we write Ben, Emer and Ben and not make it sound like a bad folk band?

As you can see, it's a long list. We won't pretend we've got any answers yet. But that's what we're here to figure out. And at 9.35pm on day one, we've just worked out how to open the windows and let in some fresh air. It's not a bad start. Hopefully, we'll sort the rest as we go along.


John Lewis 'always a woman'

John Lewis 'the long wait'

Halifax 'furry hero'


Nine months in, and we still feel a bit like Tom Hanks in Big. The kids are in charge, so it's pizza for breakfast, drawing on the walls and dancing on giant illuminating keyboards to enthuse the agency with a "we actually get paid to do this" mentality.

We thought it'd be grown up and clever to list what we wouldn't do as well as what we would. A kind of creative director's supermarket shopping list. Predictably, in the early days, we filled our baskets with stuff we didn't want and forgot the stuff we were ravenous for. It goes to show that the ad game is devoid of shallow learning curves and full of weak shopping-basket analogies. One thing we have stuck to is this: we wouldn't stop having fun.

The sheer weight of admin facing agency creative directors could have killed this dream faster than you can say "online appraisal feedback interface". So we're glad fun is a principle that survived and is thriving. And as we build and nurture our department, it's a key factor in hiring talent too. We've always believed in and been motivated by enthusiasm, energy and a healthy dose of humour. We never felt that fear was conducive to lateral thought, so sitting in a room with creative types and having a few laughs is no bad place to start on a sticky brief.

And if fun is one way of unlocking creativity, then forcing collaboration can make it live and breathe. So we're saving our big guns for the metaphorical walls between our designers, creative technologists and creative teams. The third leg on the tripod is craft. We're finally in a position to demand quality across the board. So working with the likes of Shynola, Dougal Wilson and the Bafta-winner Asif Kapadia is just the start of how we want to influence the output.


BMW 'see how it feels'

Safestore 'I will return'

The Sun 'maybe just maybe'.