Feature

D&AD's new president must re-engage adland

Garrick Hamm aims to champion the charity's cause of supporting and inspiring emerging creative talent.

Garrick Hamm...D&AD president
Garrick Hamm...D&AD president

If Simon Waterfall, the outgoing president of D&AD, was focused on digitalising the charity, then its new president, Garrick Hamm, is all about inspiring the next generation of creatives.

Like chalk and cheese, Waterfall and Hamm could not be more different. "He is everything that I'm not," Waterfall jokes. "It will be a nice breath of fresh air from me, as I'm a bit of an arse. If there's anyone who gets the educational side of D&AD - and will look after the emerging talent - it's Garrick."

Hamm's passion for supporting young creatives stems from his own experience as a young graphic design student at the little-known Somerset College of Art. "I came from pretty much nowhere and I've got a lot to be thankful for," he says.

Hamm credits one of his lecturers, Jack Gardner, who was well connected with ex-students and designers at London agencies, for getting him to where he is today. "He was amazing. It was more like being at the Royal College of Art than a college in Somerset," he says.

In 2004, while still running Williams Murray Hamm, the designer joined D&AD's executive committee because he wanted to give a bit back. "There was a network of people that helped me get to London and into my first job, and D&AD is one of the best at doing that."

To kick off his presidency, Hamm plans to collect the first pieces of work that 20 top creatives produced to show students that people like Wieden & Kennedy's Tony Davidson weren't born gods or geniuses, but started "pretty averagely".

Hamm is also determined to focus his time on talking about the educational side of D&AD, which ploughs £2 million into education programmes annually, instead of dwelling on "hiccups" in the past.

"People miss out on the underbelly of D&AD and all the really good things that it does, because they see the glossy awards show and the price of entries and think it's a money-making machine," he says.

However, it's a misconception that even Hamm admits to being guilty of when he first joined the executive committee.

It cannot be denied that D&AD has gone through a pretty rough couple of years, starting off with its former chief executive Michael Hockney's abrupt exit in March 2007, three days before the last congress at Billingsgate.

Then, the elaborations of congress, which Hamm says "bled it dry", nearly led D&AD to the brink of bankruptcy just over a year ago. And when Waterfall decided to ditch the traditional sit-down ceremony this year, there was a huge catering palaver at the Royal Festival Hall that forced D&AD to take legal action to recover compensation.

So how does Hamm plan to take D&AD forward over the coming 12 months? Under Waterfall's presidency, he says, D&AD has got its "house in order" - by dropping congress at Billingsgate and boosting its President's Lectures and New Blood Exhibition. It is now even ready to look for a chief executive.

Hamm plans to grow membership by cutting the price "dramatically", and by selling D&AD's The Annual in bookshops around the world.

He also aims to connect more with younger creatives to ensure that D&AD remains relevant. Yet, ironically, the grumbles about D&AD are often heard from the mouths of the older executive creative directors, who say it has lost its way and its cachet with British creatives.

But, to say that British creatives won't be recognised on the world stage is an argument that baffles Hamm. "We've never actually had a foreign jury bigger than a 60/40 split before, and if you look at the figures, it's actually been a really good year for the UK," he says.

And to those who believe advertising has become the "poor cousin" to design at the D&AD Awards, Hamm fights back, saying that, although Apple may have heightened the focus on design, there are still more ad entries than design each year. "I don't think we've lost our way; we know what we're about and where we're going, and I think we're still relevant in the end to designers, creatives and advertisers," he says. "They still want to win a Pencil. It is still the gold, or rather yellow and black, standard."

But if that is the case, why did only two people from adland nominate themselves on to the executive committee this year, against 12 from design agencies? Rather than there being a lack of enthusiasm within advertising, Hamm believes that more people in design are putting their hand up because there has been a lot of noise within graphic design circles about their not winning a yellow Pencil this year.

"The design jury needs to look at how advertising pats those on the back who have done good work. In design, people find reasons why they shouldn't give you an award."

Joining Hamm will be Paul Brazier, the executive creative director of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, as his deputy (who will then take over as the president next year).

Seeing as Hamm is committed to emerging talent, it seems apt that he takes over as president at an exhibition showcasing the best advertising and design work from the past 45 years of The Annual, which has been chosen by past presidents. If that's not inspirational, what is?

SIMON LEARMAN: WHY I WANT TO BE A D&AD EXEC

There are two reasons why I chose to stand for D&AD. First, I'm a nerd; I have always liked to look inside things to see how they work. Second, I have that niggling urge to make things better.

I also believe that D&AD needs to be more aware moving forward. There is an uneasy level of disquiet towards the organisation from within the ad industry.

Much of it stems from the way D&AD has interpreted the evolution of the creative industry. There is a tangible shift away from its pure advertising roots. Which is fine. But we still need to reach out to those folk in adland. We all know they can be a cynical bunch. But apathy is rife.

While only anecdotal evidence suggests unease, what is certain is that I was the only bloke from Western Europe who could be bothered to stand. That I was one of only two candidates globally speaks volumes. Something is clearly wrong.

The nostalgic lobe of my brain still believes that D&AD is the only genuine advocate of creative brilliance. But I do feel less aligned with the organisation philosophically. Did D&AD overcompensate when it embraced the changing landscape of the communications business? Is it too broad? Does it mean too little to too many people?

I just hate the idea we could be leaving people behind. With its many categories, D&AD's profile suggests a highly fragmented, less cohesive industry. The obsession with "digital" (that bloody word) is at the expense of recognising big brand ideas that stretch across platforms.

But is D&AD "broken"? Well, in this flatter, media-neutral world, brand communication ideas are no longer the unique preserve of the gifted few. On the whole, D&AD does get it right. Few would argue with the advertising Pencil winners year on year. I passionately believe D&AD should conduct a climate survey across the membership. While I can hardly say I was voted in on a mandate, there's clearly some discord. And I would like some firm evidence to tell us where and why.

And, yes, I do think we have to consider the perennial issues: the awards night, jury selection and the number of categories. Look, I'm not intent on shaking the whole thing up, but it's important to ask questions.

But if there's one thing I'm keen to avoid is that D&AD doesn't become an organisation for an introspective bunch of aesthetes. We work in a creative business. We help brands to engage with people, so we can sell stuff: be they ideas or products. D&AD was established to recognise that. I want to serve because I believe in it.

- Simon Learman is a joint executive creative director of McCann Erickson.