D&AD's new president: ‘The world is burning and life's not always fair’

Karmarama co-founder Naresh Ramchandani has been a member of D&AD since 2014.

Ramchandani: St Luke's co-founder takes over from Kate Stanners
Ramchandani: St Luke's co-founder takes over from Kate Stanners

Karmarama and St Luke's co-founder Naresh Ramchandani has been announced as the next president of D&AD, taking the helm from Saatchi & Saatchi global chief creative officer Kate Stanners.

A member of D&AD since 2014, the Pentagram partner is on a mission to raise standards within the industry with a focus on sustainability, diversity and the next generation of creatives.

Ramchandani spoke to Campaign about Covid-19, political correctness and the role of creativity in the next 12 months.

This year’s D&AD Annual won’t be in print. How do you aim to get the industry to listen to these priorities?

How can the next generation of creatives translate the things they know – the world is burning and life's not always fair – and turn those into the best possible creativity? Not having an Annual that you have to pay money for, but having something that's free and available to all, is a fantastic thing. 

I don't think change happens fast. It definitely doesn't happen in a one year cycle. The strategy is to advance some of the things that the media has been exploring and ensure that those conversations roll into the years afterwards.

We've talked about restoring the idea of the President's Lectures, which I think would be fantastic. It's about getting people who know their shit about these subjects to discuss and explore those subjects in more detail, and having the patience for it. 

What are the biggest challenges facing the creative industries at the moment? 

The coronavirus is a big problem, because it affects so many people's lives. Like most big global problems, it doesn't affect people equally – it affects people who are most vulnerable far more. That is a cliche, but it is also the case. 

How do you think we will look back on the quality of creative work released during the coronavirus pandemic?

We’re trying to build a positive future - that is incredibly challenging for our industry in many respects. There's a recession that's rolled into town which is going to have all sorts of effects on the type of clients we work with, but also how many of us stay employed. 

I know there's all sorts of talk about screen fatigue and all that sort of stuff, but I think we've actually been able to make some good things happen because of Covid-19. For example, the idea of needing to be together to be creative isn’t necessarily correct – creativity that's just as strong is emerging from the last six months of lockdown.  

We're resourceful, we're adapting to a new set of circumstances coming out of a place where we're restricted, and actually creating really strong work. It will show that we're a relatively resourceful bunch of people.

It must be strange to look at creativity on a larger scale and connect the dots like that.

It is a big part of the role, but the more the more people who are prepared to look and find those connections the better. 

Just being a president - I can barely even say that word, to be honest. 

Is that in light of another president across the pond?

I didn't even think of that. The whole thing about being presidential (and where it's not happening right now) is quite extraordinary, isn't it? It's really strange to have that title, partly because it implies a leadership style which I don’t have. I'm about working as part of a team. 

Also, I look at some of the other people who've had that title in the past, and think: “These people are just extraordinary – how has this role found its way to me?” I have no effing idea. Anyway, I'll get over that at some point, probably in about 11-and-a-half months' time. 

Do you think positive change has happened in the industry in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter movement?

Our practice is putting content out that sounds good, so we're very good at doing that, but fundamental change is understood as needing to take place. It's on its way at different speeds, with different organisations.

Right now, the strongest chance for the industry to work towards a more sustainable and fairer future is for creatives, agencies and studios to reflect the audiences they're looking to connect to. D&AD needs to understand that and the value of that diversity and enable it, which it is already doing through some of its programmes such as New Blood and Shift.

D&AD also needs to exemplify diversity in its own internal makeup, and we are creating a programme in order to do that. It has to understand that diversity does not have a simple fix.

A lot of brands clamoured to create purpose-led work in light of Black Lives Matter, with varying degrees of success. Do brands have to be politically minded, and is creativity always supposed to reflect this purpose?

Brands do have to be politically minded or at least aware. They are trying to land something in culture, and they need to be aware of the sensibilities of that culture. For those people who say it's restrictive, that's not the case. We've always been able to deal with restrictions, we've always been able to deal with tight briefs. It's how well they respond to that tight brief, not how tight it is.

Commercial creativity has always been able to do that, and always will be able to. It's just a new reality – it's better, it's fairer, just get used to it and do great work.

Comedians talk about a lack of humour in a politically correct society, but a lot of things can be funny without being offensive. 

Ten years ago I made it an ambition to create the greatest one line joke in the history of the world. I had some really good friends who were feeding me jokes, which I compiled in a Google Sheet and quickly forgot about.

As a team we were talking a couple of weeks ago about jokes, so I went to search for that sheet and found it. I looked at the 200 jokes and thought, “you definitely can't tell those jokes now”, so I cut the sheet down. I think I was left with 55 jokes, and they were the funniest anyway. They were more based on human universal human truth, and they were funnier because of it. It might not be so easy. It might not be so visual, but you can write a great joke without causing offence.

Can you remember any of the jokes?

The thing about lending someone your time machine is you basically get it back immediately.

Do you think that purpose-led work is going to be the next generation of creatives’ most powerful tool?

Yes, and the simplest reason is that it's what consumers are demanding. We know that the notion of value is changing – it can't just be value to the people who own the company and shareholders, it's got to be the value to broader audiences which focus on people, social justice and the environment. Obviously, that has to be part of what an organisation is about, and when organisations can show they are about these causes people will buy into them. 

That's an articulation that perhaps not everyone has, but I think so many people feel that's the right thing to be. Organisations that work that out – don't spin it, but actually make it fundamental to why they're here – will be the ones that win. They'll win on the best possible terms, which is not just winning for themselves.

We've touched on a few quite big topics, but are you excited to take up the role?

Four years ago (when I had a little less on my plate than I do this coming year), I wondered what it would feel like to see if I could write an LP, having never written a song before. 

I really hoped I could write a world-class song, but I didn't. I did write eight songs over a couple of years and none of them were appalling. I played them to a group of people in my sitting room and it was, without me realising it, the scariest thing I've ever done. They were my friends and they were my songs, I don't know what was scary about it. Perhaps because I'm a bad singer and a bad player. This is somewhat like that. 

The nerves are jangling and hopefully they won't do for too long into the year. I've been handed this crazy responsibility, and I've got to get it right. It's an honour, but it's something to figure out and get right to the best of my ability.

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