Yahoo! Big Idea Chair: Ed's edge

Ed Morris, Lowe's executive creative director, explains from Yahoo!'s Big Idea Chair how he is making his mark on a venerable agency brand.

On beginnings

I won't dwell on it, but I left school at 17 without any formal qualification. Learning to deal with the humiliation of public failure with a swagger and a laugh was the only valuable lesson I came away with. I started at the bottom and, ironically, in the dark: I worked in a darkroom. It's a tiresome cliche, I know, but I worked my way up from there. I am lucky ever to have met and still be friends with Paul Leeves. He offered me my first proper agency job after a two-month placement. I won a silver Lion for a TV ad I wrote in the first month. I drank too much. I had my appendix removed.

On my creative influences

Broadly speaking, I went to San Francisco when I was 19 and spent eight months at City Lights bookstore. I read everything there. I would fall asleep on the stairs at the back and dream I was Kerouac or Ferlinghetti. I came back different. I realised I was a poet. I still am. Advertising is merely something I break meter for in times of need.

On how the growth of online media has impacted on the role of creative director

It isn't just another medium. Once you get over that and over viewing it as being complementary, which it is viewed as generally, it helps make the job a bigger one. It's still all about the quality of the idea; a good one can singularly achieve the instant and high-impact effect online that the 60-second TV spot once had the monopoly on.

On the most recent online campaign that I have seen which made me think: "I wish we'd done that"

Droga5's Ecko work was good. And COI's anti-smoking campaign. "Does smoking make you hard?" worked well online. Both punchy, simple and well targeted.

On the features of online that make creatives excited about it

The sheer inestimable potential is mind-blowing. Something targeted at a few thousand can hit 50 million overnight ... that's the incredible phenomenon of the digital world. It's word of mouth attached to a rocket. That's what excites me. Reaching people, having an effect. It's also given us a new freedom. I love the disposability of it. Clients are more adventurous online. They'll just do a bunch of stuff and let it go. You don't get the overbearing and destructive analysis rife with every 20-second spot these days.

On selling creative work

Can a good client be sold to? I really don't think so. If the work comes from understanding a client's issue, why would they not buy it? We are here to help. No client should ever walk into an agency with a "give me ten good reasons why I should buy this work" attitude.

On my leadership style

Inspired leadership is something I aspire to. Creative respect definitely raises the bar. I believe - and I certainly hope - I have some. The creative directors I worked with who had "been there" were much better at articulating the territory. My department's a modest one. It's not top-heavy - there are only ten teams, including myself. Our award-per-head ratio is higher than any other UK agency's. I also believe good work comes from happy people. Ask anyone here. They'll say it's a good place to work. Or they're fired.

On my "package"

The reasons I came to Lowe are the only ones that can keep me here. It's all about the work. The day Tesco and (former chairman) Paul Weinberger walked out, I saw an opportunity and, to be honest, a lot of control. There are creative directors of bigger agencies who do not have anywhere near the same control and influence. I couldn't be a pitching puppet for the "real management". Besides, when the "other offer" came along, we were doing great work across a broad range of accounts. Creative Circle had given us Agency of the Year. We had just won a stack of awards and a couple of pitches, and Campaign had announced me as creative director of the year. I wasn't exactly looking for a rope ladder. I've had worse years. I do miss Weinberger, though. He had a big influence on me in a short space of time.

On managing a creative department

When I was first offered the job, I said that I would trial it for three months to see if what I had in mind could actually make a difference. It did. A very tangible one. That excited me. That sense of possibility was ultimately what pulled me in to the position. As a manager of people, I know that I am infuriatingly impatient, energetic and probably too determined. If it's not happening at the speed I want, I'll start doing it myself, whether it's rewriting a script or changing a light bulb. I have noticed that it's contagious - like good laughter, I hope, as opposed to, say, chicken pox.

On new business

If your proposition is built around great creative, a successful pitch isn't one you win. It's one you win and convert into great work. That makes the process a lot tougher. You can't just resort to the "do whatever the hell it takes" to win strategy. You can't wing it on shmooze or partner chemistry.We all pitch differently. Ownership is vital. I'm trying to glean intuitively from the off. I got as close to the Innocent and John Lewis clients as I could when we successfully pitched for their businesses recently. Two things happen if it goes well. The moment it clicks, when I absolutely know we've understood the client's issue completely and utterly. And then the work that nails it. The first has to happen, the second doesn't always. But that is the madness of pitching. There's a stack of work running out there that was done in two weeks. Most of it is rubbish or, even more disappointing, just good.

On the big idea

When I see a big idea for the first time I tremble, I get up and pace. In fact I'm almost dribbling nervously now just thinking about it. Involuntary dribbling, that's when you know it's a beast. My ex-creative partner James Sinclair and I were sitting in agencies writing media-neutral synopses for ideas ten years ago. I get pissed off with creatives bringing in anything with a time length at the top of it. If it's any good, it will always be too big to be conveyed in anything as small as a 60-second TV ad. I'm looking for ideas that impact on a company's behaviour. Branded behaviour, that's what I want. I'm looking for an idea that makes the staff walk and talk differently, that crackles and sparks out of everything from the way the business pitches to the City right through to the tea lady's underwear.

On a big idea in marketing

IBM's "e-business" or Apple's "think different".

On a big idea for the future in any field

We have to learn to want and need less, and be happy with less. I call it the wealth of frugality. We must pursue it, or our children will inherit the poverty of our intemperance.

- The Yahoo! Big Idea Chair shines a spotlight on people and companies whose creative work is truly remarkable. See for more details.


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