If it’s all sizzle and no sausage, you’ll go hungry.


Lipstick on pig t shirt

Pic courtesy of Adam Watson: https://www.redbubble.com/people/unisson

I’ve just completed reading Phil Knight‘s book, Shoe Dog, on how he built Nike from nothing to one of the most famous brands on the planet. It’s a good read.
Plenty has been written about Nike over the years. It’s often one of the most admired brands around and it’s always a staple in presentations and case studies about great brands.

However, Phil Knight has confirmed something that I guess I’ve always known. Great brands are built from within.

And when it comes to great brands, the ones we think of most often all have that in common. For example,  Richard Branson‘s Virgin has it. Steve Jobs’ Apple has it.
But so many other brands don’t have it. So what exactly is ‘it’?

Well, ‘it’ is the very DNA and foundation of the business. It’s a belief. A cause. A drive.
As Simon Sinek would say, it’s the ‘why’. (see the video below)

But the problem I see far too often is that many businesses aren’t genuine about their ‘why’. I’ve seen many businesses try and apply this thinking without really wanting to deliver on it. They apply the ‘why’ as an after-thought – some sort of veneer that you can use to ‘dress up a business’, like a sprinkle of tinsel on a Christmas tree that’s missing a few branches. However, it simply doesn’t work that way.

If you proclaim to have a purpose, it has to be genuine. Otherwise it’s all sizzle and no sausage. And when that happens, hungry consumers will soon end up going elsewhere.

Advertising. Fawlty Towers and the art of prediction.

“Most successful pundits are selected for being opinionated, because it’s interesting, and the penalties for incorrect predictions are negligible. You can make predictions, and a year l…

Source: Advertising. Fawlty Towers and the art of prediction.

‘Where did the creatives go?’ (Part 3)

In this article, I continue to find answers to the question, ‘Where do all the art directors and copywriters go when they get older?’

For earlier posts, see Part 1: Matt Cumming and Part 2: Adam Hunt

Part 3: Billy Plummer
Friday, 1 August 2014

I met with Billy at an outdoor café. I hadn’t seen him for quite a while. Before we got too far into conversation, we were interrupted by a waitress pointing to a nearby sign and reminding Billy that this was a no smoking area.

So we moved outside the ‘no smoking perimeter’ so he could finish his cigarette. After fielding a call from his photography agent, sipping his cappuccino, and pestering me for some more agency contacts, Billy and I returned to the table to hear his story.
In an accent that wouldn’t be out of place in a Guy Ritchie film, he told me about his advertising career of more than 30 years:

Advertising creatives

Billy Plummer

Well, I actually wanted to be a fine artist – a painter. I was always good at drawing so after high school I went to St Martins, an art school in London. Advertising was never the goal.

St Martins had this exhibition, where all the students showed their final work and people from all different industries would come and take a look.

I’d been fucking around and left my work to the last minute, as the deadline loomed. One day, I’m walking down a street in Soho and I see these modern Japanese dolls in a shop window. So that’s what I did as my work. I completed a series of old school charcoal drawings of the super modern dolls.

After college, I travelled to India with a mate. I didn’t really know what I was going to do, but then I got a phone call from my mum. It turns out someone from Abbott Mead Vickers had attended the exhibition of final work and wanted to hire me. So I jumped on a plane and headed back to London to work there.

My job was as a scamper and storyboard artist for the creative department. I had no real ambitions of becoming an Art Director. I was just happy to be getting paid shitloads. The pay was a hell of a lot more than my mates, who were doing jobs like panel beating at auto workshops. I was getting about 50 quid a frame for my drawings, which was a lot of money back then.

One day, David Abbott came around and he was asking people what they wanted to do with their careers. All the other illustrators were saying they wanted to be an Art Director, so that’s what I said too. I didn’t really know – I just thought it was the right answer to give.

I regret not staying longer at AMV. David Abbott was a really nice man. But someone at a direct marketing agency offered me a job as a Junior Art Director on great money so I took it.

I became a Creative Director quite young, at an agency called Payne Stracey. They later became Tequila.

Then I went to a place called BHWG as Head of Art, and they became Proximity. Next was Evans Hunt Scott. That agency was an early adopter of the internet. They put Tesco online.

After that, I freelanced at places like Bates and TBWA, and also worked directly with clients. It was a good time. On Friday afternoons, there was this pub in Soho that would be full of creatives. A lot of freelance work was arranged and done there. By that stage, I’d forged a solid reputation as being quite good at DM. I’d won at Cannes and Caples, and some English award shows.

Then my copywriter, Guy Bolton, went on holiday to Australia. While there he got a job as CD at an agency called Lavender. He wanted me to join him. I was at Lowe at the time, but followed Guy. I don’t really know why I went. I just thought it would be a bit of an adventure.

So I ended up in Sydney as Head of Art at Lavender. Then I went to The Moult Agency. After a few years there, I headed to The Marketing Store as Creative Director.

I helped build The Marketing Store from an agency of 30 people to more than 80. There, I became joint Global Creative Director but got to a stage where I was just a bit bored. I probably just needed a new challenge.

So I left that job and focused on my photography for a year. I’d been working on my photography for years – even back in London.

Anyway, my time at The Marketing Store had opened up a few contacts and opportunities throughout Asia. So I ended up taking a job at Saatchi & Saatchi in China’s third largest city, Guangzhou. I was Creative Director for Proctor & Gamble. I had only planned to do it for a year but stayed for 2. I had a pretty good deal there, and with the low living costs it meant I came back to Australia with a fair amount of money saved.

At the moment, I have a flexible work week, where I do 3 or 4 days at Iris. I’m sort of a Head of Art/sage guy. The rest of my time is spent on photography projects, both commercial and personal.

I still love advertising – I’ve done it for so long, it’s part of my life. I still feel I’m an artist, and I currently have several art projects on the side.

I feel advertising keeps me young, on my toes, inspired, mentally-fit, competitive and bright-eyed. I think everything I do is as close as possible to something I’d do even if I wasn’t being paid for it.

If you look at all the interesting work these days, it’s not usually an advertising solution. Instead, it’s a business solution. Now I’m just trying to put some of that into practice for myself. Rather than concentrate solely on making money for advertising clients, I’m working on little projects of my own.

The world tends to be much broader than what you get used to seeing in advertising. Sometimes, you need to step outside of that bubble.

‘Where did the creatives go?’ (Part 2)

In this article, I continue to find answers to the question, ‘Where do all the art directors and copywriters go when they get older?’

If you’d like to read from the start, see Part 1: Matt Cumming

Part 2: Adam Hunt
Saturday, 30 August 2014
I’d been trying to catch up with Adam for a while. After a few emails back and forth, we found a time that suited us both. So, one Sunday morning I wandered into his restaurant, “Mamasan” (with his ensuite bar “Bad Mama” next door), in Sydney’s beachside suburb of Bondi.
It was mid-morning, and there was a slight lull between the breakfast crowd and the lunchtime diners. Adam took me on a tour of his restaurant, proudly showing the surroundings he designed and built with his partner Gemma, and explained how the business had tripled in size since opening just over 4 years ago.
And while it may sometimes be an industry joke to refer to advertising awards as ‘door stops’, during the tour I couldn’t help but notice a Cannes Gold Lion sitting on the floor to keep the bi-folding doors open.
Perhaps it was some sort of subconscious statement on where Adam sees his former advertising success – was it simply to hold the door open towards something else? I sit down to find out:

creative director dingo's breakfast

Adam Hunt

I didn’t always plan on a career in advertising. Who does?
Instead, I studied law. However, it soon became clear that I would spend a large amount of my career living in the shadow of my father, who was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Australia (a bit of a hard act to follow).

Although I got good grades in my first year of study, I often heard the remark, ‘Oh, you’re Hunt’s son’. I also decided that I didn’t really love it. It didn’t provide the spark I was looking for.

On the other hand, my girlfriend at the time was doing graphic design. That looked far more interesting. So I decided to do a graphic design course too.

From that, I end up with a job in a publishing company, working for a magazine called Pol International. I quite enjoyed the work, but got frustrated when I spent so much time making the magazine look beautiful, and then saw the ugly ads that were inserted into it. Plus, someone told me I could triple my salary by working in advertising.

Then I met Siimon Reynolds at a party. At the time, Siimon was a bit of an advertising god. Siimon told me that to get into advertising, I should do a course known as ‘EST’ or ‘The Forum’.

The Forum was the biggest thing in advertising circles during the late 80s and everybody was doing it. I went along to The Forum’s introductory lecture and quickly made the decision that if I needed to do that to work in advertising, then maybe I was better off doing something else. I thought The Forum was ‘psycho-babble, pyramid selling of the mind type stuff’.

So subsequently, I stayed another year in publishing before landing a job at a small agency called United Notions. I liked United Notions and learnt a lot, but one day managed to get an appointment with David Bourne. David was the coolest creative director around at that time. I had never shown my portfolio to anyone before that.

I walked into David Bourne’s office. Everything was black. Black carpet. Black walls. Black leather desk. David was even wearing black leather like a character out of The Matrix (but it was years before that film had been made).
A small light glowed on the desk. David quickly flicked through each page of my portfolio, turning each one over with a slam of conviction. Then he looked up at me and told me that all the work in my book was shit, I would never get a job in advertising and that I should give up.

After that meeting I cried. I sat in a nearby park and thought about what David Bourne had said. I then realised that he was right – my work was shit. So I threw my portfolio in the bin and decided to start again.

Starting again meant doing Australian Writers & Art Directors (AWARD) School. It was a short, but intense course that had been set up by the industry to foster new people who aspired to be advertising creatives.

My tutors for the course were Tom Moult and Simon Collins, who were the gun team at Sydney’s Saatchi & Saatchi office during that time. They were very good and they had lots of fun, which is something the industry seems to have lost these days.

Interestingly, another AWARD student in my class was Paul Hankinson. As the course neared completion, I asked Paul if he was ready to hand in his portfolio (which was soon due). Paul replied that he wasn’t actually submitting his portfolio at the end of the course because he wasn’t ‘officially’ an AWARD student. It turns out that Paul simply met Tom Moult and Simon Collins at the pub and they invited him to come along to their tutorials. It worked out well because Paul has since had a successful career as a copywriter.

That year, Oliver Devaris was judged as AWARD School’s top student. As is tradition at AWARD School, a selection of the best work was exhibited on the walls at graduation night. I didn’t get anything selected for the wall, but found the course very inspiring.

Following AWARD School, I met with a recruiter named Esther Clerehan.

She teamed me with a young copywriter named Russell Smyth. Russell was a former science high school teacher. He also dabbled in stand-up comedy and penned gags for Doug Mulray (an Australian Radio and TV personality).

Russell and I began work as a team at an agency called Kazoo, under creative director Fred Madderom. Kazoo was based in Balmain, on a wharf over Sydney Harbour. To this day, I still consider that office as the best one I worked in. It taught me that ‘environment is creativity’. I could hear the water lapping beneath my desk, and could quite literally cast a fishing line without even leaving my seat.

I enjoyed a three-year stint at Kazoo. A chap by the name of Steve Gray was my mentor there. Steve was a bit of a legendary figure, having achieved a lot of success previously at Sydney’s Mojo agency.

While at Kazoo, I won a few awards – my very first being a 3D bus-side promoting SBS’s television coverage of the Italian World Cup.

From Kazoo, I was headhunted to be teamed alongside Ben Nott at DDB’s Sydney office, working under creative director Paul Jones.
Ben Nott is a genius. He’s highly motivated, driven and focused. He can talk the talk, but walk it also.
Ben had a career plan and had carefully thought about where he was headed and how he was going to get there. I reflect on Ben’s outlook as a huge, defining moment in my own career.

After 18 months at DDB and some more awards success, Ben and I decided it was time to make our way to Europe. We had seen an article in Lürzer’s Archive magazine featuring an interview with Paul Meijer of Young & Rubicam, Amsterdam.

At that time, Paul Meijer was the creative director behind a lot of award-winning work at Cannes. We decided to send him something to introduce ourselves. So we sent him a pizza box. Inside the box, we put one of our best print ads, a photo of ourselves dressed as a married couple, and a 3D rolling bloodshot eyeball with a note to ‘Keep an eye out for us’ (a shocking pun, really!).

Dingos breakfast advertising

Ben Nott and Adam Hunt

When we departed for Europe we didn’t have visas or work permits or anything organised. Pretty much all we had was our surfboards and our portfolio. The plan was to buy a Kombi van and do a surfing tour of Europe.

After a stay in Greece, enjoying the sun and holidaying with David Droga (who was good friends with Ben), we found ourselves in Amsterdam.

One day I was looking for a Kombi to buy and I needed to refer to my map for directions. I didn’t want to look like a tourist by pulling a map out in the street, so I walked into a nearby bar and sat at a table to read it.

I then looked up and realised that there was a person sitting across from me and, in a masterstroke of fate, it was Paul Meijer. As it turned out, the Young & Rubicam office was next door and that bar was a favourite of the Y&R staff.

I said, ‘Excuse me, are you Paul Meijer?’

He was an imposing figure and looked back at me, slightly puzzled, before replying, ‘Yes.’

I then explained I had sent him a pizza box from Australia, about a month earlier. He studied me for a moment, before he exclaimed, ‘You’re the one in the dress!’ He obviously remembered the wedding photo.

That chance meeting ultimately saw Ben and I offered a job at Young & Rubicam, Amsterdam. So after a 6-month tour of Europe, that’s where we began working.

After 18 enjoyable months working at Young & Rubicam in Amsterdam, we were headhunted to join London’s Saatchi & Saatchi office.

I reflect on my time in London as ‘magic’. It was London in the mid-90s, we were winning lots of awards and stuff. Charles Saatchi held up our Silk Cut ad and said one word: ”Brilliant”.

It was at the dawn of the internet, so there were still big-budget TV ads – we once went to Nepal on a 6-week shoot for BT. That was a £1 million budget, in 1996!

However, after almost 5 years there, it was time for a change. Ben had been directing some of our TV commercials and wanted to focus more on directing. And I wanted to give New York a try.

So I moved to New York’s Saatchi office, where I was teamed with a great Australian copywriter, Tim Brown.

I loved New York, but found the advertising scene there over-burdened with politics and agendas. After being there for 6 months and not getting a single ad produced, I reluctantly decided to leave Saatchi’s. That’s one of the few career decisions I really regret.

I began work at another agency in New York, but it’s here that my story turns a little dark. Friends noticed that I was losing my sense of humour and that I was often angry. I look back and laugh when I think about the different cultural approach Australians and Americans took when offering me ‘an intervention’.

My Australian friends who were based in New York took me to a bar. They sat me down at a table, plonked a beer in front of me and said, ‘Adam, why are you being such a c*nt?’

On the other hand, my American friends who were also concerned about my behaviour, called me into an office and asked me if I had heard of Prozac!

After a series of dizzy spells, forgetfulness, and mood swings, I was convinced that I had a brain tumour so I saw a doctor. The doctor thought the problem was something else, but I insisted on a scan. A few days later, I received a phone call confirming that, unfortunately, I was correct.

The tumour was the size of a scorched almond, located on the frontal lobe of my brain – close to my optic nerve and main blood supply to the brain. They said it was inoperable; no doctor wanted to touch it. Even if I survived an operation, there was a good chance I would wake up blind or a quadriplegic. I asked how long I would live without an operation. They said that I probably had until the end of the year. They gave me that news on December 10th.

So given the news that I had about 20 days to live, I told them I wanted the operation. It was a success. Afterwards, I spent a few months in hospital, learning to use my body again – an operation like that can mess you up a bit.

Then I returned to work to save some money, and I resigned 4 months later.

After the tumour, I re-evaluated a lot of things in life. I bought a van and spent 12 months travelling around the United States. Hang-gliding was one of my passions so I spent more time pursuing that.

Eventually, I returned to Australia, and was hired as Associate Creative Director at J. Walter Thompson in Sydney. However, the CEO who hired me, Wayne Kingston, left the company 2 weeks later.

As is often the case with senior management changes, a hire made by someone who is no longer with the company can be seen in a negative light. It carries the stigma of being ‘the previous guy’s hire’. This came to fruition when the new MD took it upon himself to write some TV scripts one day. He wanted me to present them to the client but I felt that they were off-brief and, quite frankly, just weren’t good enough. I was fired that same day.

Then came a stint at another agency called Fame, and various freelance gigs. I knew Mike Boswell from my time working in London and ran into him at a pub in the inner-Sydney suburb of Darlinghurst. I was looking to team up with a writer. Mike was looking to team up with an art director. So we started freelancing together as a team. An agency called Host was just starting up and we stayed there for 3 years. Through that period, Host grew considerably.

Mike and I then ended up taking the role of Co-Creative Directors at an agency in Sydney called Belgiovane Williams Mackay (BWM). It was a good era for that agency, with a strong record of new business wins and some nice work. We hired the young team responsible for writing the much-loved ‘Rabbits’ TV commercial for Telstra BigPond.

The Telstra 'Rabbits' TVC

The Telstra ‘Rabbits’ TVC

During that time, I learnt to be a creative director and that the key to that role was being a nurturer and defender of ideas. Great ideas are easily killed, so it’s the CD’s job to help them survive and thrive.

However, after 4 and a half years at BWM I got the tap on the shoulder that most creative directors get at some stage during their career. Mike had already left on his own accord 12 months earlier, and I was happy to follow.

Then came some more freelance work before I took a job as the Creative Director of a small agency called The Foundry. They lost their largest client within a month but the pivotal point for me was when the agency was approached to appear on the TV program, The Gruen Transfer.

The Gruen Transfer is a show on the ABC (Australia’s national, non-commercial broadcaster) that takes a look at advertising. Within that show is a segment called ‘The Pitch’ where two agencies are given a brief to respond to. The brief we were given was to take a stand against shape discrimination.

It was the day before I had to send our response in, and we hadn’t really cracked it. I was at a pub with a mate, relaxing over a game of pool. Anyway, I was taking a sip of my beer as a large woman walked by. My mate quietly uttered a fat chick joke and I laughed into my beer, spraying it all over my face.

Then it hit me. That was shape discrimination. I had just partaken in it.

So that was the idea. Shape discrimination was no less offensive than other types of discrimination. It wasn’t a joke. It was offensive. Plain and simple.

So the ad I submitted to The Gruen Transfer brought that idea to life. It compared shape discrimination with other types of discrimination. The execution was to show different people speaking directly to camera. The first person tells an offensive racial joke. The second person tells an offensive homophobic joke. The third person tells an offensive anti-semitic joke. Then, the fourth person tells a fat chick joke.

I wanted to show that the fourth joke was just as offensive and socially unacceptable as the other three.

The ABC had the ad banned, however Andrew Denton (the show’s Executive Producer and popular Australian media identity) liked the ad. He saw that it took the brief seriously, unlike some of the other ads in The Pitch segment. The show’s host, Wil Anderson, is an Australian comedian and he said that the ad certainly made him reconsider telling another fat chick joke.

Although the ad was banned from being broadcast on TV, Denton called me in and we did an interview about it. That was hosted online.

Adam on The Gruen Transfer

Adam on The Gruen Transfer

After that, I was labelled by many in the industry as too much of a wildcard.
I was 44 years old and the way I saw it, I had two choices: I could tone things down and do less impactful work and please clients with ‘trash for cash’, or I could do something different.
I thought there was enough boring work already out there so, after a career encouraging clients to take risks, I took one myself.

My Taiwanese/Japanese partner already owned a restaurant and, after spending so much time in bars myself, I chose to jump sides and start a business with her. It was to be an experiential idea for customers.

We opened a small place with a Japanese-influence and we wanted to focus on the locals of Bondi rather than the tourists. Somewhat ironically, we’ve never run an ad and we’ve more than tripled in size.

Dingos breakfast

Adam’s bar and restaurant in Bondi

I still do a little bit of freelance and consultancy work, either through agencies or working directly with clients. I don’t miss the full-time stuff – the politics and people pretending that advertising is a science.

It’s bullshit that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
When we started building the restaurant, I didn’t know which end of a hammer to hold. Now I own an angle grinder & I’m not afraid to use it!

I loved my time in advertising, but a good life involves risk. Fate is great mate.

‘Where did the creatives go?’ (Part 1)

Many years ago, while I was at university, one of my friends (also studying communication / advertising) remarked, ‘I wonder where all the art directors and copywriters go when they get older. You don’t see many in ad agencies.’ However, we didn’t spend too much time pondering (it was Bar Night at uni and we were in a hurry to get to $1 Drinks).
Many years later, that question still seems largely unanswered.

Look at the creative departments of ad agencies – they’re all stacked with people in their 20s and 30s. But where are the older creatives? You know, the ones you once showed your book to and gained mentorship from. Surely they haven’t put enough cash aside to retire at 40? Where do they go for the second half of their careers?

Some might start their own agencies. Maybe others find variations of their job, using their skill set outside of the hectic pace of ad agency life. And perhaps there would be those who walk away from the advertising business altogether.

Some time ago, I set out to find the answers…

Part 1: Matt Cumming
Thursday, 31 July 2014
I met with Matt at a café in North Sydney. I hadn’t seen him for a few years. He looked well. He was in Sydney working on a project but later that day, boarded a plane and returned to his rural home on the far north coast of New South Wales.
So, how does an advertising creative end up living on a coastal farm? This is his story:

Matt Cumming

Matt Cumming

I entered the industry as an AFA (Advertising Federation of Australia) trainee in 1985. The traineeship required me to spend time within different departments of an ad agency, but when I got to the Creative Department I simply stayed there.

The agency was Dancer Fitzgerald Sample – a US-based agency that held the global Toyota account. They had set up an office in Sydney to service the Australian market for Toyota.

At that stage, my time in the Creative Department was spent primarily using my illustration skills to create storyboards.

To progress my career as an art director, I then did AWARD School. That course had only been running for a few years and was set up by the industry to help foster aspiring art directors and copywriters. It’s still the most popular way for people to get a job in the creative department of an Australian agency.

After AWARD School I teamed up with a young writer named Danny Ginges.
(Incidentally, at the time of our meeting Danny was in New York, where he’s operating a successful musical called Atomic.)

Dancer Fitzgerald was then bought by Saatchi & Saatchi. Saatchis seemed to be buying everything at the time and, in this case, they essentially bought the Toyota account. By that time, Danny and I had earned a reputation at the agency as being a fairly good team, and our new bosses – Bob Isherwood and Ron Mather – kept us on.

It was a good creative department with plenty of people who would go on to accomplish many things in the ad industry. I was working alongside people like Matt McGrath, Paul Fishlock, Tom Moult and others. I stayed there for around 5 years, and then the recession hit.

The recession meant retrenchments right across the industry, of which I was one. However, because of all the retrenchments there was plenty of freelance work around.

Anyway, I used the payout Saatchis gave me to produce a play. It was a fun thing to do, although it was fairly stressful and I didn’t make any great profits from it.

My next stint was at The Ball Partnership. Tom Moult had become the CD there, and I stayed there for another 5 years before taking 6 months off to go travelling.

When I returned from my travels, The Ball Partnership had been bought by Euro RSCG. Tom Moult was still the CD, and the internet was in its infancy.

Tom said, ‘You like the internet. I’ll give you a room, a computer and a year.’
That was the birth of their Digital Department. After a year, enough was happening with it to justify its existence. I had poached Brendan Tansey from our print studio, and we were good at just jumping in and getting stuff done rather than sitting around talking about it.

My role with Euro’s Digital Department continued for a few more years, until Tom left. Then they gave me his job as Executive Creative Director.

The agency was doing well but it was challenging. Volvo kept changing Marketing Directors, and subsequently pitching. After the third pitch, I left to go surfing.

Leaving Euro felt good. It was quite brave to leave a big salary and not know what I was going to do.

After 6 months of surfing I got bored. I came back to Sydney and wrote a list of 6 agencies I’d like to work for. It comprised 3 agencies who I respected due to the work they did, and 3 agencies included on the basis of ‘they’d probably pay shitloads’.

I then created a direct mail pack to send to all 6 agencies, informing them that I was back, I was excited about one-to-one marketing (both digital and direct), and that I’d like to work for them.

The mailing got a 100% response rate with replies from all 6 recipients, and interviews with senior people at 5 of those agencies. There were job offers from 3 of them.

I chose M&C Saatchi. I respected their work and Andy Pontin, the MD, was fairly impressive. They also had a good IT infrastructure in place. From my time at Euro, I knew I’d need that help and support to grow the agency’s digital capabilities.

The M&C Saatchi bosses, Tom McFarlane and Tom Dery, were wary of digital as they’d been burnt before by people who over-promised and under-delivered. However, clients were starting to grow into the digital space and were willing to pay for the services of a Digital Creative Director.

After 6 years at M&C Saatchi, I left to go surfing once again. By then, my wife and I had a house in Bronte (Sydney’s eastern suburbs) and a holiday house at Sussex Inlet (on the New South Wales south coast). We decided to rent out our Bronte home and try living at Sussex Inlet for a while.

We lived in Sussex Inlet for 8 months. Our kids went to school down there. I joined the sailing club. Living in a town of only 3,500 people was a lot different from the hustle and bustle of Sydney.

We returned to Sydney and I worked at a place called Bienalto – a digital analytics and solutions company. They felt like a family business. You had lots of freedom and client contact and no agency politics. I stayed there for about 18 months before a headhunter approached me for a job at another ad agency – Lavender.

I stayed at Lavender for 6 months but it just wasn’t for me, and by now I was looking for a bigger break. By that stage my wife and I had a block of land at Byron Bay (the far north coast of New South Wales). We were looking at selling it to fund our life in Sydney, but instead chose to sell our Sydney home and live at Byron Bay, downsizing my commitment to advertising.

I’ve been in Byron Bay for 2 years now. We live on a 2-acre block of land but share 80 acres with our neighbours. It’s not a commune – more like a gated community in a rural setting.

Within that community there are different jobs, and one of my roles is to keep the lawn mowed. When you have 80 acres, mowing the lawn means having cows. So my job is to move the cows around. Every year the cows have calves that are then sold to offset some of the community’s maintenance costs. But cattle farming isn’t the reason for having them, lawn mowing is.

It’s a much easier life up there. So far, we’ve built our house and I help look after the kids. My wife is a hair and make-up artist, so she’s often travelling around the country for work.


The building of Matt’s house at Byron Bay.

I’m currently working on writing and directing a music video for a local artist. Byron Bay is a good place. There are lots of smart people there, lots of retired business people, good food and entertainment. I still work in advertising. I usually work remotely and come to Sydney or Melbourne when I have to, for things like presentations and the like.

I take most briefs via phone or email, with work increasingly from clients directly rather than via agencies. They’re mostly people who have heard of me through someone else and require the services of a consultant.

Looking back, I realise I resigned every 5 to 6 years, just to refresh and recharge rather than jump straight into another job. As a creative, you’re ‘always on’ and I don’t think anyone can maintain that over an extended time. There’s always a deadline or a live brief that’s ticking over in your mind. You can’t love the work if it’s month upon month of tight deadlines and working weekends.

It’s important to ‘jump out’ every once in a while to refresh. That’s why I would go surfing or travelling. I hadn’t saved heaps of money, but I had enough so I wasn’t stressed about it. I wasn’t overburdened by the mortgage. I just needed time out.

This last ‘time out’ has been my biggest. I don’t have the energy I did when I was 30. I wouldn’t come back to a full-time position right now, but that’s not to rule it out in the future. I’m enjoying the bits and pieces I do now as a consultant. I still get excited about the work.

I think this is the new form of retirement. I think people chose to ‘taper down’ and shift to a more reasonable work/life situation. That way, they can continue it for a longer time. I’m still only 53, and with the younger of my 2 kids still in the early years of primary school, I plan on being around for a while yet. I’m just going to pace the rest of my life better.

Matt Cumming Advertising

Matt and his wife Annette at their Byron Bay house.

I think the absence of older people in the creative departments of ad agencies is because we’re all commercial artists. At some point, we say to ourselves, ‘I want to do more art’. We find ways to apply our ideas and thinking without it necessarily being through advertising.

Note: Matt has remained true to his ‘time out to recharge’ ethos, and since the time of writing, has leased his Byron home and returned to Sydney with his family.

Has the Age of the Amateur arrived?

Sound of MusicAs a young backpacker many years ago, I found myself at the Yoho Hostel in Salzburg, Austria. After perhaps enjoying one too many european beers, I woke the next morning to discover that I’d agreed to go on The Sound of Music tour with some other backpackers who I’d met.

Anyway, apart from visiting sites from the film, singing the odd Julie Andrews song and twirling across clover-covered meadows, we pulled into a beautiful village called St. Gilgen on the shores of the lake Wolfgangsee.

The guide explained that many carpenters lived in the village. As such, many of the homes featured amazing carvings and ornate woodwork. The craftsmanship was amazing but, sadly, it’s something that’s often missing from today’s world.

This lack of craftsmanship is pandemic across many industries. That’s because craft takes time, plus using a professional can be expensive – two things that many now view as being poisonous.
So we’re left with a ‘near enough is good enough’ approach. People have become immune to mediocrity. In rushing to ‘get stuff out’, we’ve lost sight of the fact that  it’s a waste of time if it’s actually the wrong stuff, or if the stuff is crap.

We simply don’t appreciate professional skill sets anymore. Ones that have been learned and honed with experience and time.
Watching a few episodes of MasterChef and knowing what a Croquembouche is, doesn’t make you a chef.
Being able to Google ‘How to fix a leaking tap’ doesn’t make me a plumber.

But perhaps the age of expertise is a thing of the past.
A couple of years ago, I was having lunch with a former boss. He recalled when he was a Junior Art Director in London. Back then, once you chose a Director to work on your TV commercial, it was ‘hands off’. The Director would take complete control of the project.
He then said, “But these days, everyone’s a Director. Everyone carries a camera around in their pocket, so they think they can direct.”

So, as mentioned, we’ve devalued expertise because it takes time and it can be expensive. But perhaps even worse, is that many people can’t even identify quality anymore.
A house in St Gilgen may as well be a DIY project for anyone who can pick up a hammer. And the result just isn’t the same.

Are ad agencies and creativity getting a divorce?

I look at the advertising industry these days and it often looks like the side of a spanner is being used as a hammer. Or to put it simply, it’s not the right tool for the job, but we’re trying to make it work.
But before we discuss that, it’s probably worth a quick look at how we got here (but if you want to skip the history lesson, just scroll down):

1841 – A chap named Volney B. Palmer sets up what is believed to be the first ad agency in Philadelphia. His clients create the ads and he places them in newspapers. (So these days, we’d probably refer to him as a Media Agency).
Ultimately, it was this media placing that gave birth to  a commission-based remuneration model for the advertising world.

Early 1900s – The Industrial Age arrives and with it comes mass-produced products. With mass production, manufacturers began to differentiate their products through branding and packaging.

1922 – Broadcast radio realises that it can fund its existence through advertising.

1929 – The Stock Market crash puts greater pressure on advertising to prove its effectiveness, so research becomes a player.

1938 – Radio ad revenue surpasses that of magazines.

1941 – The first TV commercial for Bulova Clocks airs. At this stage there are only 4,000 television sets, but by 1954 CBS becomes the largest advertising medium in the world.

1960 – The creative team of Copywriter and Art Director is born at DDB.

The 1980s – Personal computers make desktop publishing easier.

2000 – The Internet has 400 million users, making it the fastest growing medium ever.

So history shows that ad agencies were born to allow marketers to communicate with their customers. They did this through interrupting media that the customers were already reading/watching / listening to. To negate this ‘interruption’, creativity was engaged to make the message seem more informative or more emotive, or a point of difference.

However for many marketers, the relationship with creativity has always been an uneasy one. That’s because, understandably, marketers seek certainty. Creativity, by its very nature, isn’t certain. Creativity is unpredictable. At times, it can be erratic and wild.

And sometimes, creativity simply isn’t the answer.
Just recently I had lunch with a friend who left the agency world a few years ago to go client-side. He’s now National Head of Managing Something Or Other. He said that with a lot of the work they do, creativity just tends to get in the way.

This kind of thinking is happening in a lot of places.

It also reminded me of a recent article about former advertising creative, Yanni Pounartzis. In that article, Yanni suggests that creatives won’t exist in agencies in the near future.
I’ve seen this first hand. There are agencies out there that simply don’t have a creative department or ‘creatives’. In many ways, it does seem that ‘advertising’, as we know it, will simply become the management of data.

I do think creativity will live on. That’s what it does. It will find a new home.
But if you were unencumbered by history and were building a business today for the purpose of communicating with customers, I doubt that an ‘ad agency’ is what you would end up with.

Are Creative Directors actually creative?

Recently I was reading Simon Veksner’s blog. It was a story about Matt Eastwood and discussed the idea of how one’s appearance might affect their career progression. Amongst the comments was this:

Anonymous said…

I’ve been a ‘creative’ for a very long time and your article solved what has been a continuing mystery for me.

Many people have said over the years ‘why don’t you become a creative director?’
And I’ve always replied ‘why would you?’. The thrill of being in creative is thinking of an idea. Sure the money drugs and babes are cool too, but creating ideas is what defines ‘creatives’.

The moment you become a ‘creative director’ is the moment you stop being creative.
You become an inspirer. A seller. A buffer.
In other words you become a suit. And this was obviously Matt’s goal.

I don’t mean that as a pejorative. Great suits are as valuable as great creatives, often more so.
If work doesn’t get sold it may as well not have been conceived.

But it always bugs me when those who have chosen to don the literal or metaphorical suit continue to pretend they are still part of the creative department, or creative brotherhood.
They are not.
When you stop doing ideas yourself, you stop being a creator.

Worldwide CDs like Matt are the epitome of this. He doesn’t create anything himself. He doesn’t even see any work before it goes to clients let alone influence it.

He travels the world raising the profile of the network by chairing awards, then he chairs meetings of selected ECDs where everyone agrees to be much better, then he sacks some ECDs who didn’t get much better even though their clients won’t allow it.

This is not being creative. It’s being a suit.

If the role of worldwide creative director actually involved being the most creative person in the network, wouldn’t you expect such a demi-god to actually think of stuff when there’s a world-wide pitch?

Why hire someone who used to think of things, to not think of things?
It’s silly.
I hope Matt reads this. Because I now know how he became a CD, I just don’t know why.

This got me thinking. It reminded me of a book that came out a few years ago called Creative Director: Year Zero. It’s a collection of thoughts from CDs about their role.

I think there were two main things to come out of that book.
The first was that the term ‘Creative Director’ has taken on a whole new meaning. With the advent of so many new titles, a Creative Director these days is what a ‘Creative Group Head’ used to be (i.e. they’re like a deputy, and they’re usually responsible for a particular client). They still have to answer to a CD (who is now called an ‘Executive Creative Director’, or ECD). In some instances, there’s even a ‘Chief Creative Officer’, but that usually only happens when there’s a real pissing competition going on.

What it all comes down to is this: if you’re not the one making the final creative calls on work before it leaves the agency or if you have to show someone else, you’re not really the Creative Director (actually, these days, many of the people making creative calls aren’t actually from the Creative Dept, but that’s a blog for another time).

The other point is that a Creative Director’s job is not an extension of being a Copywriter or Art Director. It’s not like the ‘Suit side of things’ where you have Account Executive, Account Manager, Account Director, Group Account Director and Managing Director, with each role being an extension of the one prior.

By moving from Copywriter or Art Director to Creative Director, you go from making or creating ideas to suddenly reviewing or presenting them.
Or in other words, you go from playing to coaching.

In a way, this is a very weird situation. Imagine pulling one of your best players from the field so he or she can yell advice from the sideline.
It gives rise to the question, ‘do you have to have been a good player to be a good coach?’

Logic says you don’t. There are plenty of great coaches who weren’t great players.
However, a General leading his troops into battle will almost always have greater respect from his soldiers if they know that he’s spent time in the trenches too.

For example, Vince Lombardi played gridiron on a college scholarship. Sir Alex Ferguson was top goal-scorer in the Scottish league for 1965-6. And Sir Graham Henry played for the highly respected New Zealand provincial side, Canterbury, before coaching the All-Blacks and being named IRB International Coach of the year 5 times.

The Problem with Digital Brand Building

Marius on Strategy and Communication

The current seismic shift in marketing budgets away from traditional media and towards digital reflects the fact that  people spend more time online and less in front of the TV. This is predominantly a channel issue: how to best reach a target audience. But rather than playing to the strengths of each channel, we now seem to attribute digital with superior abilities across all aspects of marketing. And the biggest loser is brand building as we adapt our theories and practices on this to comply with the inherent properties of digital. 

With the rise of digital followed the view that online conversations, word-of-mouth and peer-to-peer recommendations are the superior means by which brand are built. At the same time, one of the most important and proven aspects of building a brand, fame, is neglected and has come to be viewed with contempt and suspicion.

Here are some thoughts on why the…

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You can’t be right but you can be interesting.

Some wise words…

Damon's Brain

“You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”

George Orwell,1984

There seems to be a belief that we are about to find an answer in our business. Our industry is looking for certainty even perhaps comfort. There is a tendency to hold onto the latest technology or system like it is some sort of panacea for all our ills. This is something that happens in an uncertain world. It is natural to crave certainty. Certainty and creativity however are not a great mix.

So I thought with the help of a Tinder, Tesla and a 15 year old physics geniusI would try to demonstrate my belief in embracing uncertainty.

My belief has always been creativity is not a thing, it is a way. Or to put it another way, creativity is not an answer it is an endless series of answers. In an uncertain…

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