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:
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.