Directions to Direction: Phil Lind

July 20, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

How a commercials director was nourished by the fruits of a TV career.

Advertising likes directors to fit into neat boxes. Some specialise in food, others in animals, comedy performance, sports, or slick shots of cars cruising through picturesque valleys. A brief look at Phil Lind’s reel on the Mad Cow site makes it very clear that he’s avoided this fate. His work ranges from the profound and naturalistic to the jokey and scripted. And he attributes this diversity to the background that shaped him. Through sheer luck, he’s taken a route to directing ads that’s allowed him to reliably and steadily gain experience – a long meander through the machinery of a TV channel.

Growing up in Newcastle-upon-Tyne Phil had no idea what he wanted to do. After a foundation course and a degree he ended up qualifying as an interior designer, but soon realised the reality wasn’t for him. “I found myself sitting at a drawing board all day long, doing really mundane specification,” he says. “It was boring.”

His escape route from this tedium presented itself by chance, with a girl that he’d been at college with. “She was a bit untouchable,” he thought, one of those impossibly unattainable women. Phil bumped into her one day and took a punt on asking her out. To his delight she agreed. She told him she was working at Heaven (the Charing Cross superclub) on Saturday night so he could pick her up when she finishes. He assumed she must be a barmaid there.

He arrived, asked security to radio for her and was guided upstairs through the club. Loud Eurodance was blaring out (it was the early 90s). His date was no barmaid. She was working on a SNAP! music video as a production manager. He can’t remember if it was for The Power or Rhythm is a Dancer. Fair enough, they’re both huge dancefloor fillers. “They had five massive camera units live,” he says. “Everyone had headsets on and there were giant cameras and big lenses. It was like peeping behind the curtain. I’d never seen anything like it in my life. I was gobsmacked.”

Phil’s parents weren’t thrilled when he decided he instantly needed to jack his stable interior design job in to become a runner. Promoting nightclubs in the in the evening to support his new habit, he got himself on as many sets as he could in the day, running for free. The relationship with the production manager didn’t last, but Phil was firmly in love with film.

“It became very apparent very quickly that I could be a runner for the rest of my life,” says Phil. “While people were helpful and wanted you to move up, you had to be self-motivated.” He’d wanted to direct music videos since that moment in Heaven so he and his friend Justin found a track they liked and marched into a record company’s offices to ask if they could make a video for it. Astonishingly, they emerged with £2,000 without many questions asked.

The video did well for them. The track was Revival, by Martine Girault, which stayed in the dance charts for years. Phil and Justin got signed to Propaganda Films, sharing a roster with the likes of David Fincher and Mark Romanek. They were set, they thought. “It felt like it was going to be OK,” he says.

As it turns out, the first video was the easiest for a long time. “We were small fish in a pig pond,” says Phil. He was broke before long. But he had director friends, so he started producing music videos for them. He was surprisingly good at it. Having been in their position, he understood what directors needed. Soon, he started getting more work as a producer than as a director. “I felt like it was going a bit off course,” he says, “but I needed the money.”

Inevitably, this work led to ads. He started working on them as a production manager. “Suddenly this was commercials, with money sloshing around everywhere,” he grins, only half joking (this was the 90s, remember). Although he was working on the production side, Phil saw this as an opportunity to watch the best directors at work. With his sights still set on directing, it was like going back to school.

He soon came to learn the language of commercials, and having seen many of the best at work he had an idea of how to direct one. Channel 4 approached him asking if he’d produce some bumpers for Volkswagen. “In those days no one really understood what a sponsored programme was,” he says. “The broadcasters didn’t really know how to handle it.” Without as much agency involvement as an ad, there was a lot of freedom, too.

The Channel 4 environment was perfect. He realised they were shooting stuff two or three times a week, so when they offered him a job as Creative Services Manager he took it – anything for a chance to get stuck in on set and become a director again.

The job wasn’t directing though. Phil was managing all the directors and producers, similar to a head of production, but he soon found himself helping out with scripts for the TV promos they were churning out, gravitating back toward the creative and away from the managerial. Eventually his superiors sat him down. They’d noticed where his interests lay. Rather than chastise him, they made him a Creative Director for Channel 4 and found a new Creative Services Manager.

“That’s when it really started taking off again,” he says. “I was shooting more than most people. Once or twice a month sometimes.” Making promos sharpened his directing skills, working with the cast of Shameless, This is England and the celebrity chefs on a smorgasbord of snappy promotional films.

In many ways, it was the perfect training environment for someone who wanted to direct commercials. “The promo environment is about as close as you can get to a TV commercial,” says Phil. “They exist in the same airtime, so they’re bedfellows. And while everyone was aware that commercials, per second, had far more money spent on them, you still had to write a script and shoot it within a certain duration, you had voiceovers and you got to work with really good actors like David Threlfall [Frank Gallagher in Shameless].”

This is where Phil broadened his range. “One day it’s sport, the next day it’s drama and the next day is a documentary,” he says. “You end up being good at everything a little bit and then you have to focus. It gave me a chance to try out everything.”

After 11 years in the Channel 4 mill, a phone call came from elsewhere in TV land: “How’d you fancy rebranding the Nazi Party?” ITV knew they had an image problem and they wanted Phil to be Executive Creative Director for a complete rebrand. He couldn’t resist such a huge opportunity. He formed a pop-up team to oversee the project and took over a whole floor of the post house Envy to work it through.

“I was super excited,” he says. “When you looked at ITV’s properties it was such a mess. I honestly thought it doesn’t matter what I do; it’s going to be better than the crap they’ve got at the moment.”

He wrote a proposal for how each channel would change, worked with designer Matt Rudd to settle on the all-important logo and worked on making the transitions into commercials as smooth as possible. Then coming up with a style guide for idents. It was broad brush-stroke stuff, not the minutiae of directing a single promo or commercial.

Since then he’s had the chance to focus on specifics. After ITV he was asked to be Creative Director on the Unquiet series for The Times and The Sunday Times – a branded content project taking stories from the newspapers’ archives and making mini documentaries. Working with Dave Monk at Grey, they ended up making 14 perfectly-formed pieces of branded content after about 18 months.

Phil directed four of these, including one called Bearing Witness, stressing the importance of professional, objective war reporters. He interviewed Anthony Loyd and Jack Hill, who had just returned from being kidnapped in Syria. “They’d literally, just come back,” Phil says. “Anthony still had terrible knee problems from being shot and you could still see where Jack had been beaten. To be given access to them was amazing.” That’s about as far from recreating a scene from Gladiator with Gordon Ramsay as you can get. The other ten films gave Phil yet another chance to watch and learn from other directors such as Liz Unna and Will Clark.

Now he’s repped by Mad Cow and hanging his Creative Director hat in the corner, leaving that to the ad agencies. And having been on set for almost every kind of commercial shoot, his eclectic reel continues to expand. His work on the latest Dairylea ad was a triumphant return to the director’s chair, shooting near Cape Town for the sun, but blocking it out for most of the day for that grim Game-of-Thrones look. “It was refreshing to have a casting and actors,” he says. “For about two years every job was real people.” Whether it’s comedic performances, naturalistic documentaries or serious drama, becoming Mr TV has given Phil enough experience to draw on for a long and varied directing career. Advertising doesn’t have a big enough pigeonhole for him.

Under the Influence: Layzell Bros

July 12, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

One half of the Lion-winning duo reminisces about their cultural upbringing.

Narrowing your influences down to just five subjects is a difficult task for everyone we feature in this series, but it’s even harder when you throw a creative partner into the mix. Thankfully, Matt and Paul Layzell grew up together on the same cultural diet. Matt couldn’t meet me in London as he lives in Los Angeles. But Paul, his younger brother, assures me that he’s qualified to speak for the both of them on this occasion.

Following their recent Film Grand Prix win at Cannes Lions for Harvey Nichols it was interesting to discover the fuel that stoked the flames of the BlinkInk duo’s creative engine.

Skateboarding Culture

"I think everyone our age skateboarded in their early teens, around the late 90s and early 00s. But I think we stuck with it a bit longer than we should have. I’ve still got the shin splints. I never really got any good though.

There’s something about the culture and the creative side of it. It was a physical activity but different from other sports. There are no rules. You can do it however you want. It’s more than a sport.

What I think we took from that was the whole DIY ethic and more specifically skateboarding videos. Me and my brother would make videos with our friends. We’d incorporate animated or sketched bits. So we got practice infilmmaking, editing, working with music, timing, all in one. That played quite a big role in shaping us. Subconsciously it taught us a few rules of filmmaking, but in a completely un-academic setting.

That’s carried on. We do fun, fast stuff. Music plays a big part in what we do and editing’s really important. All of that applies to our Harvey Nichols film, which ended up with the music we originally suggested. And also the quality of it. It kinda looks shit but that’s the charm of it. Like skateboarding films, it doesn’t need to look glossy as long as all the parts come together.

For me, it was doing stuff with our friends and being able to make something in your bedroom. That resonates with what we still do, even if it’s in a studio with 14 people, not a bedroom. But that same love is still there."

 

Adult Swim

"Growing up I used to watch all the cartoons like Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The British equivalents on children’s TV, I never really had the same love for.

When I was in my early teens I remember seeing these cartoons that were really weird and really funny on late night Cartoon Network. One of my favourites was Space Ghost Coast to Coast, which was super weird. I remember watching it as a kid and really loving it. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. There used to be an old Hanna-Barbera cartoon called Space Ghost, which was a kind of lame 60s cartoon. But they took the characters and all the assets, even reused the animation and turned it into a late-night talk show that goes really wrong. He was really egotistical, like a kind of Ron Burgundy character. And they had actual celebrities come on as guests on a TV. It was kind of leftfield humour.

It taught me that you don’t have to do action-adventure superheroes – nice, friendly stuff – you could do whatever you wanted.

Animation is a laborious process and time consuming. I don’t think we’re necessarily top-skilled animators or anything, but I think you can use animation in a way that’s just enough to tell a story and communicate. It’s good if it looks nice, but that’s not what’s most important. Adult Swim wasn’t always the most beautiful, polished animation, but the humour came through."

 

Tim and Eric

"They were on a website called Super Deluxe and had a show called Nite Live. Humour-wise, when people look back on it there will be a pre- and post-Tim and Eric humour. You see what they do slowly leaking into advertising and films and loads of people are borrowing what they did, but to my knowledge they were the first to do it.

It’s about enjoying the sloppiness of stuff, celebrating QVC for example, finding the humour in it. Or using the language of news graphics in silly ways.

We used to watch a lot of that and they definitely influenced us. The low-fi quality, the delivery, things going wrong. I don’t think we try and emulate what they do because they do it better than anyone, but we respect what they’re doing.

It resonated with us. It was a sense of humour that we liked, felt fresh and we hadn’t seen before. It lends itself to being online and I think the format of online videos is another thing that they got right. They were big on the internet before they got on TV."

 

Anime

"We grew up with shows like Dragonball Z and Gundam Wing. We’re not anime buffs, but we definitely spent a lot of time drawing Dragonball Z characters. That played a part in our technical development. I had those books about how to draw anime and manga style characters.

As a kid, anime is accessible and fun. It’s more poppy and vibrant and hyper real, but it does still pay attention to anatomy and some details. It was really good in terms of the economy of animation, like focusing on a still frame and zooming in, or the character’s mouth doesn’t necessarily need to be perfectly lip synced, but you get the idea. It gets across the emotion but takes less time. We definitely learned from that.

But then it also uses big, fluid animation in bits where it’s important, like action sequences. It’s all about keeping a balance in order to tell the best stories."

 

Hayao Miyazaki

"For all I’ve just said, Hayao Miyazaki’s films are the complete opposite of that. He doesn’t value that kind of anime as an art form. He’s a traditionalist and would argue that in filmmaking it’s important to actually see human emotions and you should animate them. If someone’s sad, don’t just give them a sad face. Pan in, have someone quivering or something; have characters act it out in the same way as they would in live-action film.

For us, he’s more important for the kind of stories he’s telling. We saw some of his films when we were kids, which is cool. Our mum took us to the cinema to see Kiki’s Delivery Service. I don’t know how our mum knew about it. She’s not a film buff necessarily. We used to be into Dragonball Z and stuff so she thought we’d like a Japanese cartoon. We didn’t know anything about it, but it was so different from a Disney film or anything we’d seen.

They’re kids films but they don’t only relate to kids and they don’t talk down to their audience. Kid characters are celebrated for themselves. They don’t gloss over the difficulties of being a child, growing up or moving to a new place. You see it in a lot of Pixar films now. They tell stories the same way, with multiple layers.

We’d always try to work up to that kind of storytelling. Even though maybe we don’t see eye-to-eye on the animation style. We think you can still do that kind of storytelling in an economical way.

We would always try and add something deeper to even the silliest film, even if it’s all action and physical humour. Underneath there’s a message about something more serious. I think that resonates with people. Even in Harvey Nichols there’s a loose narrative of someone stealing something, getting caught and then being sad about it. A good example is the Future Travel short we did with ADHD. On the surface it’s a silly, brash, shouty thing, but it has a relevant story in it too about finding love in the modern age."

Tim Page’s Grand Theory of Editing

July 11, 2016 / Features

By Tim Page

The Quarry’s MD on his love for cutting room magic.

In every walk of life people love stories. That’s universal to humanity. And editing, whether it's in ads or feature films, is pure storytelling. Being able to manage a narrative and make something clear, fascinating and engaging really is a craft. And I’ve been in awe of those that do it well for a long time.

I actually used to write lots when I was a kid. My folks were both in advertising, so it seemed a natural path to do something related. But rather than become a copywriter I trained as an assistant editor pretty much straight out of school. That’s where my fascination with editing began. Having done that for five years I was intrigued by why footage arrived in the edit suite the way it did, so I decided to move closer to the point of origination by joining agency production life. Many years in that environment gave me a greater understanding of the creative process and why certain marketing decisions are made, but my admiration for editing and post production endured.

Commercials that tell moving stories are invariably well edited. From Guinness Surfer, where it was all about building tension and then releasing it visually and audibly – such a memorable spot for many reasons. To Channel 4’s Superhumans that has such arresting power and poise. Or a personal favourite of mine, Vodafone Time Theft, that to me seamlessly knits what could have been a complicated piece into a fluid and engaging story. They’re great ideas, directed by brilliant talents, but without expert editors they would never have had the visceral impact they did.

A good story told badly is a missed opportunity, for everyone, from director to agency to brand. Clear communication is key to our industry and anyone who thinks editing is about sticking shots together in storyboard order is much mistaken. I know editors who try not to get too wrapped up in how something was shot – better that they have an impartial viewpoint so they can judge what's in front of them and not be influenced by others' opinions.

There are a number of traits that make a good editor. As I already mentioned, objectivity is one. Not worrying about the difficult moments in drawn-out PPMs or the most testing struggles on set allows the editor to focus only on what’s best for the film without any emotional bias. Having said that, it can be invaluable to have an editor’s brain plugged into the process during pre production.

Clarity of thinking is also vital, as are people management skills. Our industry is awash with opinions, so it's key for an editor to be able to navigate what can be a minefield of viewpoints while remaining true to the original aims of the piece, as well as alert to new possibilities. He or she must navigate a route through a tangle of creative directions towards the best film possible.

I think the craft of the edit is underestimated yet sometimes feared. It’s the culmination of everything that's been discussed before. The components are being glued together and this can be a bit of a process – going through the motions to polish it off. But that should be far from the reality. Editors are manipulators of time and space in order to create memorable pieces of work whatever the type of project.

And I think it's wrongly feared. People across the industry are often very good at knowing what's been shot but sometimes lack the understanding of what the overall piece will feel like. It's a pivotal and scary moment for some. Is what they've worked towards going to work or not? And with so much riding on things these days for agencies and production companies alike it's a tense moment as words on a page, and captured images are brought to life in the cutting room.

The position of the edit in the production process has shifted over the years. Editors used to be very involved in post-production, but over the years that has diminished. Now editing houses are bringing on board elements of post production, just as we are with our VFX venture Youngster London in our new building on Tottenham Court Road. It's partly because technology is more accessible and partly because it's right that the editor, who is a more independent voice within the production, can add guidance and assistance to the process to ensure that the narrative doesn't waiver, and that all the intentions of the edit are realised in the finished piece. Likewise, as post and visual effects develop, it’s possible to respond editorially, and the whole post process can seamlessly work back and forth for the good of the overall production.

Business models will change over time and the technology and software will alter the precise skills editors need, but great editors will always be defined by the same characteristics. They breathe life into a story – following on from the months of work that have gone before, discovering the most powerful narrative possible. It’s a kind of alchemy that I will never lose respect for.

 

Tim Page is Managing Director at The Quarry.

No, The Other Cannes

June 29, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Sara Dunlop reflects on her new Cannes Film Festival-selected short film.

If you work in advertising you’ve probably experienced the sudden drop in interest from non-advertising friends when you tell them you’re going to Cannes but not for the film festival. Cannes Lions doesn’t interest normal people. The Cannes Film Festival is a mysterious glamorous world.

Rattling Stick director Sara Dunlop has been going to Cannes with her advertising hat on for years, but this year she was honoured to have her new short film, Dreamlands, selected for the more famous festival on the French Riviera.

An exploration of teenage sexuality in a dead-end British seaside town, the film has put Sara’s name on the lips of people in the more arty corners of the film industry, as well as the commercial end. We asked her how she felt about this shift.

The Beak Street Bugle: You’ve been to Cannes Lions plenty of times, how did your first Cannes Film Festival compare?

Sara Dunlop: First off, you’re in that Palais building. I’ve never been in there before. It’s a labyrinth of rooms for tickets and press and conferences. It’s a lot more serious. I had to actually do meetings. As a director in the advertising Cannes, I’m there to chat and hang out, but it’s less about formal meetings, press interviews and conferences, sales agents, producers, agents. You drink rosé in the evening and then the next day you’ve got to be up at 9:30.

Being in competition allows you to be around a more international crowd. Obviously Cannes Lions is international but I find that the British end up together all the time, with maybe a few Americans. But the film competition really feels global. The other nine films were Iranian, Swedish, Spanish, Colombian, Brazilian. So you really get to see, in a short space of time, what the preoccupations are in their worlds. There was a famous Tunisian director who made a short in the competition and he told me “if I made your film I’d probably get banged up.” I realised I’ve got a film talking about British teenagers’ sexuality, which is actually pretty out there for other nationalities.

Also, you go to parties and there are stars there. I went to a party and Diana Ross turned up. You see people like Mel Gibson and Willem Dafoe on the red carpet. So that’s another glamorous element of it. Then you get all the whacky types just dressed up wanting to get their picture taken outside the Palais.

I enjoyed it because I felt a bit more part of it. I was there for a reason and was being looked after by the organisers of the actual festival. And the talk is continuously about film, 24/7, which I enjoy.

BSB: Where did the idea for Dreamlands first come from?

Sara: The starting point was a bit of a flippant idea I had for a music video. I like narrative music videos. These days when I put a music video down it’s like a one-line idea: ‘dogging with sexy people.’

They didn’t go for that for lots of reasons. I think there was an article the next day about porn on the internet and how that’s affecting young guys and I was also hearing from friends about cyberbullying and social media and we were just trying to imagine being a teenager now with Instagram and Facebook. The carpark in the film is a place where everyone wants everyone to see what they’re doing. And somehow that was a metaphor for me about how you behave on social media – ‘look at who I am, what I’m doing, look at how cool I am, look at who my friends are.’

I don’t want to moralise and it’s not saying it’s wrong. It’s about making a choice. That’s what I like about [the film’s protagonist] Pixie’s character. She can talk like the boys. She likes sex. She’s not a victim. You can see she’s in control.

It’s also about female sexuality, which isn’t allowed to be explored like male sexuality. I thought about one basic thing, which is girls have sex with lots of guys are called slags; guys have sex with lots of girls and they’re studs.

BSB: The film’s tone is somewhere between grim social realism and a more cinematic style. What were your thoughts on that?

Sara: I want all the stories I tell to be grounded in the reality of what they’re about but at the same time I love cinema that is cinematic. So the world of the story that you’re trying to tell is slightly heightened. That makes it more exciting to me as a piece of film. I love those 80s teen films, so I wanted to put a British slant on that and say we can do other genres. We can make things look a different way. We do British Social Realism so well, Andrea Arnold and Ken Loach, who are two of the best directors ever, both had films in Cannes this year. I wouldn’t want to try and do what they do. That’s very particular to them. They do it so well. I want to try and find some other space.

Going back to commercials, creatives and advertisers are actually sometimes more creative in the way we create worlds. I recently shot a commercial for KFC and it’s British, but it has a heightened look. We could have set it on Peckham High Street where there’s a KFC, but it’s more magical than reality. And you get to do that in commercials a lot more than you see in British films. We do it brilliantly in advertising, so it’s just trying to take a bit of that and use it.

It doesn’t really matter where it’s set. It’s about picking up a bucket on the way home. You want to get home and get some chicken. There’s a guy slightly floating and the mural comes to life. It’s magical realism in a commercial. To try to get film funders to allow you to do a film where it’s magical is hard work. So it’s great. We’ve done a lot of reality recently so I think it’s quite nice to get back to having fun. Dreamlands and this commercial are so poles apart and yet for me the scripts both had something that was heightened, that wasn’t just a mirror to what you see. There’s an authentic feel-good aspect to that. It’s got a universal humanity.

BSB: Now that you’ve been recognised for your work in short film, how do you feel about your commercials career?

Sara: My main world has always been commercials and that is to me a very particular skill and style. It keeps you on set and keeps you practicing and using your filmmaking skills. If I only shot something every few years, like some long-form directors, I’d find that really frustrating. I love being on set, shooting. Advertising allows you to shoot and art direct and costume and cast and find music and do all the fun things in a short space of time.

I’ve spent so long trying to be really good at commercials, studying and trying to get better scripts, trying to do work that I feel really inspired to do. I can’t let that go. It’s been a progression over years because I want to be doing the big work. When I see good ads I’m jealous and I want to be doing them.

BSB: How did your commercials background feed into the making of Dreamlands?

Sara: All the crew and all the post production, casting directors, pretty much everyone, were all from advertising. And they were people who love film, but I know through advertising. I feel more comfortable with people that I know really well, that know me, that know what I like. The only person that wasn’t was the 1st AD, who came from more of a drama background. I thought that would be useful, as I hadn’t done much drama, to work a different way in terms of scheduling it. You’re doing four minutes of screen time a day, whereas your average 60-second commercial would be a three-day shoot.

If I got the chance to do a feature film I’d try and use all the same people. It’s all about people and you’re only as good as who you surround yourself with as a director. If you already like working with those people then why change it?

Diary of a Cannes Virgin

June 29, 2016 / Features

By Bethan Keane

Another shipment of fresh ad industry meat dropped into the Cote d’Azur grinder last week. Bethan Keane recounts her survival.

“Cannes? What to say... We’re not going but I envy anyone’s first time. It’s like nothing you will have ever witnessed before. Whether that’s a good thing, we’ll leave that for you to decide, Beth. The world’s worst and best people drunk in one place. You’ll be fine – see you when you get back! X”

This time last week, I received the above email. This was before the madness had begun, before the Croisette, the wristbands, the rosé, the Carlton terrace. At this point, I was still happily sat with my green tea in Nice Shirt’s office. I had emailed two creative friends asking if I would see them in Cannes and had explained that it was my first time. As I clicked off their reply, I frowned. It was that sentence, the sentence I had been repeatedly told in the run up to Cannes, the reassuring “you’ll be fine”. I pondered, if people feel the need to reassure you when you haven’t expressed any concern, it can’t be a good sign of what’s to come, can it?

I joined the industry a little less than a year ago and ever since, I've heard tales of Cannes gone by. As a Directors Rep, I knew Cannes was a huge week for anyone with the badge ‘New Business’. I figured it would be like my usual job on speed, with the added bonus of sunshine.

As a Rep, the weeks leading up to Cannes your life becomes confined to your office, or to be exact, your inbox and the invites pinging through it. You fill out enough RSVP forms with the names and emails of your producers, directors and boss that when ordering a coffee from Pret, instead of saying thank you, you’ll simply go “Richard@niceshirtfilms.com”. True story.

Each confirmed RSVP you get, you’ll put on your itinerary and map that you will then laminate and make wallet sized so that your producers, directors and boss don’t get lost in a drunken haze. Then, to laminate your own wristband map, a Rep how-to guide to picking up your wristbands, which people tell you is as impossible as buying Glastonbury tickets on the first day of the festival. You will start resenting the laminating company near your office for their £19-for-six-copies pricing and decide to share this as the most boring anecdote of all time at a dinner party with your friends on the weekend.

You will debate what pyjamas are appropriate to wear in front of your entire company and think its acceptable to bring this up with your company’s accountant (“So do you think the little mermaid ones are too far?”).

Speaking of resentment, your office’s lovely French researcher will call the Carlton more times than is acceptable to add another person to your Friday lunch until you’re sure you owe him many, many beers and you’ll feel so far from fine, you’ll start to debate if all this preparation is even worth it. I promise, it is. This preparation for any Rep will make your life in Cannes that much easier and believe me, you’ll need all the past-you help you can get.

As Soho began thinning out, the Facebook check-ins from Nice airport mounted and after a 5am start, it was time to join the mayhem. Not before one of my directors gave me a heart palpitation when he texted saying he had just got to Stanstead… our flight was from Gatwick. This was followed by a professional “Just kidding, dumbass”. On arrival, I thought I would collect the wristbands in one sweep across the Croissette. Google Maps was my new best friend and after a hairy moment of my phone having 0 internet and having to switch it on airplane mode (the 2016 version of the 90s trick of taking out your Gameboy game and blowing it), I was on my way.

While picking up wristbands is the last thing you want to be doing when the rest of your company is easing their way into the Cannes experience, it really isn’t too bad. It’s unpleasant in the way that ironing is unpleasant: it's got to be done, it'll help you long term and really, it's a first-world problem. My advice would be to do your wristband haggling at home – not a great look standing in the heat. Ask for a few extra from the start so when you bump into your creative pal who spontaneously got the train to Cannes from his holiday in Paris, you can help him out.

What really struck me on my first day of the Cannes experience was the balance between the partying and the professional. After dropping my bags at the Nice Shirt villa and arriving at the amazing Sizzer beach party, I was handed a rosé and while paddling, caught up with some friends from agencies who had been out there for a few nights already. “I slept on the pavement for an hour last night” a deadpan friend of mine informed my director as they shook hands. “It’s actually really calmed down this year” another said as the waiter plonked four magnums of rosé in our ice bucket.

It started to dawn on me that it was going to be tricky to tread the fine line between having a good time and doing what I was out there to do – work. This was brought home to me when I was splashing around at the Little Black Book beach and was promptly hoicked out of the sea for a business meeting. Word to the wise, it’s incredibly hard to be taken seriously listing your directors’ preferred DOPs in a bikini. Perhaps taking our industry’s usual casual dress code a little too far.

At the end of the day, everyone from your company trusted you to plan this week so at 2am, they will turn and ask where you’re all heading to next and which wristband they’ll need. Keep it together enough to be able to do that, even if all your friends around you are cutting loose. They can, you can’t. Well, until at least 3am when your directors will throw your laminated map over their shoulder so they can dance more freely at Tropicool.

Likewise at lunch meetings, as great as the Martinez and Carlton are for a backdrop, remember you are the only person that knows everyone at the table. Research that situation like you would any meeting back in London so that you know who has worked with who long before you joined your company and which director suits which creative. Before everything gets blurry, when your creative pals are telling you about their latest script they want to send over to you, make a note on your phone so when you’re back in the office, you remember to hit them up. As much as your company may appreciate your offbeat dance moves, this is why they’ve taken you out here.

That’s not to say there is no fun to be had for Reps. Cannes is more full on than anything I’ve experience before, think of Soho in December as the warm up. The beach is cut into sections so with wristbands up to your elbows, you can bounce from one party to the next, day or night. You can sit on sun loungers with some of your producers and the agencies they’ve worked with and order in drinks or see all the usual suspects from the Grey bar at the beautiful Grey party.

Without bursting into song, at times Cannes felt like a parade of all my favourite people in the industry, especially after seeing a CEO getting thrown in the pool and taking it in his stride. It perfectly sums up what this industry is about – really great, creative people simply having a good time while furthering relationships and connections.

Warning though, nobody likes forced fun. While your itinerary is good, if not extremely nerdy, it is not always the way forward. As tempting as it is to show off to your directors and EP about how jam packed your Cannes week is, if they're as laid back as the team at Nice Shirt, they'll want a few hours in the day to refuel. One afternoon we did this by plonking ourselves in the infamous Carlton terrace (the Cannes equivalent of the Shaston) and ordering espresso martinis, which are as punchy from their taste to their 30-Euro price tag. The best way to bump into old and new faces while gearing up for the next wave of parties.

The following are the last few lessons that my first Cannes taught me:

You may lose more than your dignity.

As day fell to night with another incredible sunset, I still had my brand-new airport-bought Ray Bans on my head. I dealt with this to avoid being a sunglasses-when-not-necessary wanker by tucking them into my dress then proceeded to dance and spin the night way. Inevitably losing my beloved Ray Bans. Accept the Croisette has taken more from you than you were willing to give and move on. Don’t do what I did and bore one of your producers to death on the taxi ride home. Apologies again, Luke.

Stick with the group.

The gutter bar is more fun with thirty of you than three of you. Saying that, the gutter bar is horrific. Stay on the outskirts at all times or be sucked into the outrageous happenings.

Don't depend on taxis

If you heard a noise that sounded like a seal sliding off a rock in a huge amount of pain, that was me from the Nice Shirt villa as yet another Über cancelled. Just stay in the centre, no villa pool is worth that amount of stress before your lunch meeting.

Expect the unexpected

Sitting down at the Martinez hotel, I heard an almighty rip as my white sundress ripped right down the middle. Thank you to the lovely Claire Stokes from BBH for getting me through that hard time.

And that is that! I have officially been Cannes de-flowered and it’s safe to say, I’ll never be the same again. Broken, slightly more tanned, Ray-Ban-less and have had enough parties to last until at least the industry Summer parties begin…


Bethan Keane is Directors Representative at Nice Shirt Films.

Connected, We Can Create Anything

June 23, 2016 / Features

By Mark D’Arcy and Nunu Ntshingila

How to do marketing in the 'Fourth Industrial Revolution', according to Facebook.

The idea of reimagining and reinventing everything we do, across our entire industry, for a connected world of billions, sounds like an incredible opportunity. It also sounds like an incredible amount of extra work. Do we really need to reinvent everything?

The answer is, happily: no. But we do need to learn to how to connect. For all of the hyperbole, the world really is changing.

Our new normal.

Klaus Schwab, chairman of the World Economic Forum, refers to the present era of connectivity as the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.” The First Industrial Revolution was powered by water and steam, changing the way we built things. Electricity powered the Second and enabled mass production. In the Third, electronics and information technology accelerated scale and complexity.

Now we are in the Fourth, an era of connection between our physical, digital, and biological worlds; a new phase of massive creative potential, where everyone has the power to share anything with anyone. This era brings with it an avalanche of new, creative ideas and opportunities.

Connected, with better ideas.

Take, for example, the case of Soko.

All over Africa, artisans make jewelry. But for most of history, their goods were only for sale in hyperlocal markets. Those artisans that could export often received little compensation for their work. To address this problem, three entrepreneurial women in Kenya started an online network that allows artisans direct access to buyers. It’s called “Soko,” which means “marketplace” in Swahili. Connected, African artisans are now part of the $32 billion jewelry industry from the US, Europe to Australia.

Businesses like Soko are emerging from all over the newly connected parts of the developing world. These new businesses will come from places like Lagos, not Davos, New Delhi, not New York. And to thrive in this connected era, the marketing industry must evolve.

Organizing for a connected future.

Despite the global connection occurring, for the last 20 years, the marketing industry has become extraordinarily fragmented. Our challenge is to find new ways to organize talent so we can build together not just on one brilliant idea – but to scale all ideas.

We do not need to reinvent it all. Our marketing revolution is not to simply be “more creative” but to be “more connected.”

Marketers are best equipped to do this because of the ability to connect technology with humanity and to pair design and storytelling. The idea of organizational re-design is not a new one; it was central to the creative process developed by Bill Bernbach, one of advertising’s pioneers. When he sat art directors and copywriters at the same table, they were connected and equal. It happened again in early 1970s when British advertising agency BMP created the Planning model.

Every time we take a step closer together, the process can get easier and the work will improve.

Connected, the greatest ideas may not be our own.

In a connected world, ideas will come from anywhere and be worked on by everyone.

As a marketing industry, no matter where we sit, we must be able to identify, nurture and build on the work of others with the same passion and enthusiasm as if it came from our own teams.

We need to be okay embracing ideas that do not come from someone with the same logo on a business card or from the person without a business card at all. Let’s continue to build on the work of others and when someone asks us “who created that work,” we can turn to one another and confidently say, “We did.”

Connected, we should build value, not vanity.

We need to abandon our industry’s obsession with originality and focus more on building better ideas that create value.

In our relentless, annualized pursuit of originality, we miss the chance to convert award-winning experiments into long-term sustainable systems. We’ve lost some of the distinction between architecture and design; between structure and innovative expressions of structure. Good ideas should not be abandoned in the name of pure originality. The first two-page magazine spread was not the last. We do not need to re-invent the wheel. Let’s focus on creating better ones.

Connected, we can create collaboration, not combat.

Finally, we need to work more closely together as an industry, as clients, as agencies, and as platforms. All of us have a role to play. We all need to put collaboration at the center of the creative process. When it comes to being a partner to the creative industry there’s a lot more we can all do, including the teams at Facebook. We remain committed.

Connected we can create anything but only if we are far more connected in how we create everything.

Mark D’Arcy is the Chief Creative Officer for the Facebook Creative Shop. Nunu Ntshingila is the Head of Facebook Africa

A Party Guru’s Guide to Cannes Lions 2016

June 16, 2016 / Features

By Sophia Melvin

Party Guru Sophia Melvin's tips on this year’s hottest parties and secrets on how to get those all important wristbands.

So let’s get real, we don’t make our annual pilgrimage to the French Riviera to gracefully chassé along the Croisette, nor do we travel all that way to sit through an awards do (we do enough of that in London and the struggle is already real). The truth is we go out there to get absolutely shit-faced in the name of new business and attempt to attend every party physically possible.

The party list is as long as the Croisette itself this year, so “Which parties should I be seen at and can you help me get an invite Sophia?” I hear you cry! Never fear. Here’s a bit of advice from me to you on how to get your mitts on those all-important wristbands and where to be seen in 2016…

Disclaimer Alert! I apologise profusely in advance to anyone mentioned in this article that may get inundated with emails and calls from their new best friends.

 

Little Black Book Beach

I wouldn’t describe the LBB Beach as a wild party, but this little beauty is literally your baguette and butter. It’s the perfect hotspot for networking and to have a sober conversation with high-profile sorts before they’ve had one too many glasses of rosé. So for me, it’s a must!

Likelihood of gate-crashing: 3/10
Ms Katherine Peach won’t be too peachy towards you if your name isn’t on the door. Yes, our friends at LBB have zooped up their security measures this year; so freelancers, you better get looking through the LBB directory and be very nice to the reps of their subscribers.

 

Iconoclast, Cannes Lions Funfair

The Iconoclast villa party was off the charts last year. Trust me, if you made it up there you probably don’t remember much… but that’s the sign of a great night, right?  So naturally they’ve raised their game with a funfair theme this year (who doesn’t love a good theme?) and I don’t know about you, but I’m seriously intrigued by the lucky ducks on the invite!

Likelihood of gate-crashing: 6/10 
They’re a super fun, friendly bunch and if you arrive with a magnum of rosé as a distraction, who’s gonna turn you away girl?



Shots Beach Party

Again, a firm favourite, with the likes of Charli XCX DJing in previous years and 2015’s showdown topping all expectations – So I have seriously high hopes for the Shots Beach Party this year. As always it’s great for seeing an excellent mix of the glitterati you struggle to book meetings with and your favourite people to dance alongside (Jonas, I will see you there my friend…) so get your paws on those wristbands! Oh, and one of Cut+Run’s rising stars Chris Hutchings edited the Beach Party Showreel, so keep an eye out for that little bit of magic whilst you’re schmoosing and raving (yes, I know that was shameless plug for one of my boys, but that’s my job!).

Likelihood of gate-crashing: 4/10
Strictly limited to subscribers, but I managed to wangle a few extras at the wristband collection desk last year… So be nice to Lucy (because Lucy is awesome) and if you manage to get hold of some extras, use them as a solid trade for other wristbands you’ve been unsuccessful in obtaining.

 

Rushes Beach Party

It wouldn’t be Summer without their BBQs, it wouldn’t be Christmas without their carolling, so it definitely wouldn’t be Cannes without their beach party! It’s certainly a good ‘un for seeing those familiar faces and never appears to suffer from the rival and slightly more exclusive MassiveMusic party further down the beach. With decades of practice Rushes never fail to bring their A-game to the Riviera, so it’s deffo a win win.

Likelihood of getting a wristband: 9/10
The gals at Rushes are the kind that all reps love and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Emailing info@rushes is said to be the key if you were inadvertently missed off the list.

 

Saatchi & Saatchi Beach Party

Firstly, I would just like to personally apologise to a lovely lady at Saatchi’s (who for all intents and purposes we’ll name Jane) for the misunderstanding. Jane, you honestly were the contact I was given to get some names on the list and I’m eagerly awaiting your response… This jamboree is 100% a hotty, which will, as always, be overflowing with fine wine and the industry’s top creatives. So feel special if you got an invite to this baby.

Likelihood of gate-crashing: 1/10
If you’re not on the list, you’re not coming in… right, Jane?

 

Finger Music Pool Party

Finger Music were sorely missed during their Cannes hiatus last year, so you shouldn’t dip out of their highly anticipated pool party this year. Promising super-sick tunes and a complimentary shuttle bus departing from gutter bar on the hour, every hour from 1pm, your day is sorted (I have the gorgeous Ewa to thank for this invitation… Thanks Ewa!).

Likelihood of getting a wristband: 0/10
Already rumoured to be at full capacity, getting a wristband at this stage will be as tricky as getting your hands on a Gold Lion – But if you’re feeling confident, you could try your luck at jumping on the shuttle?

 

CHI & Partnership Yacht Party

Oh yes, it’s a yacht party! I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m being transported back to the glamour of Don Draper’s Mad Men advertising days. It’s a very exclusive guestlist, but I hear that CHI are going out in full force, so keep an eye out for that copywriter you met at the APAs three years ago who you thought you’d never speak to again… You may need them now my friend.

Likelihood of gate-crashing: 1/10, or how good are you at swimming?
Definitely not one to miss, so get your breaststroke practice in at Shoreditch House this weekend….and FYI, Johnny is your man when it comes to names on the door.

 

Skunk Ring The Alarm Party

These guys have really woken up and smelt the coffee this year, what with the opening of their shit-hot London office already causing a stir, they’ve also gone and organised their party for the Friday night… Hallelujah!

Likelihood of gate crashing: 8/10
It’s a pretty hot ticket to get hold of this year, but my sources tell me that this pardy has been organised by their US Office… so who’s going to prove that you haven’t worked with their UK team in the last month?  Game faces on kids and I think you’re in!

 

Tropicool Afterparty

They don’t call it Tropi-COOL for nothing. Rumoured to be one of the coolest events of 2016, this is what happens when the world’s two favourite reps - Georgie and Attilio - come together and just want everyone to have a bloody good time. With DJ sets from Miss G herself, it’s going to be a Cannes cracker if last year is anything to go by.

Likelihood of gate-crashing 9/10
Firstly, because they’re über cool and when they say they want everyone to have a good time, they mean everyone! Secondly, it’s an intimate venue, so you could casually slip yourself amongst the over-flow of smokers outside if you’re desperate, which you should be, because you’ll want to be there.  Anyone who’s anyone will be there.

 

Grey White Carnival Party

Last year’s most talked about party during the Cannes comedown; this shindig is probably the most anticipated of the entire calendar. After experiencing their 50 Shades of Grey Party in 2015 (and it really was an experience) I’m confident that their White Carnival themed gathering on the JW Marriott rooftop is destined to be Avant Garde.

Likelihood of gate-crashing: 5/10
I’m split down the middle on this one. Last year it was a definite 10/10 with security as scarce as it was at the England v Russia match the other night – indeed the rooftop filled to capacity within the hour and the Grey employees couldn’t even get in!  It’s guaranteed to be trickier to get in unannounced this year, but the silver lining is that our pals at Grey used Eventbrite (my favourite) to send out their invites, so it’s fairly easy to RSVP (there’s even a plus 1 dropdown ***squeels***).

 

Agile Rooftop Fiesta

Following on from their killer villa party last year with a rooftop soiree in 2016, Agile certainly know what they’re doing. Promising breath-taking views, a refreshing gin and tonic bar, as well as bottomless fizz, this laidback, afternoon fiesta certainly sounds inviting. I’m so game!

Likelihood of gate-crashing: as low as 1/10
It’s an exclusive event, in a secret location on the Friday, so you’ll need an insider to get into this shizzle... but I’m pretty sure if you bring a script along with you, you’re in babes.

 

MassiveMusic / MediaMonks Beach Party (ExperiMMMMental)

It’s at times like this that I salute the RSVP contact. Charles, you drive a hard bargain and Paul, he’s doing a great job at keeping your guest list truly exclusive! So feel special if you’ve got one of these, it’s really is a postcode lottery!

Likelihood of gate-crashing 4/10
Last year, I managed to get 9 of us in who weren’t on the list, without selling my soul to the devil (apparently I have a way with doormen), so my advice would be to find out where they’re handing out their wristbands and act the dumb rep who’s just doing her job.

 

APA Location Guide Soiree

Last, but by no means least, I have to mention the APA Location Guide Soiree. This isn’t one for the killas and hundred dollar billers, but it’s a delicate sanctuary tucked safely between the furors of the Cannes apocalypse. It’s an absolute must-attend and the perfect place to mingle with CEOs and the world’s biggest Agency Producers – so if you really want to do your job out there reps, this is the place to be.

Likelihood of gate-crashing 3/10
Again, it’s exclusive to APA members and the guestlist is already closed… So be very VERY nice to Steve if you still fancy your chances. Which reminds me, Steve my lovely, I have a favour to ask you…

I leave you with my 2016 Cannes gate-crashing motto… Quand on veut, on peut… See you in Cannes peeps.

 

Sophia Melvin is the PR and Sales Rep for Cut+Run.

The View From Tokyo

June 14, 2016 / Features

By Michael Stanish

A package of eastern wisdom from Advertising Week Asia.

I first visited Tokyo 22 years ago as an exchange student. Lots has changed since then, but Tokyo still rests on foundations of respect. I’ve talked about this many times, but compared to other major metropolises like New York, Bangkok and even London, Tokyo is mostly silent. In those other cities when you first arrive you hear them before you see them. You can feel the noise as though walking through a mist of sound.

The influence of Zen on Tokyo, and all of Japan is highly evident. Zen is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese, ‘Chan’ which in turn is the translation from the Sanskrit ‘Dhyana’, meaning mediation. The whole city has a meditative quality. At times, when not silent, it’s as though the whole city is whispering at you. It doesn’t take lightly to messing up the meditative matrix, and Japan will let you know when the matrix has been broken, in no uncertain terms.

Perhaps Tokyo at first doesn’t seem like a natural choice of location for the Asian chapter of this event. Surely Shanghai, Hong Kong or Singapore would be closer to the target audience and a host city that would be more prospective? Yet, if you look a little deeper, it’s by far the best choice. The written characters for Tokyo themselves mean Eastern Capital. While it was named so after taking over the mantle from it’s further westerly sibling in Kyoto, it has a wonderful symbolism for the leadership it has perpetually shown in the region. Economically it was the pioneer of the Super Economies of Asia. Its unrelenting growth of the 50s and 60s dubbed Japan the post war miracle. Tokyo – the gateway to the future. This miracle gave birth to the new economies of the Asian Tigers, Sing, HK, Taiwan, South Korea.

Japanese brands at the time were unknown, and unannounced, the likes of Toyota, Sony, Honda, Mitsubishi, Panasonic and Canon momentously became not only household names around the world, but the benchmark for any manufactured product.

Japan went into rebuild mode, as though an injured athlete, determined solely to get back to the top of the world. With humbleness, regret, honour and respect, the nation pulled itself out of a terrible mark on its history and proved what it can do in peaceful times.

Today’s Japan, after two decades of economic stagnation, could seemingly do with a boost. It’s had devastating hard luck. An economy that had been just starting to grow, doing better again after the 1997 Asian Crash, had the wind taken out of its sails in 2008 with the GFC. But Japan has a word for keeping on going, ‘Gambaru’. It roughly means to fight; to keep fighting without giving up. Actually, when at a sporting event, the Japanese pronounced ‘Faito’ is regularly interchangeable with ‘Gambaru’. If any country on the planet can get through hardship it’s Japan. The Japanese have an incredible resilience and unity where they will work together, despite any adversity to achieve their objectives. On the road to recovery again, another blow hit in 2011 as the Tohoku Earthquake pulled the rug from underneath.

Some political acne along the way, has held the nation back at times, but their resilience is showing again, and with the excitement of the 2020 Olympics, when in Tokyo, and talking to old friends, there seems to be the impenetrable fight still in the citizens of Tokyo and no doubt Japan.


The history of advertising in Japan is rich. Richer than any of the Asian markets. You may think Japanese advertising is just bonkers ads, which a large part is, but there is such great depth in storytelling, emotion and craft.

Of course they are known for media ruling the landscape. The clearest outcome of this is that most TV ads were 15 seconds while the rest of the world were making 60s and 30-second cut downs. The cost of media meant that was all the time they had to tell their stories. This led to a certain agency model that one may cynically consider the template for the shift to media-driven advertising in the west. Sell creative cheaply, lure the client, then grab them with the expensive media. It’s basically the model of selling narcotics, or printers and toner.


Now, to the actual story of Advertising Week Asia.

When you walk into the Midtown plaza, there’s immediately a sense that it’s an Asian event. Compared to the patina of the Picture House in Piccadilly, in the first instance it feels terribly corporate and sterile. I initially wonder whether I’ve entered a dentist’s conference rather than the glamour juxtaposed with seediness misfits of an advertising event. I guess it’s a good indicator of the differences between the two cultures I have so dearly adopted. 

I thought, surely the conservatism of the backdrop perfectly predicts what I’m about to experience at Advertising Week. I go in thinking I’m about to hear that gone are the days of misfits and rebels ruling the corridors of ad agencies, now we are in an era of media companies taking up the most expensive city real estate, full of rows of data analysts. Goodbye to the university drop outs, realising that the system just breeds the same, and hello Ivy League graduates crunching data and targeting potential buyers with surgical precision. 

So, when you look at the surface, you may be skeptical as a creative type. There’s not much creative content at Advertising Week. There is definitely an emphasis on the larger chunk of spend that CMOs will mostly likely burden. Lots about Media Media Media.

Every platform is represented by their most senior of executives, well rehearsed and details in their sales. You’d easily come out thinking that TV is dead, and the only engagement is on a social platform. The precision of which will finally make the creative type redundant, and we have 100% optimization with their platform.

Yet, looking past all the media discussion, it was evident that it is still ideas that drive what we do. Except now, the multi platform is considered way earlier than it was in the past. Social first rather than TV first. In fact, the trend seems to be selling a media first approach, and work out what best to do on each platform. Which, with the added benefit of getting your idea across to someone who really wants to hear it, means brands will be able to sell more product.

It was a slick operation, organized with the utmost professionalism, and most importantly, when I was looking at the speakers program, I felt a sense of excitement to listen to some incredible people. The Advertising Week team is surely connected. They managed to get an a-list of speakers that the G7 summit in Japan’s Ise-shima the week before would have been happy to secure.

The keynote program was a winner. The whole morning with the biggest names, speaking to the entire delegation was a great format. It meant I didn’t feel like I was missing out on something. In London I constantly felt like I missed something I should have been at. With the main keynotes, my appetite for inspiration and information was satisfied.

So, beyond all the discussion of media, the bright shining lights were two sessions that particularly inspired me. Complete eye openers, because of their raw and honest nature.


The inimitable Masahiko Uotani-san, the CEO of Shiseido. Here is a man that explains that he was surprised to have been asked to lead one of Japan’s most important brands. His humbleness is refreshing after listening to the stealth sales of the main media companies. On the announcement of his appointment, he says he had 700 calls and emails from politicians to celebrities to family members, unanimously saying that if he rejuvenates Shiseido, he rejuvenates Japan.

Even for the former CEO of Coke Japan that was seemingly a huge amount of pressure. In a society where opening up is not common, it was incredible to listen to this leader humbly, openly, honestly depict the landscape that’s been before and comes ahead.

His message is that marketing is not just a cost center. It adds value, and in times of uncertainty, the most important area to spend is marketing to strengthen your brand. It is in these times, when your competitors will start retreating that you can gain the most ground.

Uotani-san was humble in his speech, perfect English with a Japanese accent. He encompassed everything that I love about Japan. Sincere, honorable, welcoming and a great sense of humour. 

The other moment that stuck with me was the discussion between Kashiwa Sato and Hiroshi Sasaki, two creatives described to me as though it’s not dissimilar to a conversation between Dan Wieden and Sir John Hegarty. Looking at their portfolio, From the Tommy Lee Jones Boss ads written by Sasaki-san, to the indelible designs of Uniqlo, they are stalwarts of the Japanese industry. It may be even bigger than a discussion between Dan and John.

It was then no surprise that the two pop stars of advertising in this country had the fullest auditorium. The crowds spilling out to the foyer, reminiscent of one of my middle school Polish church communion days. Yes, I’m comparing these guys to God. Or at least my school’s priest and his sidekick. The difference is that I was really keen to listen to what they had to say. 

They came out talking about their history, about what it is to create such loved commercials and design. There was no other session with so many laughs. Admittedly, I didn’t catch a lot of the jokes, but it was such a pleasure to see a room get so much enjoyment out of two creatives that are so revered. By far they had the most engaging response from the room.

Uotani-san’s humble nature, extolling the virtues of marketing and getting the brand’s audience to feel an emotion and the creative panel of Sasaki-san and Sato-san, icons of the industry, conversing that the creative side of advertising is still what drives the industry were my highlights. It shows, regardless of platform, that idea is king. Sasaki-san in his closing words said it might be trendy to say TV is done for, everything else is taking over, but don’t just say that to be like the others. There’s a huge validity to it, and discounting it doesn’t serve anyone well. It was a clear reminder to me that the misfits will always rule the advertising industry. Even if the jocks are now making more money, they still want to be like the creatives.

Sasaki-san and Sato-san and Uotani-san, oozing charisma that transcends any culture, showed me that despite all of this discussion about media, data and precise targeting, if you don’t have a great pull that makes whoever you’re targeting feel something, all that back end is nothing without a great idea. The warning I heard from a number of Japanese colleagues is just don't give away the creative for cheap to sell more media. It’s what’s stifled the industry in Japan, and selling cheap printers and expensive toner is kinda uncool.

In between all the visiting nationals, from Facebook, Google, Mondelez, Disney, and a plethora of others, the two sessions that most stuck with me were Japanese. My only regret: I wish I could have seen every panel, every session, because as I’ve learned from being at my second Advertising Week, you will learn at least one thing in every session. For now, I will take home another week of lessons that I will apply to my thinking to serve our clients better. I’m grateful to Advertising Week for an affordable week of absorbing knowledge.


Michael Stanish is a Founding Partner of Ground Control.