John Allison and Chris Bovill of 4Creative caught up with our good friend and regular on team OFFSET, Brian Herron, to talk agency life, collaboration, taking risks and staying true to each other after twenty years.

The creative industry can get pretty brutal – how have you survived working as a team for 20yrs and stayed on speaking terms?

It’s a good question. We strongly believe in collaboration. We’ve opted to get professionally married, but we don’t stop there. We collaborate with many people. It’s how we stay fresh. Keeps the spark alive. 4Creative and Channel 4 is in itself is one big collaboration.

Do you see yourselves as an agency within a company, or a company with an agency or … well maybe you could give us an overview of how you see your role in the Channel 4 machine?

We see 4Creative as one of the creative tools for Channel 4. We are Channel 4’s in-house advertising/production company hybrid. We are set up to write the ideas and make them and make over 900 bits of content a year.

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You recently launched the Channel 4 rebrand, and it’s been really well received. What did you set out to achieve?

We decided it was time to create a brand identity that truly ran across everything and a brand identity that shouted about Channel 4’s remit. Tell ‘em why they’re watching, not just what channel they’re watching. It’s a brand that has a big impact on the world culturally speaking, so the new identity had to reflect that. We wanted it to be real, tactile and of this Earth.

During our time at 4C had rebranded, Film4, launched All4, launched Born Risky, C4’s first ever brand positioning and rebranded E4. We felt ready to take on the big bad lad. However, it was really our work on the huge and flawed Cadbury Spots V Stripes campaign that taught us the most. How to oversee a huge unwieldy project with a vast team and a big budget with a high profile. We fucked that one up. So we learned that this time we couldn’t…

Given how close you are to the brand was there a need for research, or did you research to the same extent that you would if you weren’t in-house?

Yes, there was research done, but at some point, like referencing other branding, you have to burn it and get your pen and paper out.

If you don’t look at what others are doing you’re going in blind, but you can also see too much. It’s a balance. We did a historical search and scan of current stuff and concluded that it was a sea of dancing logos. We’re admen, we’re reductive in nature, but it was all-uninspiring and in love with itself.

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Being an outsider can sometimes be a huge advantage in convincing a client of a position – how do you communicate your ideas for the brand? What’s the level of trust like with the suits? Please don’t forget that we will print this so don’t say anything that will get you into trouble.

It’s a really good question and again, we’ll touch upon this in our talk. You jest about relationships with the “suits” and we believe that whilst its very funny to reduce them to cardboard bean-counters it’s just not helpful. In fact it’s dangerous for the creative process. It’s a very outmoded view and ultimately will get you nowhere. We learned early on that “suits” are our friends. Account men and women and planners were all smart and passionate. Make friends with them. Collaborate with them. You need them to make the work robust and sell it in. We also learned that clients are the real risk takers. They’re the real heroes. It’s their jobs on the line. Treat them all with respect, don’t feel you have to talk “suit” to them, just be a humble creative weirdo and they’ll love and respect you for it. It’s probably their favorite meeting of the day.

You’ve got a mandate to be risky – for such a huge rebrand, what does risk mean in that context?

Same as always: Risk with a purpose. Not naked skydiving strapped to some instructor called Pablo or licking an Amazonian toad for some YT hits. Creative risk is highly calculated leap into the unknown. Whether its Channel 4 or Skoda you have to push it as far as you can.

The identity has so many components – shape, colour, typography – how do you keep everything ‘true’ to the vision?

Dunno. Really. Its best not to overthink these things. Take a risk. Work your ass off. Then make it up as you go along. Professionally wing it. Spend too long thinking about all the elements and you’ll freeeeeeeze.

It’s a massive undertaking, yet you’re still tasked with producing stuff day-in-day out for the business. How do you divide the work in the studio between the big stuff and the less big stuff?

There’s only one way it can work. With an incredible team. Everyone lives and breathes 4. We’re all rooting for each other. A 30 second clip trail will be given the same amount of scrutiny and love as a big-ass brand thing. Everything is an opportunity. No really it is. We’ve turned poster briefs into big strange multiplatform headfuck ideas. Don’t write anything off and NEVER chase the shiny stuff.

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Let’s talk about the Humans campaign – OK, maybe you talk about it. What’s it about?

This was bags of fun. We set out to fool people into thinking that synthetic humans were actually going on sale.

From the show theme to the media buying, is this an example of form and function working together?

Absolutely. We’re proud of this work because the lines between marketing and broadcast were well and truly blurred. We expanded the narrative world of the show across many different platforms. A Shop in Regent St, the ebay store, ads with no 4 logo running on the Channel. It really freaked some of the beautiful idiots out there.

What’s the process like?

Again, collaboration is the key, and don’t overthink stuff. Don’t force it. You need a design for how people work together. Get good passionate people in a room and get your idea as big and noisy as you can then the rest will work itself out.

What makes a campaign successful?

Start somewhere negative. Look for the wrong answer. Not the right one. You’ll be guaranteed to be somewhere different.

What else have you done this year that you felt has really made an impact, or made you really proud?

We just finished writing our talk for Offset. It’s about what we’ve learned from 20 years in advertising and broadcast. We don’t look back much, so we’re very proud of what we’ve achieved. Hopefully we can pass some learnings on. Then after Offset, It’s Paralympics 2016…

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You run what seems to be a pretty great (and fairly paid) internship programme, where you bring in people in pairs. How successful has that been?

Well, we do 4 placements a year. Always teams. At that stage in your career its foolish to go it alone, you’ll be twice as slow, you can only be in one place at a time and its lonely. We don’t hire. We have a strict headcount. So at 4C its not a placement, it’s a leg-up. You get to work on all the best briefs and most of the time, people leave to a job, recent alumni have gone to Grey, W&K and Lucky Generals.
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