Provocative, challenging, sometimes controversial – Chemistry has become the go to agency in Ireland for brands that want to get noticed. Their work is integrated, combing social media, experiential as well as traditional media and always rich with story telling. Their recent “I want to get cancer” campaign is likely to go down as one of the decade’s most memorable pieces of advertising.
What did you read/watch/look at/listen to as a kid or teenager and did anything particularly resonate and have a lasting effect on you choosing a creative profession?
I’ve always enjoyed drawing and painting. I think the ability to get lost in something is really important. I’ve seen this with my own children. As parents we tend to focus on the finished picture and proudly display it on the fridge, at this point they’ve lost interest completely. It ‘s the activity that’s important – not the end result.
Can you describe your creative professional route to your current position?
Can you describe the landscape in Irish advertising agency world when you set up Chemistry?
We set up on April 1st 1999 when there seemed to be a space in the market for a creatively driven agency.
As a Creative Director of a multi-awarding winning agency, a former president of ICAD and a strong advocate for creativity, can you outline how the industry has evolved and grown over the last 10 years in particular?
The quality of the work in Ireland has improved beyond all recognition. I think if you compare the ICAD awards over that period you’ll see that standards in art direction, in particular, are noticeably better.
Can you take us through your studio ethos and process?
There is a danger with advertising agencies that they become too theoretical and too removed from the craft of communication. I think it’s important for creatives to be able to roll up their sleeves up and make things. I love the fact that, in Chemistry, we have a photographic studio, edit suite and recording studio where we can try things out and make mistakes.
Your recent campaign for I WANT TO GET CANCER has been very successful. It has received a lot of media attention and certainly created a dialogue, in some cases not just about the core message but in how the message itself is conveyed. Your job, and it’s a difficult one, is to get your clients noticed amidst the media saturated world we live in. For a charity especially there seems to be so many hurdles for them to mount; the current economic climate, many competitors, negative press regarding governance, etc. Can you describe the brief and the reaction from the client to your pitch and the trust needed between?
I didn’t work on this campaign myself but I think it has thrown up some interesting insights about the advertising business, the importance of building trust with clients and the utter stupidity of creative pitching. Get Cancer is the kind of brave, cut through advertising that needs to happen, for the issues to be addressed, but – and this is the critical point – it is not the kind of work that would ever get bought in a pitch situation. It is the result of working closely with a client, understanding their activities in great detail and developing trust.
Is it important to support and encourage your creative teams to keep experimenting and testing themselves?
Absolutely. Endless curiosity, the freedom to fail, and a sense of playfulness are essential in any creative environment, but it is that constant sense of dissatisfaction that really makes the difference.
There seems to be a deliberate move away from the traditional “Ad Agencies” and toward “Creative Agencies” that offer new services but also look to employ people who are creative and driven rather than having background in advertising. What is your experience in team building?
Again. I couldn’t agree more. Creativity and ability as expressed through craft and enthusiasm for the work are far more important to me than having any specific training. Particularly advertising. To be honest, I think at some level I’m a little suspicious of kids who want to get into advertising. What really troubles me though is people doing advertising courses when they have no idea about what they actually want to do. A few years ago I asked one advertising graduate the question and he said ‘I don’t know, account handling, planning or maybe I’ll be an art director’. I thought the combination of arrogance and stupidity was astounding.
How important are non-industry/work related influences on how you want your team to think and produce work? Can you give an example of an important “non-advertising” influence for you?
Essential. I think all advertising creatives need to be nourished by “non-advertising” influences whether it be theatre, cinema and music. For me the most important “non-advertising” influence is art. We did a project last year in our studio, where we provided technical support to the artist Dorothy Cross by 3D scanning her naked body for a proposed sculpture and then elongating the 3D wireframe. It was great to be involved with something, at the same time related, but also, so far removed from the world of advertising.