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“Deadlines are dead” — and other leadership learnings from the team behind Samsung iTest

DDB New Zealand’s Brett Colliver and Mike Felix tell us about their leadership styles

Illustration by Alysa Browne

When it comes to smartphones, people tend to be on either team Apple or Android, and Apple faithfuls are notoriously tough to convert. Enter Samsung iTest, a cheeky intervention that turned out to be a game changer that challenged brand loyalty to Apple. The campaign from DDB New Zealand created a website that could be toggled to a user’s homepage, thus allowing consumers to road-test an Android interface while using their Apple iPhone.

The D&AD Black Pencil-winning project in the Media category was led by DDB New Zealand creative directors Brett Colliver and Mike Felix. Here, the duo tell us about leading on Samsung iTest and how leaders need to walk a fine line between organisation and chaos to produce award-worthy creative work.

Deadlines are dead

Projects just don’t end the way that they used to, say Felix and Colliver. In the age of new media the moment that a project moves into the public realm is the beginning of another phase rather than a conclusion. Leaders, they say, need to be cognisant of this.

“In fact, 'deadline' is an inaccurate term if referring to the moment a campaign enters the public domain as that is when a campaign comes alive,” says Felix. “You need to be watching, reacting, responding and improving. That might not seem like a new perspective, but it’s still not an easy thing for the agency and client system to get its head around. Ideas are organic, the process is organic, the reaction is organic, and the response is organic, which ironically requires an extra level of organisation from all departments.”­ 

The fine line between organisation and chaos

While leading on Samsung iTest, both Colliver and Felix had a lot of plates to spin to keep the project heading in the right direction. They said being organised from the get go allowed room for some chaos.

“Mike and I both like to take quite an organised approach to our work, especially at the pointy end of a project when we’re in production,” says Colliver. “Of course, it’s critical to leave enough room for a little chaos and the creative opportunities that arise from it, but for us, being organised seems to actually allow more of those opportunities to appear.”

This approach allowed the team to tap into their creativity, knowing that the planning and logistics were taken care of. “We focused on the process as much as the creation and none of it would have been possible without everyone who was involved in the large, tight-knit team,” Colliver said.

There is more than one way to lead a team

Don’t assume that in order to be a creative leader you must take on another persona. If you lead in a way that is true to your personality then acting as someone else at work is one less challenge you must face in an already challenging workplace. 

“The leaders I’ve admired most are the ones who don’t feel the need to fight for attention or talk over the top of people. They take a quiet, more considered approach,” says Colliver. “They sit back, take things in, digest, then say something only if they feel it needs to be said. It’s an approach that I try to mould myself on. One, because I think that’s my natural temperament, so there’s no point fighting it. And two, because the leaders I’m referring to have had plenty of success which has proven to me that you don’t have to be a super extrovert to succeed as a creative leader.”

Felix’s approach is slightly different, “I love to be the centre of attention, talk over people and comment on everything,” he says with a wink, but he too agrees that there’s no one correct way to lead.

“I also think employees who are self-guided are infinitely more confident and inspired than those who are emulating what their managers have shown them… I’ve worked with six  or seven different CCOs in my career, and I think the differences in their styles far outnumber the similarities. There isn’t one way to lead, we all just have to figure out what works best for us as individuals and the people that we’re working with,” adds Colliver.

Translating between different work environments is a key part of leadership

Advertising often bridges the gap between the creative and corporate environments and being a creative leader means you must act as a translator between those two very different worlds.

"A big, and I’d say specific, part of creative leadership is being able to be a conduit between the loveable weirdos who lurk amongst creative departments and the far more buttoned-up corporate world,” Colliver explained. “Creatives need the freedom to have all sorts of wild and wonderful ideas. But a creative leadership position is unusual in that it means inspiring, feeding, and letting those ideas run wild, but then also having to harness them.”

 This is part of D&AD's Creative Leader Interview series. Read more insights from top creative leaders here

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