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D&AD Leadership Interviews – Nicholas Hulley & Nadja Lossgott of AMV BBDO

The senior copywriter and art director team on leadership and partnership

Art director Nadja Lossgott and copywriter Nicholas Hulley have been a team for fifteen years, which has so far led to accolades that include two D&AD Black Pencils, and a multitude of awards at Cannes and elsewhere – as well as having their work displayed by the British Museum and The Design Museum.

They have forged a reputation for industry-shifting campaigns that ripple right up to government level. Trash Isles for LADbible saw a huge flotilla of plastic waste officially designated a country due to its size, and Trillion Dollar Flyer created for newspaper The Zimbabwean raised awareness of the political situation there at the time. 

Currently the Executive Creative Directors of AMV BBDO, the pair recently created #bloodnormal and #wombstories for Essity, which shifted the conversation on women’s reproductive health. Here, they talk through leading as a partnership, and the practical lessons they’ve learned that all creatives could benefit from.

Friendship is the key to long-lasting creative partnership

Hulley and Lossgott’s partnership has been a long and fruitful one, honed over time to create a safe, productive space for them to create and to lead from. “I think it's such an enduring concept and a system of different but complementary skills – the copywriter and the art director,” says Hulley, adding, “It's the kernel of what is great about creativity, that you have two different perspectives approaching the same problem.”

He goes on to add that the foundation of this symbiosis is trust, which is echoed by Lossgott, who emphasises its importance in team building. “I think that the security of having a longstanding creative partnership is phenomenal because in the end, it's a friendship,” she explains. “A friendship that you share so many hours of the day with and so many experiences with, it becomes telepathic.” 

Unity of voice

When you are part of a duo it can be a challenge to lead a team as one. While using each other as a soundboard is a natural part of collaboration, you must learn to speak from one position when communicating to the wider team. “The dynamic, when you're creating an output is slightly different when you're having to make choices on behalf of the teams that you lead,” Hulley says on aligning with his creative partner. “You need to be seen to be unified in your thinking when you are giving feedback. You don’t want it to feel like mum and dad are arguing in front of the kids.”

When a project is running at a fast pace, sometimes communication can become muddied but if you maintain a working bond with your co-creative leader this will stand you and your team in good stead. “Indecisiveness can be lethal when you are leading a project. But Nick and I share the same brain, so we might articulate things differently, but most times we are sharing the same points of view,” explains Lossgott.

Objectivity and clarity are leadership essentials

When working as a Creative Director, being able to step in and see the project as a whole is key. “The point of a Creative Director is to have objectivity. Your teams can become snowblind, because they're diving into all these different spaces, all these different emotions and trying to solve all these different problems at the same time,” says Lossgott. “Objectivity, and that single minded focus is so important to Creative Direction.”

She also emphasises the importance of clear communication, stressing that her and Hulley are always mindful of letting the team know exactly the direction they need to go. 

Nurturing through a crisis

The world has been through great changes and challenges over the past 18 months, and all of us are dealing with the fallout in one way or another. Leading in a crisis is about empathy and care – if you want your team to do well in trying circumstances, they have to know that they are supported.  

“You're all in the same storm, but everyone's on a different little boat,” says Lossgott. “That becomes very difficult for an agency and the department because you're so used to being together; you're so used to being able to read body language and see people for most of the day but it's trying to foster new ways of being together and looking after each other.”

The duo created a buddy system across their department to replicate micro interactions that you get in real life and provide support. “It's been super useful for us to be able to check in with people and have everyone else check in with them too,” Lossgott says.

Be prepared to go where advertising doesn’t

“I feel very, very lucky that we have happened to arrive at a time in advertising where corporations, companies and brands want to do something more meaningful,” says Hulley. “We have to apply our creativity to the tasks that we have been given and I think it's incredible.”

Both he and Lossgott are passionate about campaigns that allow them to apply their considerable talents to something with meaning, something that is trying to do good. It pushed them to be inventive and distinctive with the knowledge that if they pull this off it contributes to making the world a better place.

“The stuff that we find most interesting is the stuff that lives in culture, that is more standout than just traditional advertising,” says Lossgott. “I think that the idea space is so much bigger and more exciting, and you can reach people with something completely nuts that both inspires and feeds others creativity. Inspiration for us is not reading the advertising annuals, it's all the other things outside of advertising that excites us.” 

On winning two D&AD Black Pencils

Over the course of their careers Lossgott and Hulley have been awarded two coveted D&AD Black Pencils: for the first time in 2010 with TBWA\ Hunt\ Lascaris, Johannesburg for the Trillion Dollar Flyer (which they made with Shelley Smoler and Raphael Basckin), and most recently in 2021 for AMV BBDO for #wombstories. A Black Pencil is difficult to attain for the biggest and best in the industry and is only awarded for work that is considered to be transformative and cutting edge.  

“The Trillion Dollar Flyer was one of the early ultimate hacks,” says Hulley. 

“I think that a D&AD is, for 99 per cent of us, still the ultimate award. It's got such high standards for the pureness of creativity,” says Lossgott. 

Living up to a big reputation

When you have a reputation for industry-shifting work, you must evolve to maintain a chance of ever doing it again. It’s important to approach each new venture with the same open-mindedness as the last. “I certainly don't think we always set out to do industry-shifting work. With Essity, for example, we first and foremost set out to be meaningful to women. Creative change is ultimately what we're most passionate about,” says Lossgott. 

In order to adapt you must be able to change and ideally enjoy the challenge of that. “Change is about putting yourself in new situations and trying new things. It’s stimulating,” says Hulley. 

Interview by Amah-Rose Abrams

For more insights on how the way we work has changed, Asana surveyed over 13,000 global workers to explore how issues brought to bear over the past year have affected creatives and other knowledge workers. The findings and solutions are designed to help organisations thrive in a hybrid-working future. Download Asana’s Anatomy of Work Index 2021 here.

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