Some of the greatest creative minds might never get to create.
Unless we change.
We are more powerful than we think. But we’re less powerful than we could be. Because there is so much hidden talent out there that will never be discovered unless we change the way we think and take action to help that talent discover our industry.
I’ve always felt that both we as an industry - but more importantly as a collection of highly skilled, creative individuals - wield a lot more power than we give ourselves credit for. Our way of approaching and solving problems, bringing to life creative ideas and innovating across all types of mediums is second to none. Our collective opportunity to move minds has never been greater. Yet we are not at our greatest.
Some of the best talent remains hidden to us.
How do we continue to scale our abilities across an increasing variety of sectors, accelerating business models and pressing global issues? How do we recruit the army of new ideas people that will go on to tackle the toughest client briefs alongside some of the world’s biggest problems?
For me, technology has always been one of the answers. It’s the thing that allowed a kid growing up thousands of miles away on a different continent to be here writing this right now. It’s the thing that allows us to impact other industries with our creativity, to solve global challenges affecting society, the environment, government, poverty and inequality.
Advertising is simply one of many places where our skills are needed and just one of the many disciplines that communications in general has to offer to affect change. For that is where our true power lies, in our role as communicators.
After a quarter of a century in this wonderful business I’ve helped give life to Meerkats with Russian accents - but also helped Refugees fleeing civil war in Syria. I feel very fortunate and am proud of each and every minute of each aspect of the work I’ve been involved with. I have not become idealistic in my old age, but realistic and optimistic.
The world needs us right now. That’s why we have an obligation to tell more people about our industry, especially the ones from backgrounds that never have the opportunity to learn more about this great business we work in. The next generation of creatives.
Stuff I wish I knew when I was growing up.
I, like a large proportion of the population, grew up in what we sometimes refer to as the working class. My father was a labourer working two jobs, my mother stayed at home to raise my two brothers and me: Greek immigrants who emigrated to Canada for a better life and did everything for their family. Money was tight but we were raised with a strong sense of their values and incredible imaginations that no amount of money could ever compensate for.
Like many people in this industry I’m entirely self taught. When I finally found out that I wanted to study Graphic Design, the schools that I wanted to go to were prohibitively expensive and I resigned myself to doing it on my own. I don’t have a university degree and felt left out and, to be honest, envious. That made me hungrier. I tried harder.
While I’ve always questioned my own abilities, it is the industry’s response to the work that I’ve been involved in that makes me believe that there are great minds out there on the margins who should be inspired and encouraged to join in. The opportunity to work at Google is perhaps a good example of that - I’ve been involved in some of the best work of my career, recognised by a clutch of international awards, including twenty-five D&AD Pencils (including Yellow) and ten Cannes Lions (including a Grand Prix). And it is absolutely no coincidence that this work was made by the most diverse group of people I’ve ever worked with - a group of people from different backgrounds, ethnicities and genders, with radically different educational experiences and from a spectrum of socio-economic backgrounds.
This is, for me, where the true value of awards lies. Not in congratulation, but in stimulation. Recognising best practice forces us not to look inwards at ourselves, but to look outwards at others and be challenged by them to create better, more effective, more inventive solutions.
So if industry recognition gave me confidence, I’m still left wondering about the others out there with my background who have no idea about this great thing we do - and may never discover it. Some of the greatest creative minds might never get to create, unless we change.
Education should be for everyone.
One of my D&AD President predecessors Andy Sandoz had an idea I love: ‘win one teach one’ and the notion that the D&AD annual becomes a manual for creativity (watch this space...) summarises D&AD’s purpose in my mind.
At D&AD, we must use our platform as one to inspire as well as educate, and as an industry we must do the same. Making sure that our business openly welcomes everyone, no matter where they come from, who they are or where they didn’t go to school.
We need (to) SHIFT.
We need to look at everything again. How we hire talent, where we look for it, what we look for and how we identify it. Diversity of thought leads to greater impact through our work. If our industry is going to continue to have the impact that it does, as well as scale across all the other things that need our help - we need to shift.
What I’ve learnt from my time at Google is the importance and thrill of what happens when you bring a bunch of people from different types of backgrounds together. Through diverse eyes and ears, we see things from perspectives that we were never looking for, we hear things we were never listening for and we do things to ensure those benefits are shared to a broader audience. That way, everyone benefits.
We need to provide the skills, the information and ultimately the job opportunities but this will only happen if we look beyond the traditional and embrace the different. Creative talent isn't about where you've been or who you know or your gender. We must focus on providing access and opportunity at every level in our business, including in leadership. We should acknowledge that in many areas of our industry, including the creative department, men outnumber women and we must address this - success should be graded on raw ability, and only raw ability.
D&AD believes this and is lobbying for progress in our industry through the Festival, the Awards with our intensive night school programme, SHIFT, which enables people to train around their current job. SHIFT includes workshops, talks by those at the top of their game, and real client briefs that show aspiring creative minds how to apply their abilities and craft, find paid opportunities and start on the path to a new career. It’s a pro forma, in my view, for what the industry should be doing on a macro scale.
This is why I’m so proud to take up the D&AD Presidency this year. D&AD is making good on its promise, made in 1962, to urge our great business forwards to do better work, adopt fairer practices and give practitioners (especially those with backgrounds like mine) the skills to achieve better things. All this in the belief that our industry will serve its clients - and the interests of the planet - more effectively if it does.
I honestly believe that we are more powerful than we think.
We design, we write, we film, we code, we launch, we hack, we make, we direct and we art direct.
Now it’s time to inspire the next generation of creatives.
How we do it is in our hands.