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Member Spotlight: Graham Lang

One of our D&AD Membership perks is our Members’ Spotlight feature that takes a moment to celebrate the work of different industry professionals. Each interview gives creatives a virtual soapbox, asking what they’re currently working on, what are they most proud of, and if there were one piece of work they wish they’d been responsible for, what would it be?

Meet Graham Lang...

Introduce your agency.
Y&R South Africa was established more than 40 years ago, and today boasts nearly 200 employees across three full-service agencies in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. We have a host of global brands such as Land Rover, Colgate, Chevron and SKY Vodka as well as some blue-chip local clients such as Pick n Pay and Western Cape Government.

I joined Y&R SA from the London office towards the end of 2011 and have put emphasis on our performance, dialling up our efforts to improve our standing in the industry. As a result we have been listed as a top 5 agency in the region for two years running. There is still much more to do but I’m proud of the progress.

Our creative approach is founded in a contrarian belief – a creatively focused agency must put creativity last. There are too many companies claiming they are ‘creative’. It becomes a buzzword as opposed to the end result of intelligent thinking and good, old-fashioned problem solving.

I believe that the idea is not the ‘creative bit’. I’d go further to say the idea is not the sole responsibility of the Creative Department. The idea is the thing that connects our client’s business problem with unique and breakthrough thinking. It can be an insight, a strategy or even an invention. The idea is the answer to the brief and should be summed up in one simple sentence. If it’s not simple, it will never be genius.

Then and only then, comes the creative bit. The copy crafting, the hovering of art directors, the retro font, the ‘never been done before’ technology. The creative bit, I believe, is the wrapping of the idea. It’s how you bring it to life. It takes skill, patience and experience. You need to be hard on yourself and your team. Get it right and you strike gold.

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What are you currently working on?
I think the most interesting project that we have just started to PR is our GIVA platform. It’s solves a problem we have in SA with regards to people giving cash handouts to people on the street. Obviously there is nothing wrong with giving but most of the time those cash handouts go towards drugs, or alcohol abuse. So GIVA helps people to give responsibly. I think it represents everything that I love about our industry right now. It is a technology idea but the tech does not override the human experience and emotional payoff you get from interacting with it. It’s been about two years in the making so I’m really glad it’s launching.

GIVA allows people to give directly to individuals in need, enabling customized, one-to-one giving. NPOs upload individual needs to a real-time feed online, which ranges from education, skills training, and immediate needs to a longer term development trajectory. GIVAs then log on to the platform from any device and give to a need closest to their heart. As time goes on they receive updates on how their give has impacted the life of the specific person they helped. These gives and updates can be shared on social media to help friends become GIVAs as well.

The GIVA platform also enables companies to democratise their CSI spend by letting their employees choose which needs to support on behalf of the company. It allows employees to be at the heart of their company’s giving process. Check it out.

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GIVA is an innovative mobile platform that aims to enable personal and CSI-sponsored donors to be instantly directed to individuals and their personal needs via a real time social media stream.

What work are you most proud of?
Most recently, I’m proud of our HOPE SOAP project. It received a D&AD Nomination this year. It’s an ongoing project in our Cape Town agency and it’s helping to shed light on the sanitation issues we have in the region but it’s also empowering communities to solve the problem by themselves.

I was the Global ECD on Land Rover from 2008-2011 and the work that I loved the most during my time in that role was the “YOU’LL FEEL SAFE INSIDE” campaign. They were written out of our NY office. I had to push the client quite hard to get them to sign off but in the end we got a lovely campaign. The Sword Collector spot received a D&AD Nomination in 2011.

While at Saatchi & Saatchi London, I had the great privilege of working on the 2007 D&AD Award Ceremony collateral. The executions had to be simple and true to the brand. As luck would have it the campaign got in the book for Graphic Design that year. Nepotism? Maybe.

Of course there are other pieces that I’m proud of like the “Gun Vending Machine” I won a Pencil for in 2000 but I’m always most proud of my most recent work. It’s dangerous to bathe in past glory.

'Hope Soap' picked up a Nomination for Direct at the D&AD Awards 2014.

What work from our Archive makes you think ‘I wish I’d done that’?
Too many to mention. I’m not sure if there is anything in the D&AD Archive that I wish I hadn’t done. Everything from the iPod to Guinness Surfer inspires and delights me. D&AD has been awarding cross-disciplinary creative for ages. Some of the award shows have just cottoned on recently. That’s the beauty about D&AD, you get inspiration and uncontrollable bouts of jealously from advertising, product design and everything else in between. 

'Surfer' won two Black Pencils and two Yellow Pencils at the D&AD Awards in 2000.

What’s the best advice you’ve received during your career?
This is not another plug for D&AD but I got loads of great advice from the Copy Book. As a young creative I devoured that book and went back to it constantly for insight and inspiration. I still do actually.

My first boss was Ross Chowles and he once said to me, “Don’t fuck it up”. That was the best motivation I ever got. I do my best work under pressure. I love tight deadlines, small budgets and impossible targets. Pressure focuses you and the fear of failure is what makes me try that much harder.

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