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5 Minutes With... Al Young


On the InfernoDraftfcb hook-up, fear and nearly playing for football for Hibernian

5 Minutes With... Al Young

Al Young almost made it as a professional footballer. After quickly overcoming the ‘world-ending’ shock, he took himself to live in London, where he met a copywriter who planted a creative seed in his head. Now, he’s the Chief Creative Officer at Inferno, where he has overseen NSPCC’s acclaimed ‘Don’t Wait Until You’re Certain’ campaign, sat on juries at Cannes and D&AD and played a key role in the agency’s recent pairing with Draftfcb. Young speaks to LBB’s Laura Swinton. 

LBB> You joined Inferno in 2010 – how has the agency evolved in that time?

AY> We have an industry profile now and back then we were relatively unheard of. I think we are creatively much stronger now too; although there is always more work to do in that respect. But most importantly we have a strong culture, a sense of what makes us, us and what it is we come into work to do each morning.

LBB> Inferno has recently entered the Draftfcb fold – how did that conversation come about? How is that going to change things in the agency in the coming year?

AY> They approached us last summer and some meetings took place in New York. I think Draftfcb in London had lacked a bit of inspiration and leadership and they saw us as a management team who could provide it. The scale of the combined agencies is bigger but our plan is to simply continue doing the things that have made us successful over the past three years.

LBB> You nearly made it as a professional footballer – but ended up in advertising. How did that happen?

AY> I was on schoolboy forms with Hibernian in Edinburgh from the age of 13. Back then, football clubs in Scotland had to offer you a professional contract on your 17th birthday or release you. They decided to release me and it felt like the world had ended. But of course it hadn’t. I went to university, then moved to London and met a guy in a pub who was a copywriter at CDP. He put the idea in my head. Looking back, I have been a more successful creative than I would have been a professional footballer. 

LBB> In your career you’ve won over 40 major advertising awards – are awards important to you?

AY> Picking up a prize on an award night is great fun. And there’s no doubt they help in promoting yourself to employers and promoting your agency to the industry. But the truth is that sometimes great work doesn’t win awards and pretty ordinary work does. So I try not to take them too seriously – or to make them the only metric for creative success. When creatives use a brief purely to try and win awards rather than finding a solution to the problem, great work is rarely the result. 

LBB> You’ve also served on several juries, from Cannes to D&AD… what’s the most useful thing you’ve learned being locked in the jury room?

AY> You often see work and wonder why on earth the agency bothered to enter it. They have simply wasted their money. Creatives and agencies often overestimate the creative potency of their own work.

LBB> What’s the greatest threat to good advertising?

AY> Fear. That’s fear in the agency that the client will move the business. And fear among clients that being brave will mean they end up getting fired.

LBB> Who are your creative heroes and why?

AY> Two instantly spring to mind. The first is Steve Henry, my boss at the late, great HHCL. Steve was, and is, a brilliant teacher and an even more brilliant troublemaker. The second is John Hunt, worldwide creative director at TBWA. He has such a keen sense of the creative process. He is incredibly analytical and instinctive - at the same time - and effortlessly takes seemingly ordinary thoughts and turns them into great ideas.   

LBB> What’s the secret to leading a great creative team?

AY> Leading great creative teams is easy – you pretty much stand back and let them get on with it. The challenge is leading teams who haven’t found their greatness yet. That’s tougher and much more complicated.

LBB> The NSPCC Underwear Rule was a really interesting response to what I imagine must have been a tough creative challenge. What were the key conversations at the beginning of that process? How did you balance the need to approach the issue directly with being sensitive?

AY> People were waiting far too long before reporting suspected child abuse – they were scared of getting it wrong. We said the right solution would be one that relieved them of the responsibility of being right or wrong. Hence Don’t Wait Until You’re Certain.

LBB> Inferno has been involved with the Young Creative Council, with some of Inferno’s employees helping to run it. What is the one piece of advice you’d give young creative trying to make their mark in the business?

AY> You need a few lucky breaks to succeed. (The important bit to remember is that the harder you try, the luckier you get.)

LBB> Which work have you been involved with recently that has most resonated with you?

AY> I am very proud of the Geek Is Good initiative we developed last year. We also have a Sky Content TV campaign about to break, which I think is incredibly simple and powerful at the same time.

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LBB Editorial, Wed, 05 Feb 2014 17:47:50 GMT