5 minutes with... in association withAdobe Firefly

5 Minutes with… Charlene Chandrasekaran

Advertising Agency
London, UK
The Droga5 London creative director on not having a ‘real’ job, finding productivity in self-doubt and harnessing her introverted nature

Charlene Chandrasekaran is behind some LBB Towers’ personal favourite campaigns. Her career so far is crammed with work that stays with you, from the sublime, emotional gut-punch of the ‘Helpless’ campaign for St John Ambulance – made soon after she and her copywriter partner Dan Morris joined BBH – to the ridiculous, who-signed-off-on-that wonder of ‘Crystal Barn’ for Barclaycard – one in a series of category-defying ads created for the payment brand by Droga5 London, where the pair have worked since 2016. Charlene and Dan met on the Watford Advertising Course in 2009 and these days are creative directors at Droga5. 

LBB’s Alex Reeves chatted with Charlene about her early impressions of advertising, healthy competition and what her actual day-to-day life as a creative director looks like.

LBB> Where did you grow up and what sort of kid were you? How did your creative nature exhibit itself?

Charlene> Introverted, imaginative and serious. I think that would be an accurate summation of me as a child, growing up in South London. An old soul in a kid’s body, who enjoyed their own company and had an overactive brain. My parents didn’t have the time, money or patience to entertain me, so I entertained myself. Painting, drawing, making, exploring…all that stuff. 

LBB> You told us in 2021 how you got into advertising through noticing the nice car of a man who worked in it, then you went to Watford to study it. How did your perception of the ad industry change in those years?

Charlene> I didn’t really have any big preconceptions about the industry. I just thought, from the little I knew, that it might be interesting to pursue, and that I might be able to earn some money doing the things I enjoy. I think I imagined the industry to be a little more ‘corporate’, maybe. It’s actually full of hilarious people who just love making stuff. My husband during lockdown couldn’t believe I ever did any work, because all he could hear upstairs was me laughing. He always tells me I don’t have a ‘real’ job. He’s probably right.

LBB What was your first job in advertising like? How do you remember that time looking back?

Charlene> We were spoiled for briefs, great talent to learn from, shooting ads in far-flung places. We even had a landline on our desk (can you imagine?!). It was fun. People at every level went out of their way to help us, involve us and champion us. All those things made Dan and I work harder and we saw the fruits of our labour. However, I also look back and remember sometimes feeling horribly inadequate. BBH had high standards, which was inspiring but also a lot of pressure. But I take a lot of the responsibility for that. It took me a minute to develop the tools needed to make self-doubt productive.

I also remember there being a fair bit of competition at BBH. All very healthy most of the time, you’d beat another creative team on a brief and they would come down to your desk and say, “fuck you guys, your idea was great.” It took Dan and me a year to secure our first job in the industry and it was a great time to have joined BBH.

LBB> What moments or projects in your career have taught you the most about advertising?

Charlene> Being introverted, I’m a big fan of people watching. It’s the best. Having had the honour of working with some of the best talent in the industry, seeing first-hand how they get the best out of people, how they navigate a client presentation, how they overcome a problem, seeing how they think… you grow fast. Watching people in action is formative. I imagine a lot of people have missed out on that over the last couple of years, while we’ve all been stuck behind a webcam.

In saying that, I’m also a big believer that some of the worst people in the industry have something to teach you, too. Like how to not treat people, how not to be narcissistic and how it takes just as long to make bad work as it does good work. Equally as valuable in my opinion.

LBB> What are you recently most proud of and why?

Charlene> A small team of us at Droga5 have been working on a new brand identity (pro bono) for a charity in East London that supports and empowers women, mainly from minority communities, to access better healthcare. It’s been a joy.

LBB> How do you see your priorities as a creative director, day-to-day?

Charlene> Dan and I quality control the creative work from briefing to final output and manage and support the creative team/s as well as client on the project. Occasionally, we get to work on briefs ourselves, but mainly we just facilitate the creative teams and their ideas, sieving through them to find the potential gold – in an image, in a line nestled within a sentence, in a random off-the-cuff comment someone makes. Our main goal is to get to the best creative we possibly can and it’s rarely ever a straightforward process. Sometimes you’re crawling to the finish line.

LBB> Outside of work, what's inspiring you right now? 

Charlene> It would be remiss of me not to mention the war in Ukraine right now. The people of that country are so inspiring. They are just not having any of it. The president, the people, the Klitschko brothers! Ordinary citizens ready to defend their freedom. It’s hard not to be moved by their passion.

Work from Droga5 London
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