Under Darren Richardson’s creative leadership, BBDO Düsseldorf’s annual revenues went on to almost double. What’s more, in his final two years at the agency’s helm, it went onto pick up over 50 awards with notable performances at international shows such as Cannes Lions. But when Havas Germany came knocking, Darren was excited by the agency’s outlook and vision under its new national leadership team, German heavyweights Eric Schoeffler and Thomas Funk. And so he took the leap, staying in his beloved, adopted hometown of Düsseldorf, but with a fresh commute through the Havas doors. He’s now the CCO in Düsseldorf and also the network’s European digital ECD – a role he’ll be exploring further soon once things in Düsseldorf are nailed.
He’s also a bit of a self-proclaimed nerd, starting creative life as a programmer and he enjoys making games and products (though these days it’s hard to find the time). This led to him setting up a group on LinkedIn geared towards conversation amongst creative technologists – nowadays it boasts over 8,000 members.
LBB’s Addison Capper picked the brains of this Brit in Germany to find out more.
LBB> How did you get into advertising? Was it always the plan or more a happy accident?
DR> A very happy accident. I started my career as a programmer in 1994, mainly online. Then I found Macromedia Flash – or it found me – and I was hooked. So hooked that I spent days, nights, weekends learning design and interaction. I was invited to write a couple of books and then hundreds of magazine articles on the subject. That lead to me working for a small shop in London, which sadly doesn’t exist anymore, doing a mixture of advertising and online experiences as creative director. Since then it’s been a blur and a rush with agencies such as R/GA, Isobar, 180 Amsterdam, CP+B, BBDO and now Havas. Along the journey I learnt the more ‘traditional’ craft and am now mixing above-the-line with below-the-line. But honestly, today all solutions have to be digital so the lines are blurred. Also I strongly believe it’s all about the idea first.
LBB> You’re a Brit in Germany and have been there for quite a while now - what is it about the country that’s made you stick around?
DR> No other job offers! That’s British humour… sorry! I have had other offers of course, but I always like to look at the factors of work/life balance. In Germany everyone has a great work ethic but they also know when to spend time with their families.
It’s still amazing to me that shops are not open on a Sunday – it’s family day, which annoyed the hell out of me to begin with but now I think it’s great. Over the years I’ve noticed that each year the work in Germany is getting better and better, while the creative culture is huge and the energy is high.
LBB> You joined Havas in June of last year - what tempted you over to the agency?
DR> I felt I’d achieved at lot at BBDO & Proximity as CCO. We had record revenues that nearly doubled since I took the post. We also had really good award showings at Cannes and other international shows in 2016 and 2017, taking home over 50 gongs. So, when the guys at Havas called I was interested to hear what was going on and what the plans were for Havas in the future.
It was clear that they have a focused vision and are willing to invest to get there, so for me it was actually very easy to say yes. Plus both Eric Schoeffler and Thomas Funk are not only the best in the business but also great guys to work with.
LBB> You’re the CCO for Havas Düsseldorf but also the Digital ECD for the whole of Europe. First of all, how do you find it balancing both roles?
DR> At the moment very easy, as my clear focus is getting Havas Düsseldorf into a great place, then I will direct focus to the European agencies that need me from a digital creative standpoint or new business. I’m also on the European creative council, so I have contact with most of the European agencies to offer help when needed.
LBB> I know you recently came back from your first CES - how did you find the experience? What do you think it says about advertising in 2018 that there’s such a big adland presence at a tech festival?
DR> I really enjoyed the experience, there is so much to absorb in three days that it’s a little overwhelming. The first day I spent listening to talks on: women are the future, tech-driven creative, millennial myth busters, Gen Z and the next gen, Alexa AI’s impact on advertising, and TV in the digital age. As you can see from that list, they’re all subjects relevant to us as an industry. Technology will only move forward; we as an industry have to move with it or we won’t be on the same level as the consumers of the products we are trying to sell. As the famous saying goes, “adapt or die!”
Day two and three I spent walking around the many, many booths – some stuff blew my mind while others were enhancements on already excising tech. At one booth I met a guy who we are now doing a tech-driven project with… but more to come on that story later.
LBB> Since you joined, which pieces of work from Havas have you been particularly proud of and why?
DR> I have to say the Getty and fifty-fifty project
. There are many homeless campaigns out there that just make you feel sad and sorry for the homeless, whereas we wanted to make a campaign that made a difference and changed perceptions of how people view the homeless. These are people, with sad stories, but like anybody else they don’t want to give up hope. All the money made from the images on Getty was given to fifty-fifty and they in turn are purchasing apartments (flats to the Brits reading) to house the homeless. So the partnership between Getty and fifty-fifty is making a real difference to the homeless.
LBB> It must have been quite a humbling experience working on that campaign - what were your biggest personal takeaways from working on it?
DR> It was quite an emotional project to be honest. These people are just like any of us – trying to make their way in life, except life hasn’t been as fair to them as others. Kalle’s story touches me each time I watch it… and I have watched it a lot. Personally it has made me think about how we treat fellow people. A little bit of respect goes a very long way.
LBB> I can imagine it was a bit of a labour of love too - who did you work on the development and production?
DR> The concept came from a young creative team, Tiago Beltrame and Nian He. We started working on this last June. We were super lucky to have Frank Schemmann as photographer, Kevin Krefta as director, Chamaeleon Digital Vision GmbH and their big team as production partner, as well as Studio Funk for audio. I’m so proud of how the team worked together on this labour of love. Of course we had lots of people on this and too many to credit in this interview, but please do check out the full credits
LBB> You run a creative technologists group on LinkedIn - can you tell us a bit about how you got started with that? What are the big topics for 2018?
DR> I have always been a bit geeky and used to love writing games and making products. I wanted to speak to others like me, so in 2010 I set up the group. I have to be honest, lately work has taken over and I haven’t been as attentive as I would like to be, so I have two moderators to help me with posting and maintaining. Topics are the same as CES actually, minus the robotics; we talk about VR, AR, AI and voice. The members are not just from marketing or advertising – it’s really varied in its 8,000 members, from tech to publishing.
I actually hired a creative technologist for Havas six months ago – a great hire, every agency should have at least one.
LBB> What do you find most inspiring? Do you find yourself turning in a particular direction for inspiration?
DR> I’m a big fan of observing and finding insights in everyday life and then looking to find a solution if there is need for one. We had a creative day just last week where I asked the CDs to present some inspiration. Mine was a sketch from Michael McIntyre, his observational comedy has great human insights embedded in it.
LBB> What do you get up to in your downtime to keep yourself inspired? Any weird hobbies to know about?
DR> The normal cliché of creatives: photography, vinyl collecting. And one that some might not do: bouldering with my kids. It’s the only exercise I get these days.