Interviewed by LBB editor, Gabrielle Lott
LBB: What makes Rapier unique? Traditionally, historically it has been a direct marketing agency but recently was described as ‘different’. What makes it so?
EM: It’s to do with two things. Its history and where it’s come from. The rigour of the direct marketing and communication gets a direct response. It’s very accountable. It has a DNA of accountability to it that is probably more rigourous than the standard you might find in the rest of the industry. It’s gone through a transition and I’m here to put some broad, high creative profile and topspin onto that rigour and accountability. And, it’s the flavour of the characters and the people that are running the place.
LBB: You were quoted at Cannes 2010 as saying that the UK has been kind of stuck in this whole idea of defining what an agency is and that the US has kind of pushed ahead and been brave. They’ve got on with making great work and haven’t spent time over thinking. Can you elaborate more?
EM: I think that the States is just more advanced than the UK in its perception of communication and what’s happening in the real world and even more so, the emerging and growing markets. We seem to be pretty dusty, us Brits. We’ve taken longer to shake ourselves off and get on with it. But I think it’s probably just as equally to do with clients. The clients stateside are forward thinking and embracing of change and difference and good work. I think that the UK is suffering probably more out of client resistance than agency resistance.
LBB: You’ve worked on huge brands…. Playstation, Harvey Nichols, Levis, and you’ve created work that is regarded as being iconic within the industry. But what’s more important, creativity or effectiveness?
EM: Oh, crikey… There is no divide between them. I mean, it’s never a question of one or the other. Creativity, at its best, is quite hard to measure because I think that great creative work and great creative thinking produces work that resonates over a very long period of time. There are ads that ran 20, 30 years ago that are still embraced within in the hearts of the nation. They become folklore. As JR Hartley did - ads like that… Smash Martians. Some people know about these things without having been there. You can’t measure that and do research after the thing’s been written, to measure that effect and to see how that’s going to go. So I think creativity, at its best, does something way beyond the measure of its costs and is impossible to measure. That’s an incredible kind of effectiveness, that’s an effectiveness that no client bargains for and no client expects. And probably no client’s going to be around to reap the real benefits of its success. So when we talk about effectiveness, there are different types of effectiveness, but we are in a business and it’s got to work. I’d rather write an ad that works, that didn’t win an award than one that didn’t work and did win an award any day of the week. We’re a business first and we have overheads and bills to pay and if the ads aren’t working, you’re going to end up in trouble somewhere down the line. So, it’s got to work first for me but when I open the champagne is when we win an effectiveness award and a creative award together. I had a rule, in the past, when I was at Lowe that no one was allowed to display creative awards without an IPA or some sort of effectiveness award next to it.
LBB: What value do you put on awards and winning them?
EM: I put a high value on awards and winning them.
LBB: You’ve kind of won a lot!
EM: Yeah, yeah…I know and they probably meant more to me personally when I was younger – they do up your money, they do increase your profile and they do help you build a career. It’s a business that doesn’t care about you at all. No one wants you until everyone wants you and when everyone wants you… it’s great… because your life changes. The notion of improving your life through conscious endeavor and hard work is a dream we all cling to. Awards do help to encourage, fuel and drive young talent… that’s a great thing and something that’s perhaps too overlooked. When you’ve won an award and you’ve been around the block a few times, they start to mean less personally and mean more to your people and to the agency. They mean more to a broader type of profile in a bigger sense.
I think they’re good. Awards are a formalized version of someone calling you up from across the side of the road and saying ‘hey, I saw that work you did and it was bloody great, well done’. When I see something I’ve loved I’ve always contacted the team, whether I know them or not, just to say ‘that was fucking brilliant… well done, I wish I’d done it’. It’s a nice thing to do and there is benevolence to that that I would always encourage in this industry. We should be admiring and respectful of people doing good things. Anyone that ups their game and makes the industry a better place deserves some respect.
LBB: You’ve always worked in the UK. What is it about London that inspires you and keeps you here?
EM: Oh, I’d be on a fucking plane in two minutes… Through a whole series of life unmentionables, I’ve not been able to. I’ve had offers. I’ve thought about it but the time has never been right – I have children and their home and family is here and I’m rooted here at Rapier. I’m here for the duration. There is a mission to do here. Rapier at one point did have a NY base and it might do that yet again in the future. There is no ceiling on the ambition here at Rapier.
But London itself… A lot comes to London, it’s an office, a meeting point and there is definitely a history of great communication and great artistic, creative export to the rest of the world here and that’s a great thing. There is a lot of inspiration in London. I think less so in New York now. I think New York has become, for me when I visit it, more homogenized than ever before. It has less of the mix of flavours than it used to have. And I think that Europe has become pivotal in a way. It is a kind of meeting point, the business meeting point of the world.
LBB: The UK government is currently promoting apprenticeships rather than degrees. You’ve always been very open about leaving school at 16 without any qualifications. So how did it work for you, how did you come to be in advertising, how did you get your foot in the door?
EM: I don’t know. I think I was drunk and fell in a doorway and someone said ‘can you carry this to the second floor’! It was by a fortuitous accident, I ended up in a studio, in a below the line marketing agency and it was one of those things. I went along, tried it out. It was either that or sit in the park and sniff glue, so I went and did that and I kind of got into it. Good bunch of people more than anything and kind of liked it. I picked up a D&AD annual and was influenced by that and did a D&AD course and teamed up with someone and thought I’d give it a shot.
But I was influenced mainly by the work. I grew up sitting next to my Mum and Dad laughing at the Smash Martians and all of Webster’s great work and all of CDP’s great work. All of that, fantastic cannon of work from the late 70’s, through into the 80’s, it was just phenomenal and I was inspired by it.
And you know, it’s that basic equation as well. For me, how can I do something that utilises what I think might be some sort of vague creative talent and that makes me a few quid? It’s where the art meets the real world; commerce. I think there’s a big lure there, a big lure, for a lot of people.
LBB: Do you still enjoy working in advertising?
EM: Yes, I do. Of course I do. I enjoy the people. I enjoy it for completely different reasons now to the ones that I did 15 years ago. Fifteen years ago I was very selfish, ruthless, just out to do the very best work, at any cost – to my own health even; working night and day.
You mature. You become the frame and not the picture. It’s about handing stuff out, encouraging other people; the dynamic changes. I enjoy that and I’m still going through that transition from practitioner to manager and I suppose I will always be going through that. You always like to dip your hand in now and again. Pick up the pen or throw some paint at a wall, but what I do know is that it’s more about encouraging and enthusing and helping others... Creating lots of little Eds!
LBB: How do you find and select creative talent?
EM: Hiring is something that I am absolutely shit at. It’s something that I need to get better at. You know, if someone smiles nicely or they’ve got the right kind of trainers on I give them a job and it’s just ridiculous. I’m not a very rational thinker and I think to hire well you have to think rationally. To think really clearly and you need to think in an organized way.
At Rapier, we have a placement system that works well and we’ve got some great talent in on. I’m pulling in from a much larger resource and not through conscious choice but through what we need, the type of talent we are able to facilitate and give opportunity to here because it really is broad. We are involved in everything from traditional, to PR stunts, all kinds of interactive activity.
LBB: What’s been your favourite job this year?
EM: We have just won the Travel Lodge business. Head to head shoot out with Mother and it’s an interesting one because we were doing the digital and direct stuff and it was really successful. We were offered a shot at the other chunk on that basis. What I love doing is seriously good, solid advertising. Going back to your earlier question… I love creating campaigns that are absolutely going to work; everyday of the week and that is going to draw some creative respect as well. I think when you know that you’ve cracked those two things; the business and critical creative acclaim - that is exciting and I think we’ve done it for them. It’s a great business as well, good bunch of clients so I’m really looking forward to that. Going out the beginning of next year, 2012… Time flies.
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