In October 2020 Imogen Tazzyman returned to McCann Manchester, the first agency she ever worked for. Having spent the past four years working as creative director at Karmarama in London, this time she returned to the north of England to take on the role of executive creative director.
Only a few months into her role, she’s already worked on the most watched Christmas TV ad on YouTube, for toy brand Smyths.
LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with her to hear her advertising origin story, how her early days as a creative influence how she approaches creative leadership and to remind everyone again that there are other places in the UK beyond London.
LBB> Where did you grow up and what were you like as a kid? Any clues about your creative tendencies?
Imogen> I grew up in Oldham [in Greater Manchester, England] and I was forever drawing, painting and making stuff.
My mum likes to remind me that she didn’t get a new dining table until I left home, as whatever stage I was at – from primary school to uni – I used it as a cutting mat. Sorry Alison. (Side note – I just messaged my mum to ask her what I was like as a child. ‘Very focused, single-minded, difficult to deflect’. Make of that what you will.)
I was also very into maths, which might not seem like a natural pairing, but I think I enjoyed the contrast. There is always a right and wrong answer in maths, and never in creative subjects. Flipping between the two helped me indulge both sides of my personality in that sense. In fact, it’s probably why I like the freedom of a tight brief these days.
LBB> When did you first take an interest in advertising?
Imogen> No one in our family has ever worked in the industry. Our family career history reads like a Happy Families hand – teacher, policeman, gardener. But funnily enough when I was little I used to prefer the adverts to the programmes – I used to drive my older sister mad by wanting to fast forward our James Bond videos to get to the break.
However, I had no idea advertising existed as a career. Luckily, the degree I ended up doing at Manchester Met introduced a brilliant guest lecturer in the third year, Ken Davis, who was a CD from a local advertising agency. He came in every week, set us a brief, and (probably fairly) ripped our poor results to pieces, but he totally opened my eyes to the possibilities of our industry, and instilled a work ethic in me that hasn’t left me to this day, namely get your ass to your desk every day, because when you get a job you’re going to be chained to it. He wasn’t far wrong.
(The short answer to this question is that I saw Sony Balls
for the first time and it blew my mind.)
LBB> How did that lead to you becoming a creative? What were those early years like?
Imogen> Ken was the one who encouraged me and my then partner to get out there on placement through our final year. Some of our fellow students couldn’t believe we weren’t concentrating on our final show – we couldn’t believe they were. And it paid off, because we landed ourselves our first job, at McCann Manchester, straight after graduating.
The early years were one massive learning curve. I only wish I’d embraced them slightly more. It’s a unique time in your career that you can’t get back. You’ve no real client responsibility, in fact your responsibility should be to make people think ‘we can’t do that – can we?’. I now do the classic (annoying) ‘these should be your best ideas / the time of your life’ thing in book crits with young creatives. It’s all I can do to avoid saying the beyond annoying ‘have fun with it’.
LBB> You’ve worked in Manchester and London before returning to McCann Manchester. What are the main differences between working in an agency in those cities?
Imogen> I’d probably rather talk about the similarities. The drive, the ambition, the determination to make good work is as strong (if not stronger) in the North. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some incredibly talented people in both places. The only difference is we seem to have to shout about our successes louder up here. If nothing else, I’d like to think this pandemic has reminded people that talent doesn’t just have to live in the confines of the magical M25.
LBB> McCann has much better geographic distribution in the UK than most network agencies. What are your thoughts on advertising being made outside of London? It seems all the more relevant in the past year since offices have sat so empty!
Imogen> For so many of the brands that come to us, getting out of the London bubble mindset is absolutely key. One of the things that attracted me to McCann and back again was the fact that whenever you want to tap into a particular geographical mindset, there is always an actual person at the end of the phone you can just have a chat with. We create meaningful roles for brands in people’s lives – you can’t do that without understanding people from every walk of life.
LBB> What frustrates you most about the advertising industry today?
Imogen> On some subjects, we do a lot of saying and not as much doing. The lack of diversity and inclusion in our industry has long been talked about – taking action is the problem. For example, I’m one of only 3% of ECDs that are female. That stat is relatively well known and widely quoted – and yet it hasn’t changed for years. In fact for female CDs, the numbers are going down. We’re all very good at making case study films about that time when we changed Mr Brand to Mrs Brand – are we actually doing enough?
LBB> And what about it most excites you?
Imogen> The fact that I have a chance to change the above. I’m in a position where I can hire. Where I can influence the statistics. And McCann Manchester is full of incredible people on the same mission.
LBB> What work are you most proud of creating recently and why?
Imogen> I think anyone that got anything out of the door in the past year deserves a Lion at the very least. So in a massive cop out of an answer, I’m proud of everything our team achieved over lockdown.
Actually that said, we had some incredible results on our latest Smyths campaign. It was the most watched Christmas TV ad on YouTube, that felt good.
LBB> You’ve had a few months to settle into your new role as ECD. What are your big priorities and what do you find yourself thinking about most in the role?
Imogen> My big priorities have never changed. I want to make great work with good people. I spend most of my days making sure that continues to happen. And wondering if it will ever be acceptable to eat a banana on Teams. (Negative.)
LBB> What lessons have you taken from working through the pandemic so far? And what do you think will be permanent?
Imogen> I’ve always believed ideas can come from anywhere, and I hope remote working has finally proved that once and for all. I can cast anyone, from anywhere in the world, regardless of whether or not they can get into the office. That’s exciting and I hope it continues.
One thing I’d love to lose is the seemingly constant new ways of getting hold of people. Between Teams, Zoom, text, WhatsApp, email and every other social platform out there, it takes me 10 minutes of searching before I can work out how someone got hold of me in the first place before I can even begin to craft a response. Wow, do I miss walking over to a desk to ask someone something.
LBB> Lots of people started new hobbies or creative projects in 2020. How have you been filling your time in lockdown?
Imogen> I think it’s safe to say that lockdown divided us into two camps – those who completed Netflix, and those of us with small children. I have a toddler and we just bought a puppy. What’s spare time?