Art, technology and maverick thinkers are the honey to Mark Chalmers’ bee. In 2004 these obsessions led him to co-found Creative Social, a gathering of pioneers which has evolved into an international movement. In 2013, they led him to Tribal DDB where he has just been installed as ECD. Laura Swinton caught up with Mark to find out about the future of digital, the importance of architecture and holding art residencies in his garage.
LBB> What is it about Tribal DDB that made it such a great fit for you right now?
MC> To give some context, my vices are art, technology and commerce. Art is essentially my umbilical cord into the world. It is culture and to me, translating that is the currency of creativity. Technology and commerce, they speak for themselves and all three are most interesting together. The fit with Tribal DDB is the opportunity with these.
I spent my early years in the industry proclaiming a digital world - now it is the world. 'Social' has come out of that and will continue to be about establishing etiquette and products - they're all getting connected up.
Tribal DDB is there to make the most of this world now and prepare brands for tomorrow, ambitious brands which know it's important to use creativity in order to progress. They have structure and scale and I value that.
LBB> And what are you hoping to bring as ECD?
MC> I've always believed good relationships make good work. The closer we can collaborate with our clients and partners, the closer we can work together with shared goals, the better we can do, and the more real and rewarding opportunities we can make.
LBB> What sort of child were you?
MC> Outdoors and up a tree.
LBB> You studied architecture before moving into advertising – what inspired the switch and what sort of foundation (pardon the pun!) did your architecture training lay for your subsequent career?
MC> Good architecture is a cultural mirror and if it has any sort of soul I consider it a brand environment. Architecture taught me to think and work spatially. Fast forward to now and it's no different to how we should think about online or our interaction with all the things around us. Architecture is great. It helped me understand people, places and behaviour.
LBB> If you were starting out in the industry again, what piece of advice would you give yourself?
MC> Edit until you feel like crying. Go with an idea and make it brilliant. Throw everything else away (early).
LBB> Are awards important to you? If so, why? If not, why not?
MC> Work that gets naturally adopted and embraced is far more important to me than the art of the award. But I recognise and value the importance of awards and the ecosystem around them. Judging work, for example, is really valuable for inspiration, debate, friendships and collaboration.
LBB> What was the trigger that motivated you to found Creative Social, and how has it evolved since 2004?
MC> A couple of triggers. Firstly a new wave of great curious creative individuals and mavericks, interested in technology and culture - advertising was how they could get paid. Secondly, many of us were doing public speaking engagements in bad hotels with bad coffee and packed agendas.
We started Creative Social to unite the mavericks, share knowledge, enjoy each other's company, and meet interesting people in interesting places (with great coffee).
How has it evolved? We're still doing it and our program has extended. There are many ways to get involved. Follow our twitter on @creativesocial. We're focusing on supporting new talent right now.
LBB> And how has being involved in such creative conversations over the years influenced your approach to your own work?
MC> At every global Creative Social, the next one Tokyo in April, and Helsinki in Autumn, 35 of the most inspiring people you may ever meet in this industry take a few minutes to stand up and share something they are working on right now. 35 short stories of excellence and too many ideas to effectively steal. I would say all Socials have learnt to see a gem of an idea and build on it, to be inspired and then apply it to their own situation.
What's come out of all the creative conversations is recognising that being precious or protective doesn't work today and great things come from sharing.
LBB> Back in 2010, Creative Social launched a book on the past, present and future of digital advertising – have any of your predictions changed since then?
MC> None of them. We predicted the future and it's great.
LBB> One of the biggest shifts in digital and social has come about thanks to the rise of the smartphone – where do you see the next catalyst coming from?
MC> It'll be the evolving use of them. The smartphone is the interface to everything around us. It's how we find places, hail a cab, check our budgets - and the uses will increase as brands become services and services become brands. One by one everything in our homes will be connected. It's starting with light bulbs, thermostats… off we go. It won't be more battery packs for our smartphones; it'll be electricity generators for our houses. Yep, you will be able to hack a house.
LBB> Which recent projects of yours – advertising or personal – have resonated most with you?
MC> 'The garage' is a pretty special project and it continues to resonate: ongoing art residencies and shows that I hold in my garage, albeit a 17th century canal side garage with a bit of decayed glory.
What I've enjoyed experiencing with art is that it cuts through social groups, and brings together all types of people from all sorts of places, backgrounds and industries. New connections, new friends.