Paul Collins is not the sort of creative to have a chip on his shoulder – although, he does have one embedded in his hand in case he loses his keys.
Paul moved from the UK to Scandinavia in the late ‘90s, hopped across the pond in 2009 to work in New York at KBS and AKQA, before returning to Sweden in 2012. Today, he is Nordic executive creative director at Publicis Sapient where he heads up the agency’s experience design offering.
In August, Paul will journey from one great innovation nation to another to judge AD STARS 2019 in South Korea, where he’s hoping to discover ideas that become part of each brand’s eco-system – as opposed to celebrating one-off campaigns that are too soon forgotten. Reporter Lee Patten caught up with him to talk about everything from hybrid agency models to Sweden’s pervasive entrepreneurial mindset.
LBB> Where did you grow up and what kind of kid were you?
Paul> I was brought up in Rowlands Gill, a small village in the North East of England. My childhood was spent being the joker of the pack, and success was based on how many jokes you could pack into one sentence.
LBB> You moved to Sweden from the UK. What drew you to the Scandinavian way of life?
Paul> I fell in love with a Swede (now my wife) in Greece in the early '90s and the rest is history.
LBB> What are your main ambitions for Publicis Sapient in the coming year?
Paul> My main objective is to keep on pushing work out into the world that helps brands better connect with their customers. I still like the ambition of ideas that unite people and become a cultural movement. If this is the bar, it will require the entire agency to view problem-solving as everyone's brief.
LBB> Is the advertising industry in Northern Europe adapting more effectively to UX and digital than in some other parts of the world?
Paul> I do think we are pushing the digital envelope, especially when it comes to the Nordics. Sweden has a massive digital maturity, partially due to its early broadband penetration and infrastructure. It is also ranked as the second most innovative country in the world, and living in a country where everyone is constantly being exposed to unicorns has influenced our ability to snap up the latest tech, and onboard a more entrepreneurial mindset.
LBB> Where do agencies need to break from 'tradition', and what should they retain?
Paul> We are living in times of change, and there is a lot of speculation on what makes a sustainable model for how we conduct business. I do believe the communication agency model is under extreme pressure. Looking at some recent statistics from Sweden – agencies are usually up for a competitive review after only two years – meaning you've just gotten over the honeymoon period before you find yourself having to re-pitch the work.
Having a foothold only in the upper marketing funnel isn't a sound bet. We need a model where we can deliver value end-to-end across the entire customer lifecycle. I think success is the hybrid model using traits of management consultancy, with the artistic flair of the creative communication shop. One thing I'm sure of is that we as an industry need to look harder at the business value our work can create, shifting the optics from campaign ideas to the evergreen ones.
LBB> What do you like to do in your spare time to unwind?
Paul> What spare time are you referring to?
LBB> Technology provides creatives with a broader canvas, but when does it go wrong?
Paul> For me, technology is an enabler – it allows us to make the craziest of ideas come to life. I love to look ahead (Gartner's hype cycle is an excellent place to start) and see what's going to create disruption, or can be used to deliver differentiation.
Last year, I had a chip implant inserted into my hand. I wanted to understand how this passive piece of technology could resolve a pain-point for me (I'm forever losing my keys). Today, I access the office using my hand. The point is that we all need to obsess about the future and the possibilities technology can unlock, no pun intended. The one thing to recognise is that technology is not an idea; you will still need to pair this with some smart thinking that's grounded in a humanistic insight or behaviour.
LBB> What sort of advertising will we be experiencing in 2029?
Paul> Let me quote from a great read – Speculative Everything by Fiona Raby and Anthony Dunne – “those who try to predict the future often end up dead wrong.”
I believe there will always be a need to market products or services, but the formats we consume will be very different. Technology will continue to enable endless possibilities, but one thing I can say with certainty is that human behaviour isn't changing that dramatically. As long as we don't lose sight of this, I'm sure we will continue to encounter amazing things.
LBB> Ads are becoming far less static by reacting to real time data. What’s your advice for using data effectively?
Paul> The more data we can mine, the more relevant and contextual we can become for sure. You can see how the Facebooks and Googles of the world are using our data to predict our next moves – but the way data is deployed is very functional. I do think that data can inform, but the way it's delivered needs massaging, to resonate on a more emotional level.
LBB> You're coming to Busan, South Korea as a final judge this year. What are you hoping to see at AD STARS 2019?
Paul> I'm hoping to see customer experiences that help position a brand (while staying true to their values), and ideas that become a part of the brand’s eco-system – as opposed to one-off campaigns.
Paul Collins will attend AD STARS 2019 as a Final Judge. The festival runs from August 22nd to 24th 2019 in Busan, South Korea. www.adstars.org