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Creativity Squared: Keith Otter on Finding Opportunity in Every Brief

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Intermark CCO on moving from his career as a professional soccer player and failed kids TV presenter into his current role

Creativity Squared: Keith Otter on Finding Opportunity in Every Brief

After a short lived career as a professional soccer player and failed kids TV presenter, Londoner Keith decided to embark on a far more sensible career as an advertising creative. While working at some of advertising’s most prestigious agencies, Keith helped to shape some of the world’s biggest brands, winning almost every award known to advertising kind along the way. After nearly twenty years of cricket, jellied eels, chimney sweeps, and Morris Dancing, he decided to head for sunnier climes and new challenges on the “other side of the pond.”

Since arriving at Intermark, he has raised the already high creative bar, helping the agency gain recognition from Cannes Lion, One Show, Communication Arts and The Webby Awards. Keith can often be seen slumped at his computer with a tear in his eye, not because he is missing home, but because of his team West Ham’s horrendous form.


Person

I’m a 'There’s always more paste in the tube' kind of guy. I believe you can find opportunity in every brief. Sometimes you may have to squeeze a little harder, and prod and probe a little more than you’d like, but that’s when the unexpected and the fun stuff happens. 

I see myself as an enthusiastic optimist, sprinkled with a light dusting of realist.

I suppose like a sponge with eyes, I’m intensely curious. The world is huge and amazing place, there’s so much to see, and learn.

I believe that there is creativity in all of us, it’s all about how it’s nurtured and channeled.

I consider myself an introvert who has learnt to live in an extrovert’s world. I’m very happy in my own company, but through necessity I’ve learned to step up and behave nicely in crowds.

I’m easily distracted, thinking is hard work. Routine, helps me focus and be disciplined about what I do. Otherwise…oh look there’s a cloud that looks like a cow riding a unicycle. 

I think I’m always exploring, curiosity is in the DNA of all creatives. I love what I do, and am so lucky to be doing it for money. That means, when I’m not working (pardon the cliche) I’m doing “work like” things: photography, painting, writing, and generally just making things, it helps me stay sane.


Product

Normally, the first thought that runs across my mind when I see great work is “You bastards! I wish I’d done that.” That’s the initial gut check. Then there’s the deeper, more intellectual side of things. Why did it make me feel that way, and how? It’s the insight, and emotional connection that’s all important. The ability to look at something in a different way, and then show it in way that makes the audience really feel something.

As for my criteria shifting over the years? No, not for me. The mediums may have changed but a great idea is still a great idea. Just look back at classic movies, innovations, and yes, even ads over the years if the idea is powerful enough it resonates as much now as ever.

The two campaigns that stand out to me are the Mohawk Flooring - Zoo Challenge, and Alabama Tourism - Take it all in. Although they’re both very different, at the core they’re both very similar. Unique insights, big, bold, simple ideas that transcend the media, emotionally compelling, and both incredibly successful.

In the last two years so much has changed with the pandemic, and now the war in Europe. It’s brave new world, which is very scary and exciting at the same time. I think I can see that reflected in the work right now. Some brands are really going for it, while others are going back into their shell, so very much a mixed bag. What really excites me is the fact that there is so much change. Change means things are more dynamic, people are being forced to look at things in new and fresh ways, and from that comes innovation, creativity, and opportunity.


Process

When it comes to making great work, I think the best work starts with a great brief, and finishes with a great client. 

For me it’s the good old fashioned paper and pen. 

I try and get as much down as I can, I prod and poke, any and all thoughts no matter how wild or crazy. I leave them alone for a bit and then go back sift through the ideas to see which ones rise to top or spark something else.

I’ve been on some crazy 'creative' workshops where we’ve had to write ads inspired by completely random imagery, played hide and seek, and even hugged and presented to trees. I could see some sense behind some of the thinking but for just seemed like a waste of time.

Fortunately, with experience I think you never start with a blank sheet of paper. The more you do this stuff the more you learn, the more tools you have in the shed, and the bigger leg up you have when that brief lands on your desk. I’m constantly pinning and bookmarking inspirations for projects, sometimes those inspirations are even enough to trigger an unsolicited campaign.

It's all about collaboration - I’m not smart enough to do this stuff my own. It’s that whole notion of two minds being greater than one, taking an idea to a totally unexpected place together. I do spend some time by myself to digest the brief, to internalize thoughts and structure my thinking. Then get together with others, bounce ideas around and see where we end up.

If I get stuck, which is fairly often, I force myself to stop thinking about whatever it is I’m supposed to be thinking about. Then I take a walk, chat with people, watch a movie, etc. More often than not, my subconscious is thinking about these things and the solution will magically pop into my head or I’ll see something I hadn’t noticed before because I was too close to it. Take a step back, unclog your mind.

One never wants to over guild the lily, sometimes I’ve seen executions taken too far and the idea has gotten lost, when you reach that point it’s time to stop, the idea has to be the number one thing that shines.


Press

I grew up in London. I wasn’t so hot academically so for me it was either art or sport. When I left school I played football for a bit, but obviously that didn’t work out, so it was  art rather than unemployment. 

I’m still learning every day. The only way you get better at stuff is by hard work, listening, and lots of practice. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some super talented people, I’ve asked lots of stupid questions, and messed up many times, somehow, along the way, bits of it have managed to stick. 

I certainly thrive on pressure, there’s nothing like a deadline to concentrate ones thoughts and get your arse into gear. My own personal high expectations are also an added pressure, I can never let myself settle for just okay. Short deadlines often mean less complicated, simple solutions. Plus, less time for clients to change minds and tinker. That being said the percentages of producing the best work fall dramatically with less time, while the chances of a blood vessel popping on my forehand rise greatly, so not every brief, please.

I always think the best clients get the best work. The best clients are partners, they let their agencies do what they pay them for, listen, take their advice, let them do great work, then they take all the credit for it.

Do great work. Be open to new ideas. And as more and more people work remotely concentrate on connectivity and culture as they are now more important than ever.

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Intermark, Mon, 11 Apr 2022 13:13:58 GMT