Art director Megan Naude and senior copywriter Dimitri Leontakianakis met two years ago over talk of a chicken schnitzel at the M&C Saatchi Abel office, and after a Cannes Young Lions project, the rest was history.
Now at TBWA\Dublin, the pair share the same sense of humour and have balance when it comes to honing the creative process. Their separate ways of approaching a task and differences with being sensitive and aware, versus trusting the process, means they have a supporting partner to share successes with.
LBB> How did you two meet?
Dimitri> We weren’t immediately working partners, but we were immediate friends and it all started with a chicken schnitzel, as most good things do. Megan arrived at M&C Saatchi Abel in Johannesburg as an art director and before asking her what she did, I asked her “do ya like schnitz?” – if the answer was no, I don’t think we’d be here. Months later our executive creative director at the time paired us up to see if our friendship would make for a good creative partnership (often, they don’t) but luckily it did.
LBB> What were your first impressions of each other – and have they changed?
Dimitri> I’ll answer this one with what my first impression of Meg wasn’t. When I saw her for the first time, I definitely didn’t think, “that must be the new finance person” – she was wearing about 13 different colours at once, and spoke about Harry Potter within five minutes of meeting her. Safe to say my first impression hasn’t changed.
Megan> My first impression of Dimitri was immediately knowing we would be great friends, I realised very quickly that he shares my sense of humour, which is always a great foundation for any partnership, plus his sneaker game was on fire. I was also amazed at how witty he was. I’m still sometimes amazed at the ideas that come from his mind, and he’s still my best friend to this day, so my impression hasn’t changed that much.
LBB> What was the first project you worked on together? How was that process?
Dimitri & Megan> Cannes Young Lions. Absolutely brutal. The brief was to make a short film about how millions of schoolgirls in South Africa aren’t able to attend school because of a lack of access to menstrual products i.e. ‘period poverty’. We loved the piece that we made but hated how little time we had to make it (as usual). We landed on an idea that we thought was sure to win the whole damn thing and started developing it at a rate of knots – later that day when gloating about the idea to some of our colleagues, we heard the dreaded “I’m sure I’ve heard that line before” – and they had. Word for word. So it was back to the drawing board with 12 hours to go. This was also when we found out that Dimitri can sleep almost anywhere and Megan can’t brainstorm without chocolate. End of the day, we got some work over the line and decided that we should definitely work together again if given the chance.
LBB> Why do you think you complement each other?
Dimitri> Megan’s boundless optimism and energy keeps my cynicism in check, and sometimes my cynicism stops us from pitching an activation on the moon when the brief is to roll out a suite of display banners. I think both sides have a place when it comes to creative partnership.
Megan> We understand each other, I know how he thinks and he knows how I think. I have a very ‘no limits’ approach to the work that we do, whereas he is better at considering the logic of the situation at hand, sometimes reigning me in from going off on a conceptual rampage. We’re also really good at handling one another’s emotions and reactions to situations in the workplace – he says, “no big deal” when I say, “fire!!!” and vice versa.
LBB> Is there anything that can frustrate you about each other? Or that you disagree on?
Dimitri & Megan> Most of the time we’re pretty aligned, and trust each other to make the right call – however, we do not under any circumstances discuss our opinions on Taylor Swift’s ‘All Too Well’.
LBB> How do you approach creative disagreement?
Dimitri & Megan> Very often it’s an “I hear what you’re saying, but…” and the one that can rationalise why an idea should live or die with the most reason wins. But, peace prevails most of the time, and we don’t live for the proverbial “I told you so,” which is really important. We try not to sweat the small stuff and don’t hold a funeral every time an idea dies – because we believe there will always be another one.
LBB> What is the collaboration that you’re most proud of?
Dimitri & Megan> We did a TV ad for Nando’s in South Africa entitled ‘Scamandla’ which felt more like a crime drama spoof than it did an advert – which is pretty cool for a chicken restaurant. It was one of those ideas that didn’t change much from Word doc to final product and that’s always really rewarding. It was brave and a little risky, particularly because of the political climate in South Africa at the time, some of the references we made took on some pretty big players – but it paid off and earned us some silverware in the process – and some free chicken.
LBB> What are the benefits of having a creative partner or regular collaborate in the industry?
Dimitri> A creative partner is a great sounding board. When you go at it alone, sometimes you bomb your own ideas before giving them a real chance. Having a creative partner that you trust gives you the space to say or try the things that you usually wouldn’t, and that’s where the good stuff comes from. Not being afraid to sound stupid is a gift in the ad game and for me, having a partner like Meg has given me the bravery to do exactly that.
Megan> I always tell Dimitri “when one of us goes down, we both go down”, but really, it helps to always have someone you can share everything with, ideas, frustrations, awards. A good partnership is incredibly hard to find and we got lucky because we’ve been together through a lot of different creative challenges, and somehow we’ve managed to solve them one way or another. I can’t one hundred per cent say what the outcome would have been in my career had I had to go at it alone, or with somebody else. We have each other’s backs and I don’t think you need anything more than that.
LBB> Tell us about a recent project that involved some interesting creative challenges that you overcame together.
Dimitri & Megan> We’ve spent our whole advertising career in South Africa but have recently taken up the challenge of working in Ireland at TBWA\Dublin. Our most interesting creative challenge landed as soon as we started working on some Irish accounts, in particular on a brand that is involved in youth development and upliftment across Ireland. The brief was to create a campaign that spoke to an Irish audience between the ages of 11 and 17 – a very cynical and discerning audience, that really needs to be engaged to care about what you’re saying. The most challenging bits were, “How do Irish people speak?”, “How do Irish young people speak?” and “How the hell do we make cool work without sounding contrived?”
Overcoming this challenge was made easier by our colleagues and the client. A great deal of patience was required on their part to educate us on some things we didn’t know, and on our end, we needed to trust in the process and not freak out when we didn’t know what was going on. Bottom line – if you don’t know, ask.
LBB> What or who inspires you and your work - another creative duo perhaps?
Dimitri> For me, most of my inspiration comes from the worlds of film and music, and there are some duos from both sides that really inspire me. The screenwriting and storytelling prowess of the Coen Brothers has always excited me and made me want to make some cool stuff of my own. Then from a music point-of-view, André 3000 and Big Boi from Outkast – two completely different dudes who together, created something larger than life.
Megan> I’ve always been inspired by film and books. The very first inspiration I ever had was Hans Christian Andersen, a person who was initially cast out for their wild imagination. On an ingenuity level, the masterpiece that is ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse’ has always made me think “man I wish I made that. From an aesthetic perspective, Wes Andersen’s ‘Isle of Dogs’ and ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ definitely influence a lot of my work.
LBB> Do you enjoy socialising together outside of work? If so, what do you get up to?
Dimitri & Megan> Eating. Not just because of the food – but because some of our best ideas happen sat around the table, after we promised one another that we weren’t going to talk about work.
LBB> What have you learned from each other?
Dimitri> Megan has taught me how to be more sensitive and aware, at work and in the world. But the biggest lesson that she’s taught me is to always believe in unicorns – especially when everybody else is saying they don’t exist.
Megan> I’ve certainly learned to be much more relaxed. I used to take everything very seriously and worried about everything being perfect all the time. Dimitri has shown me that we can still be successful, make the coolest work and get everything done, whilst also making mistakes along the way. He’s also taught me that the idea of ‘winning’ is about us being proud of our work, proud of each other and nothing else.