Graham Lang’s appointment as chief creative officer at Toronto-based Juniper Park\TBWA was a case of “the right gig for the right guy at the right time,” he told LBB last week.
Last Tuesday, it was announced that South African Graham would be leaving his CCO post at Y&R South Africa to move to Canada and head up TBWA’s venture in the country, alongside CEO Jill Nykoliation. And while he’s undoubtedly excited to get started at TBWA - he moves in December (we hope he packs a warm coat) - the move has a bittersweet taste to it due to leaving his Y&R family, an agency he’s been with since 2008.
“I was in London at RKCR/Y&R for three years, working on the Land Rover business globally, and then went back to South Africa and worked there for over five years,” Graham says. “I’ve got massive love and respect for a lot of people at Y&R but you have to move forward and take an opportunity when it comes along.”
And that’s exactly what he’s done. Graham reveals that he wasn’t desperately looking for a new job - it was more about striking a chord with and sharing the same ideals as Jill from the get-go.
“We spoke on Skype and the chemistry was instant. It’s like watching a movie - after the first five minutes you kind of know whether it’s going to be good or bad. It was a similar thing,” he says. “The agency has great talent, incredible clients and are part of a great network, but I think her ambition is to really drive the creative product to the next level, and that really resonated with me.”
Canada marks a new market to work in for Graham. He thinks the work boasts an “understated cool” and is enthused by the amount of it that's strong. He does see room for improvement, however, and compares it to countries that “always seem to punch so far above their weight”, like New Zealand and his native South Africa. But at the end of the day, the market in which his new agency sits wasn’t so important in Graham’s decision – it was more to do with the agency itself.
“This decision was more about the agency and its borderless ethos and its ability to work on business anywhere,” he says “They manage business outside of Canada and have clients outside of Canada.”
The move to Canada from South Africa is one Graham’s excited for though. He’s a dad to three young sons and the prospect of moving to a huge metropolis like New York or London wasn’t so appealing – Toronto, he feels, will offer a steady balance of big city life and exposure to more family orientated living. “I hear the winter’s can get pretty cold though!” he jokes.
He’s also excited to be based in the same city as his main office. Y&R South Africa’s headquarters are in Johannesburg but Graham currently resides in Cape Town. “I spend a lot of my time on planes and in hotel rooms, so I’m super excited to live 20 minutes from the office.”
When pushed on his plans and aims for the agency, he is wary of saying too much too soon. “I’m always a little sceptical of people who devise these great schemes and plans before they’ve spent two minutes on the floor,” he says. For him, it’s more about settling in, getting to know the team and culture, and sensibly taking it from there - one step after the next.
“My plan is to immerse myself in the culture and begin to really understand it. As long as we know where we’re going, that’s the main thing,” Graham says. “It’s important to know what success looks like, what great work looks like, what a great studio feels like. For me, they are the classic principles - they haven’t ever changed and they won’t ever changed. There’s no secret, magic ingredient.”
Graham’s also especially excited to get to grips with the TBWA network as a whole. As part of his move, he’ll join its Global Creative Core, a group of creative leaders from across the network that are responsible for executing its ‘Disruption’ ethos. Due to chance encounters from across his career, he feels like he all ready has some TBWA blood in his creative veins.
“In my formative years in the industry, TBWA\Hunt Lascaris was the agency to beat in South Africa. They were a real superpower, I would say South Africa’s first world-class agency,” Graham muses. “But my mentor at Y&R, Tony Granger [the network’s current global CCO], came out of that TBWA\Hunt Lascaris school. So it feels like the culture that I learned from at Y&R has almost been drilled down from TBWA.
“They have iconic offices all over the world and it has a mercurial factor about it. The more I learn about it and look under the hood, the more I find that interests and excites me.”