The Industry Hot Lunch is a monthly series that brings together London’s top senior agency creatives and rising stars to highlight the next generation of creativity in the agency sector.
We sit down with VCCP’s ECD, Darren Bailes, and up-and-coming junior creative duo, James Rafter and Myles Vincent, at SE1 London gastropub, Great Guns Social. Over lemon butter calamari and African Volcano smoked salmon served up by visiting chef, Grant Hawthorne, the three discuss adland’s oddballs and myth-makers, the industry’s South-North divide, and who they’d invite to a Domino’s-laden feast.
(Main image from left: Myles, Darren, James)
Q> How did you get into advertising?
Darren Bailes, ECD> When I was at art college, we went on a field trip to see Geoff Turner at CDP. The receptionist told us he’d be back from lunch in nine minutes. The precision of it blew my mind and I became obsessed. I came from a small village in Durham where there was one shop that intermittently stocked Campaign. I read every word I could get my hands on. Gradually, I got a book together, made contacts with teams in London and here we are today.
Myles Vincent, junior creative> My creative advertising tutor at university was the craziest person I’d ever met. I knew then that there were going to be different and weird people in advertising and that was what attracted me.
James Rafter, junior creative> We both went to Watford Ad School and teamed up because no one else wanted to – it was like prom! It was essentially boot camp. We came out with a half decent book and were awarded at Cream. After a year of placements, we came to VCCP.
Q> Darren, why are you still in advertising? What motivates you?
Darren> I love it. I came to VCCP 10 years ago because I wanted to take what I had learnt and do incredible things. Since then, we’ve brought on great people and created ads that made us believe we can achieve whatever we want. Our world changed when we made the Meerkat campaign, which is still running successfully after a decade. We’re not scared of anyone - we love a pitch and we love to challenge the best agencies in the world. Right now, every team at VCCP is making something great. It’s a really exciting time.
Q> Compared to when you first started out, how different is it for young people entering the industry today?
Darren> It’s a different world. There was something really charming and organic about carrying a portfolio around town and having to meet people face to face. [Mother Founder] Robert Saville always used to say to hire the personality, then you can nurture the work. It’s harder now because you just get sent so many websites.
Q> Recently, we’ve seen young creatives going to extreme lengths to get noticed - like the graduate who recreated ‘Fearless Girl’ by painting herself gold and the creative team who offered execs a free lift to work in a black cab in exchange for a book crit. Is this an indication of how difficult it is to get your foot in the door these days or has that always been the case?
Darren> When I was at Mother, there were always creative teams outside with a flag or a placard, and they’d get invited in for a cup of tea and a biscuit to meet the team. I think it’s brilliant and I’d love to see more of it. We’re all a bit more polished and busy these days, so when people do make the effort it really stands out. It says, ‘I want this more than any of the others who just sent an email'.
Myles> You get an insight into that person and what they think about advertising. You know what their personality type is and that’s far more interesting than a random email.
James> It’s really clever. We’ve mentored and judged students wanting to get into advertising through Advertising Unlocked and VCCP Ad School week. The people who stick in your mind are the ones who actually take the time to send us thank you notes and updates.
Q> What qualities can’t you do without in advertising?
James> Tenacity. Working hard is probably the best trait when you’re starting out. Even when you get demoralising critiques, it’s about going back repeatedly until you’ve got that placement. If your project dies, you have to keep doing other ones.
Myles> Thick skin. You’ve got to learn how to take criticism with a pinch of salt and not take it too personally. Energy is also important when you’re just starting out in the industry.
Darren> You have to resist the temptation to relax once you’ve got a job because that’s when the speed and expectation begin to ramp up. The hardest thing is to keep up the momentum. It’s exhausting but you learn so much in those first few years.
James and Myles worked on VCCP's 'Dance' campaign for The FA, which launched earlier this year
Q> What can agencies be doing to retain talent?
Darren> Culture is everything. We work extremely hard at VCCP to make sure we’re looking after people. To retain talent, we need to be an enjoyable place to work and we’re hearing that people want more flexible working. What people want is massive opportunities - we’ve got some of the best briefs, clients, and opportunities that you can find in town. No two days are the same.
Myles> Variation is so important and a big reason you decide to go into advertising over any other kind of profession. It keeps you hungry and wanting to come in every day.
James> Since we joined VCCP, the number of clients we’ve won already is so varied. There are so many different sectors that you work on and it’s always exciting.
Q> If you had the power to change one thing about the industry, what would it be?
James> More time.
Myles> Always more time. Also, if there were more opportunities outside of London it might help combat obstacles into the industry like high rent. If you don’t have financial support, you’re kind of fucked.
James> Even when you do get an allowance from placements, it’s a struggle to cover the cost of rent, food, and travel. Lining those placements up is tricky too because they might get extended.
Darren> I do wish we saw more people in advertising from different walks of life. When I came to London to find work, I was on housing benefit (which never actually materialised) and that way to live doesn’t exist anymore. You end up with lots of lovely and very talented people but they’re generally from the South. It’s a shame because it means we have fewer oddballs and people who didn’t go to university who don’t have the option of commuting in or living with their parents.
Q> You’re throwing a dinner for your creative heroes; who would they be and what would be on the table?
James> We have a joint answer: Armando Iannucci because he wrote The Thick of It and The Death of Stalin, Charlie Brooker [Black Mirror writer] would be interesting, Christopher Nolan and also Hans Zimmer as a plus one. We’d also invite Banksy just to see who he really is. From advertising, we’d take our Watford tutor, Tony Cullingham.
Myles> And we’d serve beer and pizza.
Darren> It’s got to be Domino’s, right? [Laughter] For me, I’d mix it up: people like Tom [Carty] and Walt [Campbell], who did Guinness ‘Surfer’ and ‘Swimback’, because they were amazing. I remember being invited by them and Tony Kaye for a drink and being bowled over because they were the big personalities of the industry. They created myths and legends.
Take Graham Fink – he went to the British Arrows dressed as Robin Hood complete with a bow and quiver. It’s like the girl who painted herself gold. I love people who do that. It’s a shame because I think there are less of them now because we’re all much more ‘professional’ these days. I’d also invite David Fincher – who was one of my inspirations for getting into advertising - Ridley Scott, and finally, someone like Brad Bird from Pixar. I love that world; amazing storytelling coupled with cutting-edge technology. That’s my dinner party.
Myles ate African Volcano smoked salmon and James ate calamari in lemon butter from Chef Grant Hawthorne’s African Volcano menu at Great Guns Social.