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Meet the Melbourne Local Championing Young Talent the World Over

London, UK
YGA co-founder & Leo Burnett Melbourne ECD Jason Williams on judging creativity and what drives locals to shine on a global stage

This year’s batch of YoungGuns International Advertising Award winners have been announced and they include a talented bunch who have been celebrated for their work on campaigns including #LikeAGirl, K9FM and Penny the Pirate. YGA founder and Leo Burnett Melbourne executive creative director Jason Williams catches up with LBB's Larissa Meikle to discuss championing the work of today’s under-30 creative influencers.

The only festival specifically designed to foster young creative talent and now in its 13th year, YoungGuns is respected globally for molding the future of young superstars and creative organisations.

Founded by Williams, alongside Kristian Barnes and Michael Kean, the founding principle and purpose of YGA is to support emerging talent. Those whose potential is just starting to be realised, the ones who will change the world we live in and the ones who others will aspire to be in a few years.

YGA is the only show that truly focuses on young talent, providing a window to the creative leaders and influencers of tomorrow. A barometer if you like. 

“The majority of global shows are judged by the ‘more experienced generation’,” said Williams, on the award show’s unique point of difference. “YGA provides a platform that solely recognises the exceptional ability of our youngest industry and student talent.” 

What truly sets YGA apart is its peer-to-peer judging. Each jury member (aside from the chair person) is 18 to 29 years old. “It has proven to be a fantastic process and a great training ground for these future creative leaders,” he said.

Commenting on the highlights of the show, Williams says the founders are most proud of facilitating a world stage where young entrants can shine and emerging creatives can hone their judging skills.

“We love the enthusiasm and energy they bring to the week. The way they analyse ideas is often very different to the way more established judges evaluate work, including me. They’re natives to technology and social media and understand more complex ideas that are often overlooked by older jurors.” 

Being exposed to many great ideas over the years, he admits that since starting the show there has been a profound change in the industry.

“Our appetite for technology has driven this rapid transformation; consumers are far more sophisticated now and they want more immersive brand experiences. I love that creativity changes so rapidly now; the possibilities for all of us are endless.”
When asked what avenues of support his hometown industry offers up-starters, Williams says Melbourne adlanders have an honest and genuine willingness to help aspiring creatives.  

“Examples that spring to mind are all of the amazing people that give their time to tutor Award School students and attend lectures that inspire the next generation of graduates at RMIT. Of course, you can’t help everyone, but Leo Burnett’s culture encourages our creative leaders to nurture. I’m particularly proud of the support our creative guys offer the next up and comers and the success they’ve had with them so far.”

Having judged a variety of award shows, both locally and abroad – including D&AD, Cannes, Clio, New York Festival and AWARD, Williams says singling out the success of Melbourne’s creative shows and organisations, including the Melbourne Art Directors Club (MADC), is a tricky task.

“As I said before, the Melbourne creative community is very strong. MADC is a brilliant and necessary organisation, but unfortunately there are just too many shows these days and budgets only stretch so far. International and national recognition is what we all hunt for. I believe MADC’s role is to foster and inspire our wonderful community and that doesn’t necessarily have to manifest itself in an award show.” 

In 2012, MADC awarded Williams Creative Leader of the Year, a title he was proud but humble to receive: “To be recognised by your local industry is cool but personal recognition such as this only exists because of the many amazing people at Leo Burnett that help to make it possible.”

Last year he was also invited on the jury of the first ever Cannes Chimera mentor panel for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, an organisation with over 1,100 people working to develop vaccinations for Polio and AIDS, agriculture, poverty (15 per cent of people in the world live in extreme poverty) and family planning.

So what is the Cannes Chimera? It is an initiative by the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that aims to use the creative power of communication professionals around the world to do good.

The Cannes Chimera offers the ultimate creative brief. Come up with ground breaking communication ideas that will change the conversation about aid and curb cynicism. Research shows that many of us don’t believe aid is working for many reasons: corrupt governments, money not reaching recipients, over saturation of charities and advertising. 

A brief is posted periodically and the best ten ideas are then awarded a development grant of $100,000, and the finalists are flown to a special university session to meet with the Cannes Chimera for two days.

The Chimera’s role is to work with the finalists to make their ideas better. After this process, the finalists have the opportunity to go back to the Gates Foundation and apply for $1,000,000 to make their idea a reality. “To sit on The Chimera you need to have won a Cannes Lion Grand Prix. I am fortunate to have done that,” Williams explained. 

“I’ve been involved for a few years now and recently returned from my second Chimera workshop in Seattle. It’s two intense days working alongside an inspiring ‘super group’ of global creative leaders. We work closely with the entrants to improve their submissions, with the aim that they get through to the next level of funding.”

He says judging ideas of such global scale is incredibly difficult and over the past three Chimeras’ the jury has been improving the judging process to be more precise.

“We need to ensure the best submissions make the workshop in Seattle, and out of a thousands entrants each year, only five will make it through. This means the chances of ultimate success (obtaining funding) are incredibly tough. The ‘chosen ideas’ need to be so foolproof that they almost guarantee success, and we can all appreciate how rare it is to crack the Holy Grail! The quest continues.”

With finely tuned experience judging work from all over the world, when it comes to recognising the work of YGA entrants Williams says innovation and entrepreneurialism rise to the top.
“What excites me most are effective, business-changing ideas.” (This year’s YGA winners have been announced. Check out the line up of future thinking at:


Over at Leo Burnett Melbourne, Williams says the agency has seen great results with #SPCSunday, Slurpee Xpandinator and Honda HR-V of late. 

“Our clients are incredibly open-minded and brave. They respond to our entrepreneurial spirit, which drives our high standard of creativity and commitment to innovation.”

Working closely with Leo Burnett Melbourne general manager Patrick Rowe and CEO Melinda Geertz, Williams says the executive team prides themselves on collaboration: “In my eyes, it’s the only way to foster the creative process. We have a strong respect for each other’s thinking and encourage our teams to take risks.”

When it comes to seeing YGA come to life and prosper he also credits industry collaboration as playing a key role. “Over the journey we’ve had so many amazing people help us, from our incredible jury chairs to a variety of industry companies that support us. YGA is a labour of love and our roles outside of the show are very demanding, so our families are the most amazing supporters of all.” 

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