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.
For the series’ second instalment, we sit down with Ogilvy UK’s Head of Business to Business, Sam Williams-Thomas, and Art Director, Ran Stallard, at SE1 London gastropub, Great Guns Social. Over cod and mussels served up by visiting pop-up restaurant, fodder, the two debate old-school presentism vs productivity, why that cold email could be your lucky ticket, and who they’d bring to the table with for a ‘Come Dine with Me’-style pot-luck banquet.
Q> How did you get into advertising?
Sam> I think most people put their job down to a lucky break. Like many students, I had no idea what I could do. I was inspired by an older friend working in advertising and thought I could do that. In those days, there were (Ran, block your ears!) no emails. So, I wrote hundreds of letters and got two replies. I actually got a place on one of the very first grad training schemes with Ogilvy.
Ran> My mum’s an artist and I grew up with her always encouraging my creative pursuits. I was interested in advertising but knew nothing about it, so I did a lot of digging on Google and sent a cold email to someone at an agency. He very kindly told me about School of Communication Arts, which I went on to attend. I was at a presentation night for the Cream Awards when I was approached by Gerry Human [Global ECD, Global Brand Management Ogilvy & Mather]. It was a question of good timing, hard work and a bit of luck.
Q> Why are you still in advertising? What motivates you?
Sam> I’ve been at Ogilvy for 18 years now. Having to constantly be ahead of the game has kept me going. There are so many different careers you can have at a global network, and I’ve had about three or four during my time at Ogilvy. Then there’s the people, who I admire, and the strong and collaborative culture that have kept me there.
Ran, you’ve worked on some incredible campaigns such for Greenpeace and the hugely relatable Babylon campaign - what motivates you?
Ran> I feel like I’m just getting going. Projects take a long time to come to fruition so you have to have a certain level of commitment and dig your heels in. People mention the glamour of Facebook and Google, and there are certain aspects that make the idea of working at a tech giant appealing. That said, I love advertising that’s tangible. I get such a thrill from seeing a big billboard or press ads, so I feel a bit too early on in my career to specialise in something so predominantly digital.
Q>Sam, compared to when you first started out, how different is it for young people in the industry today?
Sam> I think the principles of what we’re trying to do are exactly the same but technology has changed the way we look for talent and the type of talent we look for. We used to look for talent by their particular disciplines, now we want people who are great at coming up with ideas and solutions. We also used to assume that everyone was a graduate, but now we want great craftspeople and communicators, no matter what they previously studied and from every background. That’s sparked more apprenticeships, which is a huge positive change for our industry.
Q> What qualities can’t you do without in advertising?
Sam> This may sound cliché but curiosity is absolutely critical. Resilience, bravery, and courage too – even if you have talent, there’s something to be said for standing up and making your voice heard.
Ran> As a junior, that can be daunting. Sometimes you want to disagree with the CCO and it’s more valuable if you do than if you keep your silence. It’s also important to find the right way to do it. Resilience is the top one for me, coming from the perspective of starting out in the industry, because you hear ‘no’ a lot. I’d also say boundless energy, because - particularly when you’re young and don’t know that much - you can make up for the gaps in knowledge and experience with energy, enthusiasm, and optimism. And, of course, talent goes without saying.
Q> What can agencies be doing to retain talent?
Sam> I think younger people want more from their work environment. It’s not all about the money anymore - they value experiences and opportunities for growth. We’ve invested hugely at Ogilvy on educational opportunities and we’ve got various communities to support staff and their lives. We’ve recently introduced a policy allowing staff to bring their dog in to work in certain instances.
Ran> I’m speaking very broadly here, but I think my generation predominantly wants more flexibility. Looking back, I feel there was a lean towards presentism over productivity. It’s simply not true to say that if you’re away from your desk then you’re not working. The important thing is that you’re delivering and that’s clear to people. Blame the internet perhaps, but we don’t switch off now, and as a creative you’re always thinking and tinkering, so working hours have become this slightly strange thing anyway. I dream of a time where there’s a four-day work week and those four days become really productive.
Q> Ran, you wrote an Influencer article last year about on the importance of female mentors and role models. How important do you think mentorship is to creative growth?
Ran> It’s hugely important. We’ve now got a couple of female Creative Directors and that’s important to me personally. When I was a student, I didn’t always have the confidence to reach out to people who I deemed too senior, too talented, or too busy to interact with. I wish I had made a few more of those relationships early on. Everyone remembers starting out and how hard it was. Nine times out of ten, people happy to help. I love getting those emails now - it makes you feel useful. The students I remember are the ones who took the care and effort to write and post me a thank you note. It’s really simple but little things like that can be the difference between making a contact and landing a job.
Sam> Everyone loves talking about what they do, so you’ve just got to have the confidence to ask. I’m afraid I fall into the trap where people ask for a coffee and it turns into three hours of me going on. And it’s not a one-way system - reverse mentoring, where seniors are mentored by juniors, is also so important.
Q> Imagine you’re throwing a dinner for your creative heroes - who would they be and what food and drink would you serve?
Ran> Caitlin Moran (writer), Debbie Millman (graphic designer), Alex Holder (creative), Dolly Alderton (writer), Brene Brown (psychological researcher), Julie Houts (illustrator), Alexandra Taylor (art director), Mike Quyen (photographer), David Hockney (artist), my mum (an artist and the reason I was encouraged to get into anything creative). In terms of food, I’d cop-out and do a pot-luck because that’s a lot of people to cook for!
Sam> I draw my inspiration from creativity in the widest sense – chefs, garden designers, architects, photographers, theatre and drama, so my list would be people from all those categories. David Hockney’s on my list – his ‘A Bigger Picture’ exhibition was so smart. Within advertising, I’d say Dave Trott and David Abbott, who were very active when I was starting out. I did a lot of work with BT and David Abbott was still writing ads for them in those days; it was hugely inspiring. In terms of food, everyone would bring one dish that’s a family favourite. After each course, we’d move onto the next house, ‘Come Dine with Me’-style, because I’d like to see everyone interacting in different environments.
Ran ate mussels in vinegar and stout, and Sam ate poached cod in buttermilk and sourdough bread from pop-up restaurant, fodder’s, menu at Great Guns Social.