“As advertisers we have a power to change the world,” exclaims Alex Ward, art director at Ogilvy Sydney, considering how the industry he is a part of can influence society. The London-born creative began thinking of a career in creativity before he even knew what it was. His early years were spent scribbling away and as an only child, his companion of a 2B pencil was more than enough for him. “If there was any indicator that I’d end up in a creative field, it was that.
“As a kid I remember designing my own board games, and making custom labels and case artwork for CDs that I’d ripped. Ah the ‘90s… What a simpler time it was. All of this was confirmed for me in my final high-school exams when I received full marks in Art & Design, and U in Biology– a medical scientist I was not meant to be!”
Instead, Alex found his feet with a foundation diploma in Art & Design at University for the Creative Arts in Surrey, UK where he learnt everything from fine art to fashion, animation and graphic design. “That one-year course was absolutely fundamental in shaping my career trajectory. I went in knowing that I enjoyed drawing and thought that I might find myself becoming an illustrator. It was actually through conversations with those tutors that made me realise that graphic design was the right path for me.”
Following on from this he studied a BA in Graphic Design at the University of West of England Bristol. Though, he didn’t start rooted in just one place and Alex used this time to travel. In his second year he spent six months in Taiwan studying Visual Communication and Illustration. He recalls: “Learning how an entirely different culture approached creativity was fascinating, and as someone who had never travelled solo before, that was a big deal for me.”
He adds: “Getting out of one’s comfort zone is essential for growth, both personally and professionally. There’s nothing that makes someone sink or swim more than relocating to a new environment and being forced to make the most of it. It absolutely provides its own set of challenges, but equally can become one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.”
This is something Alex can apply to his own life further than just Taiwan. He originally moved to Sydney post-graduating on a one-year working holiday visa to understand what it's like to work professionally overseas. He’s now been in Sydney for five years, a fact that makes him ‘pinch himself’.
Though this is different from his upbringing in Southeast London, which he jokes doesn’t have Sydney’s surfing culture. “I grew up in the diverse melting pot that is Southeast London, surrounded by friends and classmates of all ethnicities and class backgrounds. I think exposure to that at a young age does influence your outlook on society and creates an acceptance of others that doesn’t always come from those who don’t get to experience that.
“I’m part of a social minority as a gay man, but I’m fully aware that as a British white male I’m in a position of privilege, and believe that it’s important to use that platform to push for positive change in society whenever I have the opportunity.”
Representing the LGBTQ+ community is something that Alex is particularly passionate about. With campaigns for KFC he really pushed the boundaries of what this can look like. “With the KFC ‘What a Drag’ TVC, we featured a real drag queen as our hero talent and told an authentic story that anyone who has frequented a gay bar can relate to.”
It’s no surprise then that he finds that the industry needs to do better with diversity and representation. He recently penned his thoughts
on how he felt that in 2020, only 1.8% of characters in ads at Cannes were LGBTQ+
. He believes that it is the industry’s role to make progressive steps towards more accurate representations and contribute to build a more inclusive society.
Alex says: “People of different races, religions, gender identities, sexual orientations, and class backgrounds all have a perspective to lend. By having a diverse workforce, we can tell more powerful and authentic stories reflective of modern society, not just the homogenous narrative that has saturated advertising since the days of Mad Men.”
Another part of the industry that Alex is passionate about is the award scene. He believes that there are ‘very few industries out there that tie awards so intrinsically to career progression’. He explains how creatives are under such pressure to pick up gongs are the big shows that they often forget the reality that ‘an idea alone doesn’t win an award’. “It’s a team of people, including account service, strategists, videographers crafting a case study, and a client who wants to buy that idea.
“To me, an award for sustainability, diversity, creativity, or accessibility is just as powerful and can be just as much of an achievement to take to clients who are growing more and more conscious of corporate social responsibility.”
Jumping into agency life after graduating, Alex believes the greatest teacher for him was on-the-job learning. One thing that has stuck with him is how each agency should treat its clients as a relationship, with both parties coming to the table. “As with any relationship, sometimes it’s a match, and sometimes it’s not. I learnt that the hard way when I came out of an agency feeling completely deflated and wanting to give up design altogether.”
However, he also learnt to trust his gut when it came to an idea, though he laments: “you’ll never know if the grass is greener elsewhere if you don’t water your own lawn first.”
Nowadays Alex is pretty much used to life in Sydney, though he did find the lockdowns and Covid situation hard. Having to communicate with his family via a screen – and working on one all day – can become exhausting. “Social skills are like a muscle – it can disappear very quickly if not exercised regularly. And nothing proved that more honestly than emerging out of lockdown. I definitely struggled initially with seeing people again.”
This isn’t the only thing that keeps him going, finding creative solutions to business problems and watching that becoming a reality is an incredibly powerful thing to him. As he says: “I just want to make cool stuff!”