“I think there's a generosity in the British industry in particular, post the pandemic,” says Chaka Sobhani. “I think we are all feeling far more together, we're acting far more together, which I really dig. Trying to crack some serious shit, together, as opposed to it feeling siloed and competitive.” It’s in that spirit that she hopes to encourage as Creative Circle president in the year that the organisation launches its first UK Creative Festival
Taking place this summer at the Dreamland amusement park in Margate, Kent over three days (September 8th, 9th and 10th) the festival will celebrate the best of the UK creative industries with a programme of talks, workshops, panels, wellness activities, and social events designed to connect, educate, and inspire.
Chaka may have recently been elevated from her London role to global chief creative officer of Leo Burnett
, but she’s particularly proud to be involved in an event with a clear UK focus. “I love the concentration on the celebration of UK creativity. It feels wonderfully UK based,” she says.
“The Creative Circle is such an amazing organisation. I sit on the board of a number of different awards and I genuinely love them all. I think every award has got its place, an audience and a cadence in mind. I think that they're all incredibly valid.”
It’s an attitude of collaboration that she feels is key to the Creative Circle’s character and hopes will come through in the festival. “I love the fact that everyone's invited. I think as an industry we should be wanting everyone to do well but be really clear about who they are and what they're there to do, and I kind of dig the fact that there's a sense with the Creative Circle that they're not trying to compete with D&AD or British Arrows or Campaign Big. There's a sense that everyone should be involved. Come on down and be part of it. Can we learn from each other in some way?”
Of course the UK Creative Festival won’t just be a summit of the British advertising establishment. One thing that the Creative Circle has put at the centre of its role is the Creative Foundation, which puts 100% of membership fees and 10% of all awards entries towards grants and sponsorship for young people to enter the creative industry. As Chaka puts it, the Circle “has a 365 day a year life outside of the awards as well” and that translates to a “proper focus on youth and inclusivity, trying to attract people and really opening doors. And it's not that other people aren't doing that. It's just [the Creative Circle] takes it very, very seriously, with the foundation. It's such a cyclical organisation, really wanting to invest back.”
“I've always loved the Creative Circle Awards. There's a different kind of crackle. I love that about all awards - they've kind of got a different energy to them. I think the Creative Circle, particularly over the past few years, has been a real magnet for youth. A very energetic vibe of obviously celebrating brilliant work, but I think because of the Foundation and it being cyclical, there's just a different energy to it. So I think in Margate we're going to have a bit of a party, to be honest.”
With a Young Creative Festival Pass available for free for all aspiring young creatives 16 - 24 years old, that youthful energy is going to be tangible. Every applicant will receive online access to the creative Careers Fair as well as all the young creative panels and workshops online and some applicants will be invited to attend in person.
Chaka reflects on the days when she was considering entering a creative career, going to a careers fair. “I was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed 17-year-old with no access to the world that I wanted to get into, no idea about it whatsoever and thinking this was going to be like my Nirvana moment. And I remember just wandering around the space just thinking 'what the fuck is going on?' It was so confusing and unclear.” She’s personally going to be doing her bit to make sure the young creatives at the festival have a different experience. And she’s going to enjoy it.
“I'm really excited about the networking part with the young'uns. And not just young'uns who are already in our industry,” she says. “I don't want to get overly sentimental or romantic about it, but I think it's an incredible thing to do. I'm just really looking forward to the experience of it, particularly after Covid and actually meeting people, there is just nothing better. It's not just doing a book crit here and there, it's actually going to be en masse. It's going to be awesome, man. I say this until I'm chased around and someone jumps on my head and won't leave me alone but I'm looking forward to hopefully helping direct some talent in some right places. Let's see what happens.”
The UK Creative Festival’s opportunity for meeting aspiring creative talent is hard to overstate for Chaka. “From an agency or a brand point of view, you're physically meeting talent that is getting you excited, and you might give an opportunity to, or you might help on their journey to wherever the hell they're going. That would be fucking rad. I mean that would be amazing.”
For a country that, like so many, has been through a series of deep lockdowns over the past year, the people in the UK industry couldn’t be more ready for a real-life, face-to-face celebration of what they do and Chaka’s grateful for the privilege to be president for that emotional moment. “I'm so lucky that [this is] the year that I am president. I think this festival was meant to happen last year and, of course, I would never have wanted a pandemic to delay it. But also there's a little part of me that pinches myself where I'm like, oh my god, I'm so lucky I get to be part of this.”
It’s not just about having a laugh on the English seaside. As always, the Creative Circle will be honouring the best British work through its awards. And Chaka’s energised about the work that she wants to see winning. Covid has been hard, but it’s also realigned people with what’s important, reminded brands what they should speak to and when it’s important to stay quiet. “When something as seismic as this happens, you look to your home to see how your loved ones and your communities are surviving and the focus becomes very local. But I also have found the most encouraging and life-affirming thing through the pandemic is that it has connected us globally. I don't think there's ever been a time in the world's history when everyone has suffered like this, and a result is our empathy. We've all slowed down in a very practical way. We've had to focus on the real basics of life and death. The fancy stuff has no place. We've connected far more to our global community and who we are, just as people, across the world, through this pandemic. And that willingness to help, to make sure other people are OK and to listen and to feel so connected, I really hope we don't lose it at all.
“The best creativity is ideas that are relevant, reacting to the emotional heartbeat of your local community, your country and then the globe. I think that at the beginning of the pandemic it was pretty clear how we all feel differently and I still think now actually: If you weren't turning up to help or in service, frankly, just shut up, we don't want to hear from you.”
“And it doesn't mean that everything has become purpose driven by any stretch of the imagination. But I think the brands that have stepped up in this time have really clearly defined who they are and what they are here to do, potentially how they can help. And that help can come with a big H or a small h. That's what we're seeing it through the work, stuff like that which is just knocking out of the park, frankly.”
We’ll find out which work the jury thinks has been knocking it out of the park at the end of July at the award ceremony at an actual award ceremony - remember those? And it’ll be sandwiched in between three days of inspiration on the seaside. After the year we’ve had, Chaka thinks the UK creative community deserves a party. And she wants to see everyone there. “I love the fact that it's in Margate. What a brilliant place to be? A bastion of British culture and by the sea - amazing. Come on down, join in and have a laugh. God knows we've needed it.
“Let's have a moment where we just pull lots of things together, we learn, we meet new people, we get a bit inspired, we get a bit of fresh air from the coast, eat some gorgeous chips, and then go back to wherever we come from feeling a little bit more connected in our own community and a little bit more excited about the future that's to come and who's in that future. With a real spirit of generosity, a real spirit of love - learn, get excited, get inspired. Go home, sleep for a week.”