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Managing Marketing: Network, Indie, In-House And Freelance Creative Life

Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

Andrew Fraser is a Creative Director. He is also the founder of “We Meet At Last”, an enterprise where brands go to work directly with creative talent. The concept arose during a career initially in big network agencies, then smaller indie agencies, freelance and then in-house agencies as a creative, creative director and executive creative director. Now, he is building a new enterprise, where creative people can have the opportunity of working directly with marketers, providing the best of each and all of his experiences.

You can listen to the podcast here:

Follow Managing Marketing on SoundcloudPodbean, Google Podcasts, TuneInStitcher, Spotify, Apple Podcast and Amazon Podcasts.

Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing, a weekly podcast where we discuss the issues and opportunities facing marketing, media, and advertising with industry thought leaders and practitioners.

Today, I’m sitting down with Andrew Fraser, Founder and Creative Director of ‘We Meet At Last’, an enterprise where brands go to work directly with creative talent. Welcome, Andrew.

Andrew:

Thank you very much, Darren. Lovely to be here. Thank you for having me on.

Darren:

Well, we meet at last as they say.

Andrew:

They do. Well, yes, that’s my catchphrase now, it appears.

Darren:

Yeah, and a good catchphrase, but one that we’ll get to a little bit later because one of the things that I loved looking through your LinkedIn profile — and isn’t LinkedIn great? Because it’s a very public sort of record of our careers. But you’ve had a really interesting, and in some ways, eclectic, some would say, creative history.

Andrew:

Yes. There is certainly a lot in there. I’ve tried lots of different kinds of interesting projects and quite a variety of roles: Copywriter, Creative Director, Executive Creative Director, and Founder — yeah, I’ve had a go at a few things.

Darren:

And look, that started as many careers do in big network agencies. You know, what was it? Well, it’s called DDB, adam&eveDDB in London now. Was it that when you started there?

Andrew:

Well, it was an agency called BMP which was part of the DDB network. It was a sort of precursor, I suppose to adam&eve. And back in the day, yes, I mean, I spent a long time trying to get a job there. If it wasn’t the best agency in the world at the time, it was one of the best and had some wonderful people there — and it was a great place to learn. And yeah, that was my first agency. I was very lucky to get in there.

Darren:

And that’s one of the things about the bigger agency networks, isn’t it? Is it a great place to learn because just the sheer size and the talent that’s attracted to those agencies was traditionally an incredible melting pot?

Andrew:

That’s right. I think in a first job, that is definitely the thing to look out for what agency environment are you going to learn the most from? I remember when I was first offered my role there, I was offered two jobs. One, at another agency, was offering three times as much money. It was, I think, 14,000 pounds a year — total annual salary. And that was the high-paying job!

The even lower-paying job was at BMP. I think it was £4,000 or £5,000 pounds a year which was probably illegal actually, but anyway, it was a very easy decision. BMP was the place where I was going to learn everything and get all the opportunities. I didn’t have any money at the time and it was very tempting to go for that higher paid job, but I plumped for what was definitely the better option.

Darren:

And then did you go from there to FCB?

Andrew:

Yeah, I was at BMP or DDB for about 15 years. The Head of Planning at BMP was a guy called Nigel Jones and he went to FCB and was the CEO there. So, he invited me over. I’d been learning the ropes as a Creative Director at BMP, and this was an opportunity to have a go at being an Executive Creative Director.

Darren:

Yeah, fantastic. And that step up because talking to a lot of creative people that go from either Art Director or Writer into Creative Director role, how did you find that transition? Because some people often struggle with it, don’t they?

Andrew:

Yeah. I mean, it is a big challenge and a big step. At BMP, I was working very much on the creative side and that was all I did — taking responsibility for projects. But moving to FCB — as soon as I joined there, actually — a merger was announced with an agency called Draft, creating a combined agency of 250 people.

Being on the management team of an agency like that was a very different role to the one I’d been doing. And I’d say that it probably wasn’t my sweet spot, but what I did really like is that we were creating a very interesting blend of two sets of skills. There was the ‘above-the-line’ FCB, and Draft was very much what you would have described as ‘below-the-line’. The job was pulling those two together.

Darren:

I think technically (sorry, Andrew) — I think technically they called themselves direct response, but yeah, below the line will do.

Andrew:

Well, yes, but I mean (the reason why I say that … and that is correct), is that there was a lot of snobbishness in the industry about ‘above’ and ‘below the line’. And I’ve always found that very interesting and wrong.

So, I was really interested in working in an environment where we used the full suite of advertising skills holistically, rather than defaulting to that kind of snobbishness … that still prevails in the industry.

Darren:

Yeah, the irony from my perspective is many of those disciplines and skills that direct marketers had at that time are exactly what’s needed today in the digital world, with much more interactive media opportunities.

Andrew:

Yeah. I mean, I’ve never really discriminated in terms of skills and in terms of media. I find it’s all about big ideas and in whatever channel it is, it’s just the same creative challenge. And that’s the way I’ve always liked to see it.

Darren:

I think that’s very egalitarian of you because I still remember my early days as a copywriter, the senior teams and the creative directors would grab all the TV briefs and then hand off all the other … what they saw as the draws to the junior and middleweight teams to cut their teeth on that, with this look of disdain as “When you’ve had as much experience as us, you’ll get to have a go at this.”

Andrew:

That’s right. Although there is a point to it if you’re dealing with the big budgets, you probably need more experience. But there are always opportunities in whatever channel to do brilliant work.

Darren:

And then you made a transition, and you came to Australia. I mean, it was only a couple of hundred years ago that you were brought out here in chains. What brought you to Australia?

Andrew:

Well, good question. Well, a job came up: a role as ECD at JWT. I’ve got a family and it was probably not a great time to come, but the role came up and it just seemed such an interesting one.

And we’d been talking about moving abroad potentially — and Sydney. We’d never actually been here before, but we thought, well, could there be a better place to go to? And could there be an easier place to settle in and enjoy a lifestyle? Sydney seemed a wonderful place to come. So, yeah, I took the job.

Darren:

As Executive Creative Director. Was that based in Sydney?

Andrew:

Yeah, that’s right.

Darren:

Yeah. And so, really, career-wise, large agencies to this stage, but you haven’t just stuck with large agencies, have you?

Andrew:

No, no, that’s right. I mean, the challenge in each one is an interesting and different one. The ECD role, I really enjoy because you’re essentially … I see the creative bit as pulling together the team that’s going to do the work and I really enjoy that.

But likewise, so yes, after JWT, I went to an agency called IdeaWorks and then was co-founder of the General Store. So, that was a startup, which I left after a couple of years but still going and doing really well, I believe.

Darren:

Yep, yeah. And that’s retail-focused, isn’t it? The whole idea of … I mean, I love the name, the General Store for an agency that’s pretty much focused on all aspects of retail.

Andrew:

Well, again, this goes back to that kind of — I’ve always slightly railed against snobbishness in the industry. And we talked a bit before about above the line and below the line. But retail is a section of the industry that’s always had a really bad rap and I just don’t know why — well, I know why, because a lot of retail ads in the past have been pretty awful.

But that’s not to say you can’t do great stuff. And again, what I was interested in, is the opportunity there and to be able to do amazing work on retail clients. I felt there was a great opportunity.

Darren:

Yeah, the way I got into the advertising industry from medical research was through a course called Copy School. And there was a terrific copywriter at what was the Campaign Palace in those days, a guy called John Turnbull who has subsequently passed away.

But he used to say that as a creative person, there was only two axes for your work. There’s either great work or ordinary work, or good advertising and bad advertising. Now, he said the very first job of any creative is to do good advertising. What’s good advertising? Anything that achieves the client’s objective.

But then he said, there’s a personal responsibility to do great advertising, which entertains or enthralls, or does add something to the experience of the viewer. And I used to love this idea that the first job is to do something that works for the client. He said it’s totally possible to do good advertising that works that’s just horrible.

And a lot of the retail that you were referring to sort of falls into that, but that as a creative person, we should be driven by wanting to do great advertising that somehow enriches the experience of the audience.

Andrew:

Yeah, I mean, I think a lot of that kind of retail advertising is just plain annoying. And I don’t think, if you’re trying to build a brand over the long term, that annoying people really should be at the top of your priorities!

And I think that there is an opportunity to get the best of both worlds: to do that great stuff, to do stuff that works, that really engages an audience. And I don’t necessarily mean famous, it just simply engages an audience. And that goes for advertising, but also at the General Store, the proposition there was to do advertising for a certain type of client i.e., retailers. And, not just advertising but work across all kinds of creative disciplines. So, everything from store design to advertising, to brand identity. So, being able to express a brand, a retail brand, in lots of different ways.

Darren:

Yeah. And you also worked with The Monkeys or at The Monkeys, didn’t you? Was that in the days when it was the Three Drunk Monkeys?

Andrew:

Yes. I’ve had a long relationship with The Monkeys and I’m very fond of those guys. So, I did a little bit of freelance early on when they were at their old office in Great Buckingham Street. And then some more time in the South Dowling Street offices. And I was there, I think, three and a half years, full-time.

I was freelancing there so much, they asked me to stay for a bit. And yeah, I really enjoyed it. I mean, they’re a very smart bunch of people and I admire them very much.

Darren:

So, you’ve mentioned freelance. What, from a creative perspective for you, is the big difference between a role as a freelance and being in the agency as an employee? Is there any difference or is it the same?

Andrew:

Very little difference, really. I mean, there is a kind of … you’re not officially their part of the culture and you miss out on some of the politics. But really, I don’t really see much of a difference.

The thing I like in this industry, and I’ve always liked, is just working with smart people. And I don’t really care whether that’s a startup, a network, a big creative account, or a less creative account. If you’re working with a team of smart and fun people and interesting people, that’s what it’s all about. It doesn’t really matter about the rest. The rest is just details, really.

Darren:

Yeah, I asked that because in conversations with some freelance writers and art directors, they’ve said that it’s an opportunity to work on some terrific projects. Other times, it’s just an opportunity to take out the excess that’s happening in the agency, but that often they’re overlooked when the kudos is handed out.

And I highlight this because only recently, a freelance creative posted on LinkedIn when a particular campaign broke, how excited they were because they got to work on it behind the scenes during the pitch. And it was great to see the concept actually appear on air virtually untouched.

Now, it was interesting because it was in campaign brief, who were very diligent in writing a long list of credits for the work as they should, but that these particular creative’s name had been left off because they were freelancers.

Andrew:

Well, it does happen obviously. I mean, I find that the projects I’m given when I’m freelancing are always very interesting. I mean, sometimes, you are doing the more hardworking stuff that nobody else wants to do, but invariably, they want to give you a project that you are going to add some real value to.

So, yeah, I’ve been lucky to work on some great projects. My tip, if that happens, is just to contact the agency. Generally, it’s just a mistake. People are busy and I don’t think people necessarily do it deliberately. There’s just probably a very long list of credits and someone has accidently left your name off, but I’ve never had a problem really.

Darren:

It was particularly interesting for me, Andrew, obviously, running pitches because we try and dissuade clients from doing speculative creative work in the pitch. And one of the reasons is that you never really know who did the work, whether it was a team from the agency or the freelancers that were brought in that will probably never work on your business again.

Andrew:

Yeah, I think that’s a great approach from your point of view. I’m not sure you’d learn a great deal from a full-blown creative pitch that you wouldn’t from your kind of more strategic approach, I think that sounds much better.

Darren:

Yeah. Now, a hot topic particularly in the last few days or the last few months is in-housing. And you took on the role of being the creative lead at probably one of the oldest in-house agencies in Australia, and that was for Foxtel.

Andrew:

Yeah, that’s right. I’d been thinking about this thing: about working directly to clients and about the industry convention that creatives and clients should always be kept apart (unless under heavy supervision!), and I’ve always slightly questioned that.

I’ve seen times in my career where that kind of ‘ivory tower’ approach feels the right thing, with the chance to just work on your own, completely separate from the client. But I was quite intrigued by the idea of … Well, a role came up at Foxtel as Creative Director of their in-house team, and I was just really interested to see how that worked and whether it’s possible to work more closely with the marketing team. And, well, my theory was that it is possible, and so I gave that a go.

Darren:

It’s interesting, isn’t it? Because there is, just as you said before about below the line in retail is often seen by the mainstream industry as somehow being lesser. There’s a similar type of relationship within housing, isn’t it? In-house agency.

Andrew:

Yeah, you’ve nailed it because that’s another one … Basically, it’s a kind of prejudice. I often just feel like I really want to find out whether it’s valid or not. Again, it’s like another industry taboo. I just thought, oh, well, I’ll give that a go and see what it’s really about.

Darren:

And from your perspective, what are the positives of working as a creative and Creative Director in-house and working directly with clients?

Andrew:

Well, I think the real benefit is just a very open conversation. And I feel like the barriers that happen in an agency between a client and creative is often at the expense of the work. And just being able to sit around a table with a client and discuss exactly what’s needed more maybe like colleagues than that kind of more combative creative agency relationship. I think it’s a healthy one and it’s pretty liberating actually, to be able to do that.

Darren:

Yeah, it is interesting your comment before about the way, for many agencies, they keep the creative team and the client separated. I remember being introduced as a creative to a client and the account director basically said, “So, we’ve got a bit a surprise or a treat for you today. We’ve brought the creatives along.” I felt a little bit like either a special guest or a performing baboon — I’m not sure which.

Andrew:

Yeah. Well, I think we’ve all as creatives had that feeling as we’ve been wheeled into a meeting sometimes because things are going wrong and you just feel like the creatives have got to kind of perform in some way — but generally, as a kind of extra to the process and yeah, I’ve always found that little odd and a bit disconcerting. And I found I’m never at my best when I’m just sort of thrown into a situation like that. I much prefer a relationship that’s established over time.

Darren:

Yeah, and one of the things that people have said is that getting work through in-house or great work through, it can be quite difficult. In fact, both the ANA in the US, and now, The In-House Agency Council have launched awards, creative awards for in-house agencies. Does that sort of infer that it is a totally different set of challenges and circumstances for traditional agencies versus in-house agencies?

Andrew:

Yes, I think there are challenges for an in-house agency. I think they are treated differently to an external agency. And I’d say often, having read up a bit about it, that they’re just not treated with the same respect as an external agency would do. They’re kind of treated like a kind of a junior version of the external agency.

So, perhaps, yeah, in the same way that we were talking about earlier with that above the line / below the line thing, that the ‘glamorous’ external agency will get the interesting briefs and the in-house agency will generally be seen as a bit more churn and burn.

Darren:

Yeah.

Andrew:

So, that is a challenge.

Darren:

Yeah, because I thought the idea of having separate awards — well, first of all, the last thing the world needs is more creative awards.

Andrew:

I quite agree. And it does seem kind of farcical. The one thing I would say though, that there is no real reason why in-house agencies can’t do well. And I mean, just thinking back, I think that they have definitely worked in the past.

I remember back in the day, was it GAP who did all their advertising in-house? And it was completely refreshing and felt very, very different. And without all the baggage of an agency, they were able to do some really liberating advertising. And I don’t think there is any real reason why you can’t. There is just a sort of prevailing attitude that ‘you do the churn and burn stuff’.

Darren:

Well, and publishers have been very good at this for years. I mean, most publishers have had their own in-house marketing comms team and their own agency often doing that work. In fact, I just realized that I’ve fallen for the same trap that I criticize others for, and that is that in-house agencies are actually not a new phenomenon.

Retailers back in the thirties and forties and fifties, often had in-house agencies. In fact, I think in Australia, Myer had their own in-house agency up into the seventies and early eighties doing all of their own advertising in-house. So, this is maybe a part of a cycle.

Andrew:

Yeah, maybe. And the other thing to remember is that there is some good stuff around. You keep seeing in social feeds and LinkedIn, I guess, Specsavers have been doing an excellent job in the UK. That’s an in-house model.

And Channel 4 in the UK have always done amazing work and especially the Paralympics — that work is up there with the best in the world. I don’t really see why other in-house agencies cannot do it, but I guess there just has to be the will to do it.

Darren:

Now that brings us up to, We Meet At Last. So, what’s the think behind this offering or this business that you’ve founded?

Andrew:

Well, the idea is sort of … the Foxtel experience was part of that. It’s an idea that’s been in my mind and bubbling away for quite a long time. And it just goes back to this idea of the convention in our industry being that creatives and clients are always, basically, kept separate.

Of course, there are many instances where creatives are introduced to the client and present to clients, but the basis of the agency relationship is that you work separately.

And also, the assumption (which is, again, rooted in the past) that if creatives and clients should actually sit together unsupervised, that something truly awful might happen.

So, the thinking behind this is actually to try creatives working directly with clients and to break down the barriers, and basically, bringing creative closer to the heart of brand. Now, they’re kept very separate. Creatives are still hidden away in their ivory tower, but I feel there are real benefits for creatives to being brought closer to the heart of brand.

Darren:

Well, I think the whole trend towards in-housing is already a sign that … but producing content of high-quality in its scale is something that perhaps the traditional models struggle with and that just physically bringing it closer together answers some of the challenges around responsiveness and cost.

Andrew:

Yeah, I mean, I think there are a lot of changes, small changes going on. Like you’ve mentioned the in-house model, and there are also people already working directly to clients. There’s a lot of stuff going on in the ether, and in a period that feels like there’s quite a lot of transition going on. Someone was saying the other day that in a period of big change, you rarely get a completely new phenomenon being invented. But what you do get is an acceleration of changes that have been happening over a fair amount of time, and it feels like the timing is right.

And having spoken to a lot of marketers about this, that is the phrase that comes up a lot: ‘the timing is right for something like this’. Just to be able to try working directly with creative talent feels like something that’s really worth a try.

Darren:

Yeah. I think it’s also got huge application for the smaller marketing teams that don’t necessarily want all of that infrastructure that perhaps comes with an agency, but really are at that point of their evolution where they do want that more sort of intimate hands-on approach too.

And we see a lot with startups and the like, where they’re really driven, the strategy’s being driven out of a handful of people, and they just often find themselves with a number of parties that help them implement.

Andrew:

Yeah, I mean, I think the thing is with startups (and I’ve been talking to a few startups), is that they don’t have that history of working with a big agency — the sort of comfort blanket of the big agency. They actually, they’re a much leaner model and can’t really see the point.

If they walk into a creative presentation and there’s 15 people sitting there, they wonder what on earth everyone does. They just want to talk to the creative people. And, I think that this feeling is very prevalent, especially in that kind of startup world. So, I think that is a very interesting area to explore.

Darren:

And I guess the other opportunity that pops to mind is some of the issues that marketers are facing with their brands is that often, the problems that come up can’t be solved with the same approach that they’re doing a lot of their existing marketing work. And so, this is also an opportunity of getting fresh thinking without having to change agencies, isn’t it?

Andrew:

I think that’s definitely right. It’s just, it’s an opportunity just to throw another option in the mix. You know, if an agency’s stuck on a project or just not coming up with the goods, then it’s an easy option without upsetting too many people just to be able to throw some creative talent at a problem.

And it could be a project that an agency is working on, but it could be the kind of project that maybe is out of the normal agency remit. It can be just a creative problem that needs solving within the business. It’s a resource that I think could be useful for bigger clients as well as the smaller ones.

Darren:

Of course, I must raise this issue, and that is that one of the big problems that many of the multinational and network agencies suffer from is that they stick a very early use-by-date, but particularly on their creative teams. Some people have said to me, if you are over 40 and still working in a big network agency, you’re obviously incredibly lucky.

Is that one of the other reasons as well? That this early use-by-date, that some of the big network agencies seem to approach or seem to enforce is putting a lot of great talent out into the marketplace, anyway?

Andrew:

There’s a lot of great talent out there now, who have decided not to go down that agency route. And some of that might be because of the reasons you say, but essentially, there’s some very smart people out there, and it would be great to tap into that resource.

And I think that’s a great resource for clients to tap into because those are the kind of people, they’re probably freelancing for the agencies that they use anyway. But now, there’s an opportunity to get a hold of that resource directly and apply it to briefs and work with them directly.

Darren:

And is that where your vision for We Meet At Last is? That you become more of a conduit for this talent?

Andrew:

Yeah, I think that is a really nice way to think about it. I mean to start with, it’s smaller scale, it’s me and a few creative colleagues that I know and have worked with previously, applying that talent to creative problems.

But I think there’s a real opportunity to scale up and provide an interesting option for creatives to step outside that agency world. It’s not for everyone this thing — working directly with clients — but I think it is for a lot of people. And I think it’s an empowering opportunity where I would love to give creatives another option in terms of their career.

Darren:

Yeah, because there is a certain sort of skill to work collaboratively directly with clients as a creative person. And it’s not necessarily what every creative person’s looking for, is it?

Andrew:

It definitely isn’t. Some creative people they like to be kept away: almost ‘don’t show me the brief, I’ll work it out for myself’. There’s that kind of creative.

But then there are the others who I think want to know more. They want to know about the business problem. They want to know about it in depth.

And I feel like there’s a real sweet spot, which is somewhere in between the ivory tower on one extreme, and in-house on the other. Where you get an opportunity to engage directly with the client and really understand the business problem but without the client looking over your shoulder all the time.

So yeah, there’s that kind of sweet spot where I think you will get fresher advertising, fresher ideas and also, work to the same agenda as the client. I think there’s a nice little bit in the middle.

Darren:

I think that’s the really interesting part because creativity as a skill comes out of curiosity. And one of the things that I’ve got out of this conversation with you today, Andrew, is that you’ve been a curious person even about your own career.

You know, this desire to constantly explore, in many ways, the avenues that others may see as being lesser is an absolute credit to you and an example of how creativity is not just the ability to write a nice ad, it’s an approach to solving problems and learning more about the way the world works.

Andrew:

Yes, I definitely have explored quite a few different avenues, some of which haven’t been successful, but my curiosity has always got the better of me and I’m always looking for something interesting and new ways to apply my creative thinking.

Darren:

Look, thank you very much. Unfortunately, the clock and time has got away from us. I really appreciate you sitting down and having this conversation.

Andrew:

It’s been great, Darren, really enjoyed it and quite instructive. I’ve learnt quite a lot myself.

Darren:

Look, I’ve got one question before we go, and that is I mentioned before, there’s way too many creative awards; if you could wipe out all the awards, but one, which one would it be?

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    Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com

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