When the ad man becomes the client

David Nobay, creative chairman, Marcel Sydney
By David Nobay, creative chairman, Marcel Sydney | 16 May 2017
David Nobay

David Coleman, the British sports commentator, immortalised by Spitting Image's cruel puppetry and the magazine Private Eye's glorious "Colemanballs", once famously observed that the beautiful game of football was, in reality, "a game of two halves". Never has a truer thing been said or, arguably, a more unnecessary one, yet it occurs to me the same could be said for our own "beautiful-ish game"; advertising.

For the purposes of this tortured analogy, let's say, one half of this game is played out via the swift-footed attack of our creative striker, as he (or she) attempts to score a goal - in this case, a shiny, faux-gold, French doorstop - upfield, whilst the other half of this epic struggle is played out by our gritty, righteously stoic client; intent on defending his (or her) brand from the ignominy of an off-brand curve ball.

Still with me? I promise the football/advertising metaphors cease now.

For me, if I'm honest, most of this contest over my 30-odd year career (or is that, 30 year odd career?) has been spent focused specifically at one end of the park. That is to say, I've, predictably, observed things from one specific view point: the creative person.

And, predictably, given this partially obscured perspective, I've had much to lament: from a withering of client/agency trust, to the fast descent of budgets and timelines. Yawn, yawn. Nothing new there. But about 18 months ago, I found myself standing at the other end of the stadium, staring downfield in a suddenly foreign direction. As the client. Albeit, the owner of a yet-unbuilt house in the Southern Highlands, rather than a yet-unrealized FMCG brand, but the perspective fast revealed itself to be much the same.

For instance, having loudly bemoaned clients for decades for beginning every creative meeting with the ominous threat 'I'm not a creative person, but...', there I was, standing in a field, in my Wellies, gently reassuring my increasingly twitchy architect that 'whilst I'm obviously not an architect, I do have a box of scribbled plans here which may well enlighten you...'. Innocent thought-starters, if you will.

Certainly not what you'd call concepts, after all, god forbid I both patronise and undermine this bona-fide expert in the field of architecture, whilst I stand in a muddy bog in my wellies, but it would be silly, surely, to not share my early thoughts on our soon-to-be creative collaboration?

After all, these torn remnants of magazines I'd taped together may fire his imagination? Inspire him to new heights of design excellence? Never once, ironically, did I consider my artistic altruism may produce quite the opposite effect!

When, after a particularly vociferous spray of aesthetic advice from me, said architect attempted to physically attack me with his rolled-up CAD plans, it suddenly, violently dawned on me. I had seamlessly morphed into the same infuriating client who had caused me so much angst over the past decade (and the purveyors of fine, single malt whiskey, such a windfall).

My conclusion is this; when it's precious to you, whether a future house or an evolving brand, it's humanly impossible to simply stand aside.

Just because, as 'creative people', we may have the edge on articulating the vision in our head, that's not to say the vision is necessarily polluted by another, less flowery, angle. Collaboration is bloody hard.

It requires more patience and less ego than I was prepared for. The realisation, for me at least, that big, bold, uncompromised structures (my new house is essentially an oversized black barn) can be the creative child of small, quiet, nuanced conversations was, and perhaps still is, a minor revelation that may have been useful as a younger man, but is welcome all the same.

David Nobay, founder and creative chairman of Marcel Sydney

 

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