Creative Insights: Jess Lilley on panic, tears and 6000 tabs open at once

By Ruby Derrick | 5 October 2023

Creative Insights is an AdNews series investigating and revealing the secrets of the creative side of advertising. 

Jess Lilley: co-founder and creative director at The Open Arms

How did you fall into the industry? Was it deliberate or a misstep? 

Definitely a misstep! I was studying honours, working in radio and the independent music scene and writing for some random publications. My brother was the ad guy. He had just started an agency and desperately needed a writer. I said, absolutely not. He told me the freelance day rate and I said, sure thing. I thereby passed my first tests as an advertising creative – loose moral fibre and entry by nepotism.   

What’s your secret sauce for commercial creativity? 

Panic, tears, 6000 tabs open at once, obsessively falling down rabbit holes, public radio, tea and ADHD.  

What’s the biggest hurdle now for creatives? 

I think it’s having the time and space to experiment and fail – time to find your voice. Everything happens so fast and so publicly. Everything you do has to drive your career. There’s no time to lose yourself and dabble around while you find your creative confidence. 

Do you wear the black t-shirt uniform or are you a nonconformist? 

I don’t mind the idea of a uniform to lessen the number of decisions you need to make in a day but the black t-shirt is not for me. If I wore onyou’d be giving me your coffee order. My body was not made for that sartorial code. 

Can commercial creativity only take place in a room full of people in black T-shirts? 

I just had a vision of this room and my brain imploded like a submersible on the Titanic seabed. Give me a creative circle full of glitter and chaos any day of the week. 

What was the latest campaign that you worked on that you really enjoyed? 

As an agency owner, I am absolutely thrilled with every single campaign we create! We are deeply values driven which means we are incredibly invested in all of our creative collaborations. It truly is joyous to see every single one wing its way to the community it is designed to serve. 


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