Ahead of Cannes Lions, Ogilvy UK's Group Chief Creative Officer, Emma de la Fosse, spoke to Bloomberg Media about how to foster creativity.

In Part 3 of a series in conjunction with the 64th Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, Bloomberg Media Global Chief Creative Officer Teddy Lynn explores what it takes to lead a creative team with Emma de la Fosse, Chief Creative Officer of Ogilvy Group UK.

 

Teddy Lynn: Emma – you were my colleague when I was at Ogilvy and are responsible for a huge amount of amazing work that inspires me. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with me.  

I am new to a company that has an impeccable reputation for honesty and transparency but isn’t yet known for its creativity.  So as I build up our capability I am seeking some advice from those in the know.

Let’s start with building the right team.  As I have made my first creative hires at Bloomberg, I have looked to hire people who don’t just have ideas, but can sell and make work.  They are people who have track records of seeing projects through. How important are these skills in hires you make and what else do you look for?

Emma de la Fosse:  You mention a number of different points; ideas, selling, making and a track record of seeing projects through.  They are all important but I would argue that some of the above can be taught successfully while others are more innate.

When hiring, I search for people who have the innate ability to have a standout creative ideas on a regular basis or can successfully spot a wonderful lateral leap at 200 yards. That said, advertising creative departments are littered with the corpses of great ideas that never happened.  As the late, great Paul Arden said:

“A new idea can be silly, unfamiliar or both. It can’t be judged by description. It needs to be done (made) to exist.”

So having the drive to see projects through to the end is the second innate attribute that I search for. Give me someone who has great ideas and the determination to make them happen. Delivering a project isn’t a mechanical process, it means selling the idea not just once but probably dozens of times until the work is realized. I want to hire the people who don’t give up. The most important skill really is the ability to articulate an idea.

TL: Of course when hiring people with track records you have a lot to go on, but what about when you are hiring people new to the business. I find that it’s tough to evaluate spec work and so I often find myself hiring based on life experience more than work experience. What do you look for when hiring a young creative who hasn’t yet made famous work? Do you focus on the book or the person? What’s your go to interview question and the best answer you have received?

EF: I practice ‘Blind Recruitment’.  I don’t look at a CV at all and I don’t meet anyone applying for a role until I have seen their portfolio.

Spec work shows you what that person thinks is good.  Made for client stuff shows you what a client thought was good.  If their ‘book’ is interesting I’ll meet the person to discover more about their attitude rather than their background.  

Have they taken the time and trouble to find out about the agency and what we are trying to do?  Do they listen more than they talk? Are they ready to learn from others? Do they have a positive inner energy? The importance of life experience is an interesting question - but It’s where you want to go, not where you have come from.

TL: Our mutual colleague, Steve Simpson, taught me something that has stuck with me and that I try and live by: he said always be hard on the work but easy on the people. That is a lot easier said than done. Since I know your job requires giving a lot of feedback. How do you like to be shown work and what’s your philosophy on giving feedback?

EF: I like to have the opportunity to look at the work by myself first of all.  A famous creative director I once worked for called Dave Trott said to me: “An idea for a poster is no good if you have to stand next to it giving explanations.”  I want to see if I can work out what the idea is before someone comes and explains it all to me.  

After that I am happy for the team to come and present.  We chat about the work and I help distill it and make it sharper. Once we have done that I’ll send the team off to have a further think about the different ways they can bring it to life, execute the hell out of it. 

I am hard on the work but it’s because I hate to see potential unfulfilled. I guess the same goes with people. If I can see that they are working hard and really trying to fulfil their own potential then I will bend over backwards to help them every step of the way.

TL: I love creating and selling work and because I have moved to a place where my team is small, I still get to do it every day. How much creating do you actually get to do? Is it still important to you to be making work and leading by example or do you find yourself managing more than creating?

EF: I’m with you, I love creating. If I don’t make work I get depressed.  Most creative people are the same. 

As well as thoroughly enjoying the making process I believe in leading by example. So if I want people to push the envelope, to attempt the thing everyone says is impossible, I need to do it myself.

A meritocracy is the best way to run a creative department because creatives are often not particularly respectful of hierarchy and authority.  “What have they done?” is the question you will often get when you hire or promote someone into a senior position.

TL: And finally, would you mind describing one of your favorite pieces of work that you have seen this past year?  What about it makes it special for you?

EF: I love John Lewis Buster the Boxer TV Christmas blockbuster.  It’s such a wonderful story, such an engaging and charming piece of film. I watch it again and again, it never palls. Look at the expression on the girl’s face when she sees the dog on the trampoline.  Look at the way the dog’s head peeks just above the wooden fence as he bounces. Love, love, love.

 

This was originally published in Bloomberg Media.