Global Power Players – QA with Nick Law, CCO, Publicis Groupe

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Once upon a time, Nick Law claimed to be good at two things: playing rugby and drawing. Fast forward and his portfolio suggests otherwise. Having overseen R/GA’s rise to a globally renowned creative powerhouse, Nick was responsible for innovations like Nike+ Fuelband and the creative executions behind Beats by Dre. Recently he became Chief Creative Officer at Publicis Groupe and president of Publicis Communications after spending 17 years with the Portland-based agency. Alongside astonishing creative prowess comes an uncanny knack for cultivating talent. He spoke to us about both.  

AW360: You’ve said an over-reliance on data can lead to a lot of mediocre work. How can advertising leaders like yourself help change that over-reliance, and remind people that at the heart of every memorable campaign is usually a big idea?  

Nick Law:  I’m not sure I agree with the premise of the question. You can’t have an over-reliance on data if you know what data is good for and what it isn’t good for. It can tell us about the people we need to reach, so we can make our work meaningful. It can find the right people at the right time. Increasingly, data can also feed the intelligent products and services that make our lives better. This is all good. It should be acknowledged, however, that even the most sophisticated and complex data needs a human to bring it into the world of meaning. 

Data shouldn’t impoverish creativity, it should enrich it. Think of it as augmenting the human experience.  

Every creative person draws from their own internal data-set – every piece of work that has succeeded and failed, every conversation with colleagues and strangers, all the visits to art galleries, are synthesized into data that inspires creativity. Why not superpower your own 10,000 hours with more data than you could accumulate in multiple lifetimes? Also, why not refine the intuition born of experience with data that can help us anticipate and then measure impact? Which brings me to our industry’s questionable definition of a “big idea”.  What makes a campaign memorable is not a magical idea that floats above its executions. Memorable creativity lives at the intersection of humanity and technology; a creation that is conceived to live beautifully and completely in a medium. Great TV lives in the specific technology of broadcast. Great applications live in the specific technology of the smartphone. Ideas, big or small, are profound when they live vividly in the world. 

AW360:  Has the promise of scale offered by platforms had a detrimental effect on creativity?  

NL: Quite the opposite. Did the printing press have a detrimental effect on writing? The internet and the scale of its platforms have democratized the creation and consumption of creativity. Even as craft is catching up with the technology, the internet is spawning a whole new creative grammar. If we can start looking forward and stop wallowing in the past, there’s no doubt to me that the web offers historic creative opportunities. 

AW360: What has been the hardest part of your career, and how did you overcome it?

NL: My career has been charmed. Even the most difficult day has been fun. Like most creatives, the hardest days are at the pointy end of a pitch – the crushing fatigue and the nagging doubt. The best way to overcome any challenge starts with turning up.  

AW360: You recently joined Publicis Groupe to nurture creative talent across the board, what is Marcel and how does it help you do that?

NL:  In the last 20 years the world has seen an exponential explosion in innovation that can only be attributed to the web. Connecting billions of minds has accelerated knowledge and creativity. Similarly, Marcel will connect 80,000 creative minds for Publicis. The combining and recombining of the diversity of capabilities are intended to create a vital inventive culture. 

AW360: How much future gazing do you have to do in your role? 

NL: I’m always thinking about the near-term and long-term future. I think it’s a responsibility for creative leaders in our industry. It’s part of having an inquiring mind and active imagination. 

AW360: How have ad technologies, like ad blockers, affected the way we tell stories in our advertising or in the media?

NL: These technologies have done two things to advertising storytelling. First, they’ve demanded better storytelling. Great stories find an audience, annoying ads justify avoidance. Second, they’ve made us think about ways to reach our audience without storytelling. Sometimes an elegantly designed service, or a compelling experience work where a story doesn’t. 

AW360: What is your approach for attacking a brief and what do you see people get wrong most frequently?

NL: My primary concern is the behaviour you want to encourage. This means that an idea is more likely to live in an interface first, and a story second. Obviously, this means I consider the more conventional approach of starting with a story (or a tagline) before designing a system that people can interact with, backwards. 

Advertising Week APAC takes place in Sydney July 30 – August 2. For more information on featured speakers visit here.

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