Get on your bike: Working abroad

Scotland’s export industry now stretches beyond whisky to creative people. We asked five who left these shores to tell us about their new lives.

Steve Mawhinney, art director,

McCann Worldwide, San Francisco

www.mccann.com

What does the new role involve?

My new role is no different than my old role in Scotland. I’m an art director at McCann Worldwide (at time of writing one of the most decorated agencies in the awards with Cannes still to come), working across a variety of clients, Microsoft, HP and Nortel. The big difference here is you work with a variety of writers which keeps things interesting. And the other difference is I’m having to get up to speed very quickly on all aspects of online marketing. Although having now completed three online campaigns to date I feel I have a better grasp of the medium.

How do the different cultures mix?

Culturally we’re not too dissimilar. They speak English which is handy. Apart from the odd time they don’t seem to have too much trouble understanding my dulcet Nor’n Irish accent. The weird thing is not having any similar common ground on popular cultural references, like ‘z’ list celebrities, ex Big Brother wannabees and fired Apprentice contestants.

How does your experience from your former role in Scotland help in the new position?

Scotland will always have a very dear place in my heart but I struggle to see how my former role helps in my new position. I’ve gone from agencies in Scotland where the biggest was Faulds at 100+ to an agency now that has over 600 people. I started in London in a big agency at JWT where the creative department was over 35 teams strong. It’s nice to get back to a big agency where they have all the resources you need to do your job, inhouse.

What are the differences in the way you now work?

I have to work in inches! I have to drop the letter ‘u’ from words. I won’t be able to fulfill my lifelong ambition of putting Jade Goody in an ad (although Victoria Beckham could be an option).

Would you recommend Scotland to work for your current staff/colleagues?

At this time, Scotland, unfortunately, isn’t really on the world marketing radar. People obviously know about it, a lot of Americans have obviously visited it and like it, but in terms of a shit hot place for great advertising, I don’t think it’s currently on a young creatives top 10 list of places to go. When I first moved to Scotland it was. Faulds had won the Epica D’Or and silver pencils at D&AD and both Leith and Faulds were regular finalists at Campaign Press and Posters. I think recently Scotland, and more to the point agencies, have done a bad job of promoting themselves. There are so many good online creative showcases that Scottish agencies could put their work on. Now being in the position of looking in from the outside, The Union are the only Scottish agency I’ve noticed. You have to ask the question why countries like New Zealand have such a strong creative reputation when they are similar-ish size in terms of population and marketing budgets?

What are the best things about your current role. And the worst too?

I wanted to put myself out of my comfort zone. I’m certainly doing that. The cycling is awesome (shit, there I go again). Learning loads about online marketing. A discipline I’ve winged it on for years or relied on the ever helpful and knowledgeable Mike Coulter. About to ride from SF to LA for The Fireflies for Leuka (www.thefirefliesride.com).

Worst things: Americans hardly indicate when turning (not good if you’re a cyclist). Had to listen to the Six Nations online (thank you BBC Five Live) at six in the morning. Not everyone in my house wants to hear the Irish national anthem at that time. No quality documentaries on TV.

Richie Hartness

creative director,

Scenario Communications, New Zealand

www.scenario.co.nz

What does the new role involve?

I’m in charge of our creative product, scheduling, client strategy/relationships, winning new business and working with the team to get the very best out of each and every project, working with suppliers.

How do the different cultures mix?

Culturally there’s lots of similarities – the language, the weather (almost), the pubs sell beer and the supermarket sells baked beans. Social marketing is high on the political agenda and dominates the TV ad breaks. Sustainability and environmental printing are major factors for both the public and private sectors. The diversity of cultures (Maori, Samoan etc) means being sensitive to different cultures and translations are an integral part many jobs. Beyond that I’d have to say there’s less ‘fluff’ in selling creative work and more honesty between agency and client – it’s refreshing to have a chat with a client about your thinking and recommendations first, rather than just bashing out the work to bring the figures in.

How does your experience from your former role in Scotland help in the new position?

Having dealt with the politics of a big agency and the demands of clients paying serious money for design within the UK marketplace it stands you in good stead for dealing with anything that comes your way. Any passionate designer will have an eye on what’s going on outside their front door – whether it’s an agency in New York, a typographer in Amsterdam or a photographer in Edinburgh.

That wider industry knowledge is always valuable to a team and clients, being able to think beyond your past experiences or approaches, to be able to see how even the smallest job fits within the bigger picture, and not being arrogant enough to think you know it all already.

What are the differences in the way you now work?

I’d say the designers have a little more time to think, and if there isn’t it’s my fault at the end of the day! We’re a team of 11 here in Wellington, all playing a part in delivering the best possible job for our clients – whether you’re an account manager, production co-ordinator or artworker we all play a part.

How did you end up in the role?

Working overseas had long been something I wanted to do – the closure of the Navyblue Leeds office and this opportunity coincided and we decided to take that chance in life to make a positive change.

Would you recommend it to others?

Yes I would, we’re an agency looking to recruit across both our offices, so if anyone fancies it!

Would you recommend Scotland to work for your current staff/colleagues?

Certainly would, we already have people that have worked in Scotland (other than me), England, France and Singapore - experience like that is a big plus on anyone’s CV.

How is Scotland’s creative industry perceived elsewhere?

European design is respected in New Zealand and all over the world. Too few ‘Scottish’ agencies are able to establish themselves beyond their home nation.

The more Scottish agencies start thinking and acting global not local the better. It’s not about where your studio is based, but the work you produce, the relationships you build with clients, the quality of the team you have and the people you’re able to attract as a result.

What are the best things about your current role. And the worst too?

The open-minded approach from the team and staff, being welcomed by clients and suppliers alike at a big party here in our Wellington office, complete with an all New Zealand food an drink menu, a very nice speech from the MD – what a way to dive into the culture.

The worst - the lack of Yorkshire Tea, missing the the football on TV and especially Middlesbrough thrashing City!

Chris Landy

creative, 180 Amsterdam

www.180amsterdam.com

What does the new role involve?

Working on a global scale as opposed to a local one.

How do the different cultures mix?

180 is a mish-mash of all types of different cultures, it’s less nine to five than than my previous jobs.

How does your experience from your former role in Scotland help in the new position?

We got to experiment a lot at The Leith, I think this helped as it didn’t just tie us in to one way of thinking.

What are the differences in the way you now work?

There is a big difference between our role now and when we worked in Scotland. My main creative focus now is based more on the encompassing ‘big idea’ that can then be filtered down for individual countries to work on.

The way we present work is completely different too, just because of the volume you have to deliver. The projects we get will often take around two years to fully complete where as in Scotland we used to do a TV ad and a couple of print ads in six month time frame.

The main difference is the target market though. It used to be UK-based now its pretty much everybody on the planet, which dramatically changes the way you approach a brief.

Would you recommend it to others?

It’s not for everyone, but I think getting out of your comfort zone is something everyone should do once in a while.

Have you learnt the language?

Dutch? Are you fucking kidding me... The majority of people I work with are mainly ex-pats so we all speak a fucked-up version of English as our common language.

How is Scotland’s creative industry perceived elsewhere?

This is going to sound biased, but for most people I speak to, Scottish advertising is the Leith Agency. Just because of the scope of work it did/does. It has nothing to do with the bribe money Gerry sent me.

What are the best things about your current role. And the worst too?

The best thing is the fact that you are only limited by your own imagination, not by money. The worst thing about my job is working till seven in the morning on a weekend putting a presentation together.

Lee Hempstock

creative, 180 Amsterdam

www.180amsterdam.com

What does the new role involve?

Working on big ideas for global brands and trying to create concepts that translate to every market. These ideas need to work from the big adverts down to the digital, event and retail experience.

How do the different cultures mix?

180 employs over 25 different nationalities but everyone speaks English primarily. It’s a bit like Sesame Street. The Dutch culture is very different to the Scottish experience. I don’t think they have that much in common apart from late drinking hours and rain.

How does your experience from your former role in Scotland help in the new position?

International work takes a lot longer to develop, sell and produce and I think the competitive creative department at Leith has given me the determination to just keep going through the long process and bounce back when things get tricky.

Leith was my first job in the business so all the experience I got from being in Scotland has helped me out quite a bit. Hanging around and working with Chris, Alex and Dougal was cool, we had a really good laugh and those times really made a big impression on me.

What are the differences in the way you now work?

Now I’m working in a more mixed creative department with designers and digital creatives. Each project has a different team of people so I’m not working in such a competitive environment now.

In Leith every team had their own office and most of the time we were given the same briefs. Now I’m in a trendy open plan environment which has different pros and cons.

The sort of work I do now compared to before is way more strategic, I have to think more like a planner and create new platforms and campaign thoughts. Before we had pre-existing campaigns to make executions for. The other main difference is the use of humour – when your talking to a global audience humour has to be more subtle and universal, very different to work we did in Scotland.

How did you end up in the role?

I was in Amsterdam with Chris and we thought we’d have a look around. We were offered a job in 180 and another guy was talking to us about going to Madre in Argentina. We thought the chance to work on Adidas World Cup was impossible to say no to. Also Holland has a lower rate of kidnapping.

Would you recommend it to others?

Yes, I think working in different countries, in different cultures opens up your range of ideas. It’s easy to get blinkered by one place and one mindset, after a while I feel that the work starts to repeat itself. A handful of agencies in one location influence each other, it happens in London and New York just the same. Scotland has its own particular sense of humour and outlook that the work needs to represent.

Would you recommend Scotland to work for your current staff/colleagues?

I would definitely recommend the experiences that I had in Scotland but I’ve no idea if things are the same now as they were then. I had a great time and learned a lot.

Have you learnt the language?

I can say a few little phrases but one of the things I like best about being in Amsterdam is that fact that the Dutch speak Dutch to each other and they speak English to the English speakers. I never overhear other people’s conversations on trains and in restaurants anymore, no-one breaks in and takes over my head talking about last nights reality show or what Gary did to Jackie. It’s funny, I tend to think the Dutch are really intelligent and classy because I can’t understand when they are talking shit. When I’m in the UK now overhearing the “yeah but no but” stuff is a bit distracting.

How is Scotland’s creative industry perceived elsewhere?

This will sound biased but outside of Scotland people have a positive impression of The Leith Agency (from award books and such) but I’m not sure they think about the Scottish ad industry that much. If the work is good and breaks out of the scene that’s when people get a good impression.

What are the best things about your current role. And the worst too?

At the moment I’m working on global themes and big ideas for huge companies like Sony, Adidas and Amstel. Everyday I learn something new, it feels like I’m working on experiments trying find new ways to be creative, it’s a long process and each project usually takes over a year before you see your work out there. Sometimes I do miss getting a brief that needs a film on air in two months and everytime we send a script to Dougal he’s too busy but then again I’m out here working in the LA office at the moment so its nae bother. Thank you Scotland.

Toby Southgate

General manager, Brand Union, Abu Dhabi

www.thebrandunion.com

What does the new role involve?

The role is focused on establishing a new office for The Brand Union (formerly Enterprise IG) in Abu Dhabi. The Middle East and North Africa is a major priority area for the business and for WPP. The Brand Union already has a substantial presence with an established base in Dubai, and we are actively developing the business across the region as a whole, from Turkey and North Africa all the way across to India, where we have an office in Bangalore. I joined in January and my work so far has concentrated on developing relationships with our key clients in the region, recruiting the initial team for Abu Dhabi, and overseeing the build and fit-out of our new office.

How do the different cultures mix?

The Brand Union is a very cosmopolitan place, particularly in this region – I have 70 or so colleagues here made up of at least 16 nationalities. I’m glad to say there are one or two Scots and some Brits, as well as a great mix of South Africans, Australians, Swiss, Lebanese, New Zealanders, Indians, Germans, Americans...

How does your experience from your former role in Scotland help in the new position?

I was at Navyblue with Doug and the team for three and a half years. Then I had the opportunity to join Third Eye Design, work with Mark and take that business into the US. The fact is that I wouldn’t be here today without those experiences.

There are two major differences, aside from the weather. Firstly, the economic climate here in the Middle East is very different, particularly at the moment given the pressures in more mature markets. I’ve never seen the kind of optimisim, enthusiasm, and commitment to the future that I’ve seen in these last four months in the Middle East. And secondly, the business itself is different on every level. This is my first experience of working with a true global network, and as part of a major holding company. So naturally the structure and the working processes are all new to me.

What are the differences in the way you now work?

Absolutely everything about my day to day working life is different. The commitment levels, the reporting structure, the people I work with, the clients I speak to, the support and the network I have to lean on. And rightly so - this is a very different business in a very different market.

Would you recommend it to others?

I would recommend to anyone that they see a different culture and a different way of working. All experiences make you stronger as a person and give you a broader set of skills and assets.

How is Scotland’s creative industry perceived elsewhere?

Honestly, the profile is very low, but I see that as an opportunity for businesses in Scotland to stand up and look beyond their immediate horizons. Third Eye Design are doing that, and actively demonstrating genuine ambition and commitment. I believe the Navyblue team is also looking increasingly outside the UK for new opportunities too, and Elmwood of course has already demonstrated success in Australia. These business are changing people’s perceptions, and I hope they continue to do so. But it needs a long-term commitment and it won’t happen overnight. Ad agencies have a different set of challenges, but I’d love to see Newhaven or The Leith look outside of the UK too.

What are the best things about your current role. And the worst too?

I’m part of a truly global company and a business of 600+ world class individuals. I’m helping to build an established business in one of the most exciting and bouyant economies in the world, and I’m working with brands and organisations at a structural and organisation level that have real global ambition.

There are downsides. No Deuchars IPA for one. I miss Grimaldi’s Pizza in Brooklyn, and I miss playing golf in East Lothian. But I’ll be back to both.

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