‘Water makes me happy’: Beyond the Brief with Noel Cottrell, Fitzgerald & Co.

Noel Cottrell, Fitzgerald & Co.

To celebrate its 100th Anniversary, the 4A’s has partnered with us at The Drum to pull back the curtain and look at an industry full of problem solvers, creative types and analytical minds. But what keeps them going once the briefs are written, the campaigns executed, and the pitches won (or lost)? The Drum is now interviewing 100 people at 4A’s member agencies — across all disciplines, levels, regions, and agency types — to get a glimpse into what drives them at work and what fuels them in life.

Noel Cottrell serves as the chief creative officer of Fitzgerald & Co. where he has increased revenue and grown the size of the agency in the last few years. Before heading to the US in 2008, Cottrell co-founded two agencies, Joe Public and FoxP2, in South Africa.

In 2008, he sold his shares and headed to the US where he joined Grey Worldwide as the executive creative director. At Grey, he worked with E*Trade and P&G. Following his work at Grey, he joined Fitzgerald & Co. in Atlanta where he has grown the agency through work with brands such as Coca-Cola, Sony, Carrabba’s, Navy Federal Credit Union and Checkers & Rally’s.

Simply Cottrell loves advertising, and that plus his creativity, shows he is living beyond the brief.

What was your proudest career moment?

Flying back from Toronto after we’d been there shooting our E*Trade Talking Baby Super Bowl spots and the passenger next to me asked what I’d been doing in Canada. I explained and his face lit up, he stood up out of his seat and announced that he was sitting next to one of the creators of the E*Trade ads. The whole plane broke into spontaneous applause. I’m sure a lot of it had to do with Canadians just being the nicest people, but it did make me super-proud to be part of that team.

What’s the craziest thing that you’ve seen happen in a new business pitch?

As a co-owner of FoxP2 in South Africa we pitched one of South Africa’s premier asset management companies. To bring to life investing immediately to generate future wealth we used the analogy of The Butterfly Effect – where a small action can eventually have enormous consequences. At the end of the pitch each person on the client team was given a small box that they opened, and a previously partially-frozen butterfly flew out of the boxes. I think we had about 30 butterflies flying around the pitch room and a butterfly wrangler came in with a net, captured all the butterflies and released them into the wild. We won the pitch.

What is the moment that you knew you wanted to be in advertising?

I was working multiple jobs in London. Bouncer at the Empire nightclub on Leicester Square, potato peeler at The Big Pan Catering Company, drug research guinea pig at Guy’s Research Hospital and Lifeguard at The Queen Mother Sports Center. These jobs didn’t span my years in London — I did all of them, every day. A friend was working as an au pair for a wealthy family in London and invited me for dinner. The host surprised at my eclectic list of jobs asked me what I intended to do with my English Lit degree, and if I’d ever considered copywriting. I’d never heard of it so he let me come intern at his agency, it was Saatchi & Saatchi London. I walked in and sat with the team working on the Penn tennis balls account, they had their office painted green, with a net strung across, both were dressed in tennis whites and were hitting a ball around their office, it was at that exact moment that I knew I wanted to be in advertising.

Where is your happy place/space?

Anywhere near a body of water. Bakoven Beach in Cape Town South Africa where we vacation on trips back to visit friends and family. Lake Burton Georgia where Dave Fitzgerald (founder and Chairman of Fitzco) owns a lake house and taught us the ritual of a sunset pontoon boat booze cruise, or on the beaches of 30A Seaside in Florida, body surfing with my daughters in the emerald waters. Water makes me happy, like a hippo.

What is an art that you cannot live without?

Music. I am an enormous fan of hip-hop, old and new. I played basketball in the US at collegiate level and went back to South Africa with an appreciation for Run DMC and LL Cool Jay that never left me. Now I’m hooked and stream hip hop non-stop on Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal (just for the Jay-Z). I can’t brush my teeth in the morning without some hard rhymes to do it to. My wife is often appalled by the lyrics. Both my daughters have inherited my love for hip hop, we play [the] 80’s on 8 [radio station] when mom’s in the car.

If your life and career were a biopic, who’d narrate it? Who’d be on the soundtrack?

Dikembe Mutombo would narrate (he belongs to my gym and his voice fills every man in the locker room with envy and fear) and the soundtrack would be by Biggie Smalls, my favorite artist. The fact that they are both fellow enormous humans is no coincidence.

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Haley Velasco

Haley Velasco is a writer based in Chicago, IL, who has a background in PR for a sports media company and has reported on a variety of topics, including sports, opinion, politics and celebrity news. Based in the Windy City, she covers industry happenings in the Midwest and throughout North America. She has been reporting for The Drum since May 2016.

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