A day in the life
It’s a drab and cold Monday morning, but I am greeted at Newhaven’s offices by two relaxed-looking men, their faces do not appear to wear the glum look usually present on the first day back to work after the weekend. Instead, they are sitting in the kitchen area of their office, ruminating about the day ahead.
The Drum has chosen to spend the day with creative directors Zane Radcliffe and Gareth Howells, one-half of the partnership that founded Newhaven, one of the newest and arguably most creative agencies in Scotland. The agency, which was formed only two years ago on the back of the much sought after Tennent’s Lager account, has gone from strength to strength, topping off an excellent year by scooping the Grand Prix at the Scottish Advertising Awards for the afore mentioned client Tennent’s.
The Drum is here to find out just what the baggy trousers of this pairing do in the typical day – apart from “sitting around, ‘thinking’”, as Howells explained to me when we first talked about the idea.
While the agency’s staff numbers might not be as large as other agencies – there are 14 employees in total – the building where the agency is based is large; it was once a grain store mill that has now been lovingly transformed to become a bright, creative hub for not only Newhaven but other firms too. At the back of the building the agency has rented out space to other creative-types – a hub of creative activity if you like, with an artist in residence, designers and Product magazine, all residing at number 77 Montgomery Street.
The tour of the building over, Radcliffe sits down to discuss a brief with me, a brief that he wants me to have a crack at solving. Eek! Initially I think it must be the easiest job in the world to come up with ideas. And to some extent it probably is. But, at the same time, while the ideas might come quickly, the filtering through of these ideas is a completely different matter, and most of them, which you might think are good, on closer examination, you discover are not.
Having made the arrangement to spend a day in the creative team, the partners at Newhaven decided that instead of simply watching the work that was being done, I would become part of the process. So, after the initial introductions, which also resulted in me seeing some “strictly confidential” work for a client, I was briefed with my task for the day.
The brief was one that will be familiar to regular readers of The Drum as it was based around an issue that we had dealt with at the end of last year. My first brief was to encourage publicans, in a trade press advert, to be more positive about the impending smoking in public spaces ban – something that even Radcliffe admitted would be a tough brief.
The brief had been set for me by planning director Ken Dixon who was otherwise engaged in Belfast, and it offered me an insight into the way the creative department is guided in their thinking by the planners. It also showed how the creative department approaches their work.
As Radcliffe noted, it probably is easier when you can sit with a creative partner and really start to bounce the ideas off one another. Well, that is my excuse for not coming up with some of the most creative of ideas on this brief.
The creative department is a large open plan mezzanine floor above the account handlers’ seats. Newhaven currently has two creative teams – Howells and Radcliffe along with another creative team (copywriter Paul Mason and art director Mark Harrison) who had previously worked at The Union – working on a variety of accounts that range from Scottish Equitable to the Scottish Executive’s range of public information work.
One of the tasks that Mason and Harrison have to do is select a director for their latest TV campaign for a confidential client. The client had already approved the ads and reading the short and punchy scripts it was clear that they had a certain style in mind.
And so an hour is taken up looking over directors’ show reels and shortlisting potential directors. One show reel impresses the pair a lot – however they suspected that the director is American as all the ads are from ‘across the pond’. They are also for Budweiser. “Ah well,” says Mason. “We can pass that on to the team downstairs and they can deal with that end of things.”
After compiling a shortlist, Mason comments: “That is always the difficult thing – we have to make sure that we both want the same director and hope that they are available when we need them.”
Which raises an interesting point – while the creative department is always aware of the budget that needs to be adhered to, they do not limit their choices in order to stick to it.
“I do think that if the client wants a certain quality then they have to pay for it,” comments Radcliffe. “I mean I have heard clients say, ‘well we have given them X amount of the budget, but really we have far more than that, we just want to see how well they can do on as little as possible’. That just simply is not good for the industry. Yes, directors or commercial production companies might want to get some quality ads on their show reel to bump them up, and do it for free. But, at the end of the day it is bad for the industry and it is not a route that we like to travel down.”
Mason and Harrison are relative newcomers to the industry having worked with Newhaven for the past few months. Before Newhaven they were with The Union for a year, after a six-month placement at the agency.
They say that working in a smaller creative department really benefits their portfolio and way of working. Harrison says: “The good thing about working in such a small department is that we are handed briefs to work on if the other two are busy. That gives us far more experience.”
Radcliffe agrees: “I remember when I first started working in London agencies. The briefs were always given out depending on the hierarchy and who had won the pitch. It’s not like that here and I think our way of working means that we can get the best out of our staff.”
And, indeed they do.
And, so, on with my creative brief. For the last part of the afternoon I, along with the able assistance of Mason and Harrison, think about ideas for the brief. Now, a disclaimer should be noted here. The Drum did, to an extent, take part in this creative task, but at the same time was shadowing the developments. Therefore, a great deal of the work should be credited to Mason and Harrison.
However, the objective of the day was to shadow the team as opposed to take part, and to that extent a great deal was learnt about the workings of a creative department. First of all, the small creative department of this agency works incredibly hard. While some in an agency might see creativity as the being the ‘easier’ job in the business, it is not. Instead the team not only has to soak up the many influences from around them, but they also have to try to put these into ads that may need to remain current and fresh up to, sometimes, six months after the original concept is developed.
So, there might be a lot of “sitting around, ‘thinking’”, but at the end of the day these thoughts are what make this industry great.