The Union’s Don Smith and Michael Hart are happy creatives. The joint deputy creative directors scooped an impressive four golds and two silvers at The Roses, with Hart gaining a silver and a bronze with another art director, Ben Craig, for their work on S1 Jobs. Not only that, but each creative in the agency was part of a team that won an award, as the agency also won two golds and three bronzes. But for 33-year-old Smith, the real accolade is that The Union’s creative prowess has now become the envy of all other agencies in Scotland. “One of the creatives from the Leith agency that I spoke to at The Roses said that Gerry [Farrell] had sat them down last year and said, ‘I want you to pull your fingers out and beat the Union in awards’,” he said. “I love the idea that there’s such a turnaround and a culture that the Leith Agency are sitting there saying, ‘We need to catch up with the Union’, when for so many years everyone was saying, ‘We need to catch up with the Leith Agency’. I think that’s a measure of the quality and depth we have in creative.”
The pair became deputy creative directors in November 2002 and have taken on extra responsibility since Simon Scott, joint creative director at the agency, went on a sabbatical in 2003. Scott’s return hasn’t yet been announced, and the fact that Smith and Hart joke about ‘the long weekend’ when Scott left, suggests his return isn’t imminent. So how does the seniority of their management role fit in with their roles as creatives?
“We’re still creatives first and foremost,” said Smith. “The other skills – the management – we can learn. What we don’t want to do is turn into full-time managers; we’re creatives first and foremost.” Working in an eight-strong creative department, under the directorship of Andrew Lindsay – Scott’s former partner – has allowed Smith and Hart to explore different ways of working, in particular, Lindsay’s process of giving briefs to teams that he thinks ‘fit’ the brief. “I think another thing Andrew’s been keen to do is try to break down the barriers that exist between the creative divisions,” said 38-year-old Hart. “So instead of us having a direct marketing creative department, and an above-the-line department, and also a through-the-line department, we all work on all elements of media.” Smith agreed. “Andrew is not a formulaic creative director, there’s not an ‘Andrew way’ of doing things,” he said. “If it’s good he’ll accept it. We have a freedom to explore our own likes and dislikes, and it’s great to feel you don’t have to follow set patterns. I’ve worked with creative directors in the past where it’s their way or no way; Andrew’s a good creative director to work for in that respect. I think that’s why we have a good retention of staff, and always have done, because people have the freedom to do their own thing and develop personally.”
The team split in November 2004 for no reason other than for a change. “Ben [Craig] came along without a writer and it presented an opportunity for the department, and for Andrew, to freshen things up,” said Hart. “It was an opportunity for us to create a fresh dynamic in the agency. Don and I are still deputy creative directors; we still have regular meetings with Andrew and the department and are involved in how it’s run, and where we are.”
“There are four creative teams, and there’s Andrew working on his own, me working on my own as an art director but I’m also working with Lucas Wilde, an art director who joined us from Australia,” said Smith. “Lucas and I are in the same office and coming together on some projects, and working together on others. And then if I’m doing a project where I need a copywriter, Michael might come and help or one of the other copywriters. We’re all involved in the execution. The direct marketing part of the agency and the new media side are growing all the time, so creatively we’re having to adapt our way of thinking. There is the perception that [as deputy creative directors] you give yourselves the best briefs. Michael and I don’t do that. We work on the hardest, most difficult retail things that we may never come across in our career, as well as trying to find some opportunities along the way. There’s a culture of that in here. We back each other up very well. If some of us are working hard on a very difficult job and that frees up someone else to have more fun with a creative opportunity, then fine.”
Smith joined the agency in 1998, after a year-long stint at HHCL in London, following being made redundant from Faulds. “When I was made redundant, this place [The Union] had only just really started,” he said. “It was only a year or two old. I didn’t really see there were any opportunities in Edinburgh, so I went to London. In the time I was down there the Union grew and built up its client base. By the time I kind of thought ‘it’s time to go back up there’, the Union had got to the point where I came in and saw Simon [Scott] and Andrew and they were looking to hire someone with my experience. We liked each other.”
Hart took a somewhat unconventional route into advertising having started out as an architect, before joining the agency in 1997. “The thing about architecture is that it’s such a long, drawn out process,” he said. “It’s very similar to advertising in that you get a brief from a client, you follow a creative path that leads you to the finished product; but in architecture that can last 18 to 24 months. And your enthusiasm and your interest in a project generally disappear after three days. But in advertising it’s a two-day, one-day turnover. That’s what I was fascinated by.”