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Chinese New Year IPA Leith Agency

Teaching the trade: Nurturing Creatives

By The Drum | Administrator

April 24, 2008 | 12 min read

Napier University’s masters degree in Creative Advertising was launched three years ago in close colaboration with the Scottish advertising industry. Its aim? to address the issue of homegrown talent. With a number of teams now working within the indust

If ever Scotland’s advertising industry needed to invest in its own future, it is now.

It may therefore have been with foresight that, three years ago, Napier University launched its masters degree in Creative Advertising to address the issue of homegrown talent.

Working closely with the IPA and its Scottish member base, the course – the first ever of its kind in Scotland – had to be nurtured into fruition almost as carefully as the talent that it hoped to incubate itself.

Letters dated 2004 flooded in to support the course’s creation. Signatures from Scotland’s advertising elite showing that this was a move that it fully supported and, it seemed, really needed. The course was validated in 2005, ready to launch. But one piece of the jigsaw was yet to be put in place. Who would be trusted with the supply of talent to meet the demands of a needy industry?

Susie Henry graduated from Goldsmiths in 1972 with dreams of taking the art world by storm. She ended up in an ad agency in Camden. However, a job offer from David Abbott at FGA was to steer her career onwards. She made her debut in the D&AD Annual in 1974 before a move to DDB. At DDB Henry lived and breathed the Bernbach philosophy.

“The place fizzed with fabulous work,” she says. “We had brave clients and big budgets. I found myself writing beer ads – unheard of for a girlie creative.”

In fact, she even went on to win a Gold BTAA for one.

First woman

She left DDB in 1980 to become a founding partner in Waldron Allen Henry & Thompson – the first woman creative to have her name on the door of a London agency. In 1992 she was invited by Bruce Haines to join the board of KHBB, and subsequently Saatchi and Saatchi, before teaming up with art director Judy Smith in 1998 to found Henry Smith.

Needless to say, Susie Henry learnt her trade from some of the most renowned names in advertising. From Abbott to Bernbach. And now she is passing on her craft to the students of Scotland’s first Creative Advertising masters degree.

“The idea was there long before I arrived,” she says. “The Scottish advertising industry realised how important it was to grow its own talent.

It wasn’t an easy process though. There were plenty of reasons for not doing it. But those that believed in it kept going with it.”

Henry was approached by The Bridge’s creative director Jonathan d’Aguilar to run the course and, not wanting to become “London’s oldest, most wrinkled copywriter,” she decided that this was the ideal chance to move back to Edinburgh – her family’s hometown – having previously rejected the opportunity to make the move when Edinburgh’s most famous advertising agency Hall Advertising offered her the creative directors role “many years ago”.

Yet she did have her initial reservations: “I knew nothing about academic life at all. I was an art student in the 70’s and they were pretty wild times... To be a lecturer you have to be really quite... you know...”

But three years on, the only looking back that she is now doing is to check on the progress of her masters students. Already they are scattered around Scotland’s agencies – and beyond. The Leith Agency employs two creative teams, The Union another. One student currently works at a Glasgow-based agency, while two students work together in London, with yet another in the US.

“There is a very rigorous process of interviewing to get the right students. In the first year only ten percent of those who applied were admitted. We have been very particular in our selection, keeping the classes very small [around ten].

“This is really quite unusual for a university in this day and age, where there is always pressure to drive numbers, to have such a selective process. We’re not looking for students who have a great portfolio of work, but they have to have ability. They need to be inventive and have good imaginative writing skills.”

The Scottish advertising industry has long been fighting a drain of talent that sees many of its top creatives leaving the country in search of better briefs or bigger challenges. It is perhaps ironic then that one of the biggest challenges of all is to attract or to keep talent in Scotland.


“The industry was heavily involved in shaping the course,” says Henry. “It is incredibly important that the course stays relevant to the industry.” As such, the IPA agencies have all contributed to the ingredients of the programme, while the course also offers a series of masterclasses which have seen the likes of Gerry Farrell, Jonathan d’Aguilar, Gareth Howells and Adrian Jeffery all visit the students to share their experience.

Adding to the mix are the likes of Phil Adams and Ian McAteer, allowing the transfer of knowledge of pitching and presentation skills, for example, too.

These masterclasses are followed by a vital two-week work placement at one of the Scottish IPA member agencies.

This practical and vocational expertise certainly makes for good study, but how does one teach creativity? Henry may have learnt from some of the profession’s best, but what will the students be able to learn from her, in turn?

“A lot comes down to the ability to communicate in an entertaining, involving way,” she acknowledges. “You find people who have that naturally. Some people can tell a joke better than others. Why is that?

“There are people that have a talent for communicating. What we can teach is how to make a better judgment. How to have an opinion on things. Why do you like a commercial? How do you think it was made? What do you think the budget was? Has it changed your attitude to what it’s selling?

“When students join the course, they come at it from the position of the punter. They are the audience.

“You have to strive for originality, because that is what gets you noticed.”

There are other areas that Henry also claims are just as important.

“Understanding a brief is vital. You have a better shot at writing a good ad if you have a good brief and if you fully understand what it is asking for. A good brief doesn’t mean that it has a £1m production budget attached to it. It doesn’t mean that it has to be a brief for a beer brand or a car. If it’s insightful it’s a huge help to the creative team. We go right back to the start of the brief,” explains Henry.

But is Napier’s Craighouse campus, high on the hill, surrounded by manicured gardens and lawns and completely removed from everyday life an environment that is conducive to the cut and thrust of the highly competitive advertising industry?

Rarified atmosphere

“I’m a firm believer in getting the students out there. We are in this fully-rarified atmosphere on the hill. We need to be out there, where people are. Where real life is.

“This afternoon we are taking a live brief. Last year we worked with Edinburgh Zoo to create a campaign. While Newhaven had the account, the zoo didn’t have a budget to speak of as it had used it up for the year. It loved the work and ran it.

“We are doing something similar with the students at a similar Edinburgh destination later today.”

As well as having two students featured in last year’s D&AD annual, the course has also seen the students work to create a campaign for the Scottish Conservative party, and Henry is keen to get more hands-on experience for the class.

The all-important two-week agency placement is something that she is keen to extend. But coming from an agency background herself, she knows that it is sometimes a big ask.

“What’s happening to the Scottish industry, especially in the last couple of years, shows that it’s not easy times. But that’s maybe the best time to be hiring students.

“We need to convert placements into employment. That’s the big leap.

“Gerry Farrell, for example, has been brilliant. Not only has he given his time, like others, to come in here to talk, but he has also put his money where his mouth is.

“Two of my students from last year have just finished the most fantastic film for the Scottish Executive. I’ve not seen it yet, but I hear it is fabulous.”

And she has her sources… Her daughter is a planner at The Leith Agency.

In fact, two of Henry’s three children are in advertising. And her dad, Brian, was an influential advertising man too. “I watch Mad Men and think, ‘that was like my dad’ – I remember so much of that vintage as a child,” says Henry. “Just last week I showed the class masses of old ads. I asked them a simple question. Do you think these are relevant now? The style of art direction is very different and there are great slabs of copy.

“The ads might be dated in their look but there is a simplicity. If things are simple and uncluttered, they don’t date nearly as quickly. If it is stuffy and over-fashionable, it can quickly become irrelevant.”

Henry is confident that, with the help of the Scottish advertising industry, the course is producing the talent that it promised. By giving the students the best start to their advertising careers, she hopes that the stream of creative talent that the industry was so craving will be tapped to provide the necessary nourishment to allow it to flourish.


“In a small class, I get to know what their strengths and weaknesses are. I don’t let them pair off themselves. I shuffle the pack regularly. It’s important, in the early stages, to have experience of working as a partnership, but with different people. By the end of the second semester, some have formed more permanent partnerships.

“Sometimes partnerships don’t work and you have to start all over again. But I’d like to think that the students will leave here with a good working relationship that they feel can be continued in the work environment.

“It’s not easy for the students when they leave. But we are trying to give them the best start possible.

“While you always need the experience at the top, young, fresh talent is vital for the health of an agency. And the industry.”

The Leith Agency employs two creative teams to emerge from the course... The Drum finds out what they thought of it.


& DAVID Grenfell

I’d spent a few years working in Corporate Banking and wasn’t enjoying it. I’d always liked the idea of advertising so I had a look at a few courses around the country. I’m from Edinburgh so Napier was the easy option.

As a writer, working with Susie Henry was really helpful. Plus her stories of 1980s advertising excess made me more determined to work in the industry.

There was support from the IPA and Barkers (i.e. cash) and most agencies were supportive, whether it was chucking us a brief or coming in for a chat.

No one ever expected the Scottish industry to just give us a job because we were on the course. Agencies don’t care where you’ve come from, as long as you’re good or show a little potential.

Chris was the year behind me at Napier but we really started working together on the D&AD workshops. And it was through these workshops that we got our chance at Leith.

ANDREW Aradipiotis

& MARCUS Culloty

Napier is the only postgraduate masters programme in the UK. For two guys, one from Cyprus and another from Ireland, it was to be an adventure for the lost ark or better still, a coveted creative job in advertising.

Both our research into finding the course started and ended with Google.

Right from the get-go we felt part of an agency. This led to the formation of our creative partnership.

If the course is to have any Achilles heal it is that there is no focus of one’s creativity, copywriter or art director. We graduate as ideas people. Paradoxically, that’s also one of its strengths.After just a few months, we entered the global Student D&AD competition and were successful. Not long after, we collectively pitched work to Edinburgh Zoo on a pro bono basis.

Towards the end of the programme we got a work placement at Newhaven, which in turn got us an audience with Leith’s Gerry Farrell.

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