The dreamers: DigitasLBi's Simon Gill on why agencies need to adopt more of a 'think, make, do' approach

As part of a new series celebrating the people behind big creative concepts – the industry’s dreamers – The Drum catches up with Simon Gill, chief creative officer, DigitasLBi, to discuss why agencies need to be more inquisitive and what campaigns make him jealous.

What inspires you outside of the agency walls?

People inspire me. I like to see what they’re doing, what they’re talking about. As you go about your business it’s interesting to see what people are doing. You just can’t ignore that fact. And you’ve got to approach it in quite an interesting observational manner and ask questions sometimes. Just being inquisitive is a good thing.

Do you think agencies are inquisitive enough?

No. I think agencies are under a lot of pressure to provide better value for their clients, which translates to working harder. The problem is, if you work too hard, you don’t pay enough attention to what’s out there, which means your work doesn’t work as hard – so it’s easy to get into quite a negative spiral.

Agencies have to work quite hard to remain relevant. The onus is on the people working in agencies to be quite inspired themselves. I think the agency needs to create the environment which is inspiring and people need to latch on to that – it’s a partnership.

So, how do you inspire your creative team?

Every two weeks we have a guest speaker in to talk about what they do. This ranges from artists who are doing interesting things with data and textiles, to programmers to interesting musicians – a whole gambit of people who are embracing a more digitally infused livelihood and being.

The key thing for us is being able to collaborate and pull in people with quite a diverse set of skills and interests to help create this interesting bubble of inspiration which we can then dive into, misinterpret and then find something new from.

What excites you most about developments in digital?

The proliferation of online platforms like YouTube, from a creative perspective, means that it’s much easier for you to make something and be creative and get it out there. The barrier to entry is quite low and so if you’ve got a hunch or an idea, you can put it out there. It hasn’t made it easier for people to be better creatives, but it’s made it easier for them to start being creative and make things and get them in front of people.

There’s more access and that’s quite liberating, and also a bit scary for brands and agencies. But I think in terms of understanding creativity and letting people be more creative, that’s got to be a good thing.

Do agencies need to step out of the box when it comes to making and doing?

Agencies need to be more about the 'think, make, do' approach. Making is part of the process that agencies have really got to embrace.

Moving from selling time to making a product is in agencies’ best interests, but it’s pretty tricky to do and it puts agencies on this path thinking they can get rich, but actually it takes you quite a few goes and it’s a whole new skillset that’s evolved.

So I think agencies have to embrace this but not for the ‘get rich quick’ reasons they might perhaps think of. The idea of 'making' as part of the overall process has got to be fundamental.

Which campaign are you personally most proud of?

Brandon Generator for Microsoft. It was a proper collaboration with the client, PR agency Three Monkeys, Edgar Wright and Tommy Lee Edwards. The client was really supportive and all the agencies came together to really collaborate on this, as did the talent. It represented an interesting prototype around how crowdsourced storytelling can evolve.

What about projects you wish you had worked on? What makes you a bit jealous?

It’s a bit of a cliché, but the whole Nike+ thing. I remember it first coming out and being quite envious. It’s the fact it still gets talked about – it’s a great example of an idea worth advertising as opposed to an advertising idea.

Who inspires you in the industry?

You have to take your hat off to Wieden + Kennedy London because we all know how hard it is to deliver good work and they deliver consistently good creative work.

When you get into jazz, one of the things people tell you to do is buy Miles Davis' Kind of Blue and look who played on it, then buy his next three albums and look who played on it, just follow out from there and that will give you a brilliant introduction to modern jazz and all the key players within it. In the industry, I feel Howard Luck Gossage is a similar figure. If you were to look at one person and follow how they inspired people, it should be him.

What trend is having the biggest impact on the industry right now?

All the talk about innovation is a really helpful and useful thing because although most people don’t know what they’re talking about – or they talk about it in poorly informed ways – in order to make some real change, you need to be talking about it. The focus on holistic design thinking and innovation is a really positive one.

The Drum’s newest awards scheme, The Dream Awards, will recognise the big ideas behind the UK’s best creative campaigns. The official entry deadline has passed, but extensions are available by contacting Emma Mercer.

In addition to this interview, Gill has also appeared in a film (below) as part of a series created by Lost Boys, featuring creative visionaries discussing the inspiration behind some of their biggest campaigns.

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