It’s important for anyone working in the creative realms of advertising to continually step outside of the bubble and see the world around them. Each year, to support just that need, Poke co-founder and Publicis London chief executive, Nick Farnhill hosts an event (and soon to be podcast) that helps to achieve just that.
This year’s Poke Brilliant Lectures, the eighth, was another opportunity for the industry to hear three surprising insights from inspirational figures with life stories to tell, and creative inspiration to share in abundance.
Held for a second year at a London boozer during advertising week (run by The Drum), the panel was made up of Bafta-winning film-maker Joe Wade, who is the chief executive of advertising agency with a purpose called Don’t Panic, Deanna Rodger, spoken word poet who teaches at the School of Communication Arts, and Ged King, the SkullFades founder who has taken his skills to the streets by giving haircuts to the homeless and who has just launched the Skull Fades Foundation, a charity looking to help people at risk.
Each were given three tasks to present to the gathered audience which would offer their own insights and experiences, while providing insights and inspiration at the same time (see video above for the full event.)
Something I Made
The first task handed to the three was to showcase something they each made, which included Rodger performing a piece around London (see video 3.36) where she explained that she felt it was the best way for to exemplify her work.
“A major part of my career is people seeing my work and seeing it, that is how I’ve made my career – it wasn’t planned,” explained Rodger who went first and then showcased a commission she has just finished for the Design Museum, entitled ‘Hope to Nope’. The brief was ’10 years in one minute. Write it in one day’.
“I see poets as carrying the news in our words,” she would later add while discussing the work she had been doing internationally in creating shows with other poets.
King presented a video of his work helping the homeless on the streets of Manchester retain dignity by offering them free haircuts, something he has attempted to take outside of England as well.
“After the first year I found we were very busy and I was very proud to have created a business from scratch. I’m from Manchester and I love my city, and I had my business but I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t happy and fulfilled. It broke my heart to see so many men and women living on the streets of our city and I wanted to do something about it,” he explained. “People think these are just a haircut, but they aren’t. When we meet people and positively connect with them, we can bring them into the light and they begin to think differently and its from that place that they can make a real, lasting change.”
Joe opened with a clip of Elon Musk’s SpaceX launch that included the first car in space…which he later admitted was a joke, even thought the car windscreen featured the words ‘Don’t Panic’. “Musky, I don’t know him but he did put our name on the car.”
He moved on to explain the mantra of Don’t Panic is to tell the biggest possible audience about “stuff that we care about” by making entertaining adverts and issue-based comedy.
“We want to take something that people find boring, recontextualise it by introducing creativity to make it interesting, which is the essence of most advertising, and have fun while we are doing it,” he explained before revealing a poster, featuring an image created by Banksy, which it inserted into leaving bags handed out to Fabric nightclub attendees which would highlight a current issue or cause. (16.46)
“Those causes turned into a TV programme… where we took the causes on the comedy and turned them into issue-based comedy,” he explained. “What we are trying to do with advertising is earn media and get as many organic views as we can.” He presented the agency’s work with Greenpeace to attack Lego’s Shell partnership.
“One of the ways we get these things shared is by putting say Jon Snow getting covered in oil and then we contact Game of Thrones fans with the video…that’s our way of working and how we make things go viral.”
What Inspired Me
Deanna gave an emotional rendition of arguably her best-known work ‘I did it too’ (28.45)
Ged told a story of one of his regular friends on the streets (32.38) who was born addicted to heroin and how his story inspired him, alongside another who had been abused as a child by his parents as well as in the care system that was meant to protect him. Another friend showed an interest in becoming a barber, so Ged trained him and he now works as a full-time barer as a result he revealed.
He continued to talk about his work in one neighborhood in Paris where 500 homeless men. There he visited one day in order to give 100 of them haircuts. That day also saw him given help by one 15 refugee from Guinea who helped him when he began to feel overwhelmed; “We cut together the whole day and he really put a shift in and helped me that day. We got through a long day and cutting on the streets of Paris I donated the equipment to him and he was overwhelmed and couldn’t believe that he had his own set of barber equipment. I told him to look after the guys. I last spoke to him via Facebook last month and he told me he was still cutting on the streets – that really inspires me.”
Joe surprisingly named the former RBS chief Fred ‘the Shred’ Goodwin as a source of inspiration – “a lot of it came from the anger, the political situation, there was the banking collapse and the bailout which is what made us thing that we wanted to talk about issues that we cared about and to speak to people in a new way, which was facilitated by YouTube starting as well,” explained Joe of the roots of his business.
“That moment gave everyone an opportunity to get political messages to an audience which was how we came up with our method of doing things. We used to go out with a budget of £250 and we wanted to get a big audience to know more about what was going on with MPs or bankers so we made videos that the press might want to write about.
He then showed a video clip of another inspiration which was The Day Today creator, Chris Morris; “Doing things in the real world and doing things with jeopardy was a shortcut for us to get content that was shareable.”
“Political Outrage + Chris Morris + YouTube equals what we would were doing,” he added before showing a montage of footage of some of the campaigns the agency initially undertook. (40:40)
New to Me
Deanna spoke about the sense of loss she had begun to feel which led her to offer a final poem (45.13) about “grief before grief can set in” which was inspired by poet John Keats ‘From Endymion’ which features the words; “a thing of beauty is a joy forever, it’s loveliness increases, it will never pass into nothingness.”
Ged would pick up as the next speaker; “What’s new to me is how you can attract people and build a tribe by taking action,” he stated before talking about the dreams that had been influenced by starting the SkullFades Foundation. He spoke about the boxer Larry Holmes, still considered one of the greats, who visited the shop in Manchester to talk his career, charity work.
He would later meet another boxing legend in Floyd Mayweather, Scotland, Celtic and Manchester United player, Lou McCari who helped to distribute aid on the streets of Manchester, and he spoke about a documentary around the SkullFades Foundation too.
"We put events together in our city to serve our most needy and vulnerable. These events pull people together from pharmacies to restaurants to addiction coaches – everyone contributes in their own way for the greater good. We get support from the city and of our city’s mayor, Andy Burnham who is committed to ending rough sleeping in our city. Most importantly we gather the support of our homeless community…people know us and they trust us.”
He added that a street cutting team had recently begun in London and that a rapport with the homeless community had begun. He also planned to build on his trip to Paris the previous year by travelling to Dunkirk to help refugees, taking four vans with 11 volunteers to distribute clothing, food and toys as well as haircuts and personal care services.
“We are using personal development to encourage guys to access services in Manchester and in hostels and supported accommodation, to gain the confidence and self-worth needed for employment.” The first men had just been referred.
It is also in the process of becoming a registered charity, which Ged believed will help SkullFades achieve much more.
“Ultimately we are contributing to ending rough sleeping and I know it can be done if we all contribute together; businesses, charities, governing bodies. If we all pull in the same direction we can look back one day and say ‘remember when we used to have people living on our streets?’ But what a country to live in where we are used to having people living on our streets.”
He spoke of a town in Alberta that had achieved zero homeless population – “If they have done it, then so can we.”
Jo presented a clip from HBO’s hit comedy series Silicon Valley (53:40), lauding HBO for its success with content while never using focus groups.
“They trust the creative process, which is quite inspiring and maybe the advertising world could think about being more trusting in idea.”
And so concluded another year of fascinating Brilliant Lectures event involving contributors who perhaps deserve more recognition than they currently receive for their ideas and efforts.
The full Brilliant Lecture event can be viewed in the video above.