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Creative Works Work & Wellbeing My Creative Career

My Creative Career: Nicholas Hulley, chief creative officer at AMV BBDO

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By Amy Houston, Senior Reporter

June 5, 2023 | 7 min read

As part of our My Creative Career series, the AMV BBDO creative boss talks about the power of collaboration, how he very nearly became a journalist and why he’s so proud of Bodyform’s ‘Womb Stories’.

Nick Hulley

Nick Hulley

The first creative thinker in Nicholas Hulley’s life was his storytelling, mining engineer, South African grandfather. “Nothing we did was ever mundane,” he remembers. “A simple walk in the park would turn into a tale that we were archeologists hunting for a rare fossil.” The elder’s sense of adventure and make-believe imbued the youngster with a passion for imaginative thinking.

Leaning into a love for writing, Hulley went on to train as a journalist but soon discovered it wasn’t the right path – that he was, as he puts it, ”too soft”, finding it tricky to ask difficult questions.

Moving from Cape Town to London, he landed a very non-creative job as a data capturer, but it was walking around a capital city peppered with posters for fashion brand French Connection and its now infamous FCUK slogan that inspired him to have a look at what this advertising business was all about.

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Returning home, it would be TBWA/Hunt/Lascaris in Johannesburg that would serve as Hulley’s creative training ground. In his nine years there, he worked his way up from copywriter to creative director, with his first boss, Sandy DeWitt, crucial to his development. “She was all about the craft and was very demanding but nurturing too. She had the ability to instill ambition without fear and had a unique way of giving you a good old chewing out.”

Under DeWitt and agency boss John Hunt, the ethos of the creative shop at that time was that while you can’t always outspend someone, you can always outthink them – an optimistic attitude that left a lasting mark on Hulley.

It was during this time that he also met Nadja Lossgott, who became his long-time creative collaborator and partner – another woman who has fundamentally shaped his approach to client work. “We were on the same wavelength, we clicked and we’ve never stopped working together. It was a happy brilliant accident.”

Together, they have built an environment that is collaborative and empathetic. “We’re fundamentally different in some ways. She’s an art director and views the world through a visual prism in ways that I don’t because I’m a writer. You have to try and understand the other person’s opinion. It’s hard to imagine a creative career without her.” As Hulley puts it, they both reconcile different viewpoints and work together to create a common vision that is greater than the sum of its parts.

“We’re a slight contradiction because in some ways we think exactly alike, but we’re approaching it from fundamentally different angles and I think that that it creates a very interesting mix.”

In 2012, the pair moved to AMV BBDO, where they have remained ever since. There, they would climb the ranks to eventually lead the operation as joint chief creative officers and over the years the duo have worked on standout spots for Guinness, Bodyform, Bombay Sapphire and Tena. It is ’Womb Stories’ that Hulley is especially proud of.

“It best reflects our beliefs, our ways of working and our vision. It’s wrestling that complexity, it’s the mixed emotions that I’m very proud of.”

Combined with the craft of illustration, the creative loves how meaningful the ad was to people. It wasn’t just a disposable inconsequential thing.

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Hulley truly loves his profession and the people he gets to work with. He says that while society might like to have a crack at advertising, everyone involved in it has a wonderful mixture of ambition and creative talent. “There’s humility because it is advertising, not Hollywood. It’s experimental. You bounce from one project to another, but it also disciplines creatively, because you have to deliver.” And, he says, it’s a very privileged life where you get to work with clever, talented and funny people.

With a career spanning more than 20 years, Hulley says you really need to adapt or die – especially when it comes to technology. “Cope with and embrace change. Be energized by it. People entering the industry have a superpower – they are more adaptable than the rest of us. So have fun and make a difference.”

Read our interview with Liz Taylor, global chief creative officer at Ogilvy.

Creative Works Work & Wellbeing My Creative Career

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