My Creative Career: Franki Goodwin, chief creative officer at Saatchi & Saatchi
She’s currently living and breathing the John Lewis Christmas ad, but Franki Goodwin took a moment out of frantic festive prep to participate in this week’s My Creative Career, reflecting on her 10 years at Saatchi & Saatchi.
Franki Goodwin / Franki Goodwin
Franki Goodwin was labeled “creative” at a young age. It’s not surprising to her. She laughs that turning up to art class and being half-decent at drawing her face was enough to cement the kind of career she might have. But it’s not something she necessarily agrees with.
“I think all children are creative. I worry about this word being owned by people who are good at art.”
For the Saatchi & Saatchi boss, it’s more about problem-solving. Despite talent, she needed to figure out where a creative career could take her. Thankfully she had a teacher and an artistic mother, who was enrolled as a mature student at Edinburgh College of Art at the time, to offer guidance.
This would eventually lead her to the Glasgow School of Art. After completing her foundation year in Manchester, she moved to the city in the late-90s to take her place on the school’s coveted Visual Communication course. “It was a transformative place for me. I grew up in Scotland and had such a desire to leave, as you do. But I met people up in Glasgow and I just thought, ‘This is so cool.’ It wasn’t like anything I had known.”
At the time, the internet was emerging. An email address was a novelty. She says there was the potential to get “bogged down” with the new tech, but instead, her lecturers placed importance on ideas and work. She has kept that with her to this day. “There was this fundamental teaching of art, design and form. Shape, texture and typography. We had old-school paste rooms and did a lot of manual typesetting. You take that with you into the real world.”
The creative landed her first job at an agency called Sas Design. She cut her teeth working on print, branding and multi-media projects for clients including Jaguar and BT. During this time she would meet her future business partner, Jonny Green. After spending almost two years at the agency, the young creative went on to make a “life-changing” piece of work for the 2001 British-Italian comedy-horror Hotel starring Salma Hayek, Rhys Ifans, David Schwimmer, Lucy Liu, Burt Reynolds and John Malkovich.
“It was a very exciting, crazy digital project on location in Venice with Mike Figgis and a bunch of other filmmakers. Then we built a company out of that experience.”
Alongside Green, she started the eponymous Franki&Jonny digital creative agency. Based on their movie marketing experience, the pair had their sights set on the UK film industry and, for the following decade, clients included Pathé, Warner Bros and Buena Vista. Pushing the boundaries of film marketing, creating posters, websites and building communities was their bread-and-butter. But after 10 years, she came up for a breath.
“I didn’t plan on running my own business for the whole of my 20s,” she laughs, saying she then left to freelance for the likes of The Viral Company, which specialized in documentary-style films.
But then Goodwin got her first real taste of ad agency life. She joined Saatchi & Saatchi in 2013 having being brought in through the “digital back door“ after an acquisition. “[It goes back to] that Glasgow mentality of it only being about ideas; who cares if it’s a TV ad, website or whatever? I just saw opportunities and budgets that I had never been exposed to.”
Her film literacy meant that the shift into advertising was smooth. “If I’d been completely a digital specialist and never saw the inside of a film shoot or been on set, maybe I wouldn’t have been able to make that transition. But because I was very comfortable in that world – and even, by that point, making films myself – learning how to make ads was very nourishing but a natural next step.”
The crossover is something Goodwin still feels passionate about, even more so nowadays that advertising creatives are making Oscar-nominated films and movie directors are creating ads. She references Shaun of the Dead’s Edgar Wright, who worked on the McDonald’s ‘Raise Your Arches’ spot. “It feels fun,” she smiles. “There’s much less snobbery. We can all enjoy each of the mediums without feeling like it’s going to affect the other part of our careers.”
She’s had many pivotal moments during her rise to chief creative officer at the London agency. Of course, there’s the work for Churchill Insurance, Direct Line, Asda and Robinsons, plus the multiple Cannes Lions awards to show for them. But it was working with Billie Eilish that stands out.
Back in 2020, the Grammy Award-winning singer starred in a campaign for Deutsche Telekom that highlighted Gen Z tech positivity. “It was pretty special,” says Goodwin on working with the star. “The collaboration with her made it one of the most authentic pieces of advertising I’ve done. I first met her when she was 17 and she was just about to play Glastonbury for the first time. I’ve never met anyone so sure of who they are and what their brand is.”
Reflecting on the last decade at Saatchi & Saatchi, the creative boss says that her peers’ support has meant the most. “I came in thinking that I was going to get found out, that I didn’t know what I was talking about. That didn’t happen, but what I did find was a lot of smart people to collaborate with.” Folk like Kate Stanners, the global chief creative officer at the agency, gave her room to breathe and championed her film work.
There have been some hairy moments too. Sometimes, she explains, you have to walk away from something to create new opportunities, while staying can be the most significant risk of all. “The scary brief of killing off Winston Wolf [from the Direct Line ads] and making something even bigger – that was a pivotal moment. And, of course, the opportunity to take the reins from Guillermo [Vega], who taught me so much, and to be in charge is pretty special.”
She has made peace with the unpredictability of her career and adds that, if you had told her she would stay put at the same place for a decade, her younger freelancing self might not have believed you. “As we get older, we have to try and channel that,” she says of being young and unafraid, adding that it is essential to surround yourself with people like that. “That’s why I take risks, try to get a client to do something, have a difficult conversation or go, ‘Yeah, let’s try that director, even though they’re only 25’. It’s because I don’t want to let the people around me who want to take risks down. You need young, brave talent around you because they keep you brave.”
Wise words when all eyes will be on the agency this year in the lead-up to Christmas after it won the coveted John Lewis account. The retailer’s much-loved festive ads have been the work of rival agency Adam&EveDDB for the last 14 years until they parted ways in January.
“I’m very excited about Christmas,” she says coyly. “It’s been very strange; I’ve been confused about what month it is for the past four months because we’ve been living Christmas through John Lewis and Waitrose since the pitch started.
“Christmas is coming. It’s going to be exciting and it’s an incredible opportunity.”