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Embracing collaboration: Wolff Olins creative director Owen Hughes on the challenge of brand and agency collaboration

By Owen Hughes |

January 24, 2013 | 5 min read

Innocent head of creative, Dan Germain, has joined Wolff Olins for a 12-week tenure as the agency's first visiting creative director. Here, Wolff Olins creative director Owen Hughes discusses the programme, taking a look at the benefits of creative collaboration between agencies and brands, and gets Germain's thoughts on the collaboration.

Owen Hughes

A combination of evolving technology, legislation and growing consumer muscle means that businesses are now more transparent than they were ten years ago. Customers, partners and staff expect more, and businesses are waking up to that. The successful businesses of the next ten years will be the ones with a bigger purpose at their heart than short-term shareholder value.

For many businesses, that bigger purpose means embracing collaboration with competitors from whom they would once have guarded their ideas fiercely. Think of car manufacturers sharing knowledge and resources to develop electric cars or provide affordable transport for booming populations in emerging economies. It also means blurring the boundaries between creators and its customers – Lego is one of the smart businesses who’ve seen the value of inviting users in to shape the experience.

That’s an interesting challenge for brands. Once upon a time brands were designed to defend businesses’ positions against the competition, in the future they’ll be built to embrace collaboration. That means they’ll be less rigid and more porous – recognizable less by a fixed identity and more by a fluid, seamless experience.

At Wolff Olins this kind of challenge has led us to look beyond our own boundaries for help. We want to work with creative people who know more than we do, who can stretch our thinking – like Universal Everything, who we worked with to bring to life the richness of content for AOL. What we share with collaborators like these is the ambition to push boundaries and try new things.

In that spirit, this year we're taking what seems to be the logical next step – and inviting them in. We’re launching our Visiting Creative Director programme. And we've chosen to kick it off with someone who shares our belief in the importance of purpose at the heart of successful brands – Dan Germain, head of creative at Innocent.

I’m honoured to have been asked to work at Wolff Olins for a while. And what Owen says about collaboration is spot on. We’ve always found that our best work, be it advertising, design or research, has come when we have relationships with people and agencies who start to understand innocent’s ultimate purpose; the things we truly believe. And it works the other way – to see what it’s like on the other side of this relationship (the agency side) will show me where clients get it right, and wrong.

So what do we hope Dan will bring? Well, a client's-eye view, and in particular the view from the creative heart of a super-successful brand with a strong purpose at its core. Also a passion for story-telling and its power to create great experiences. And of course a challenge to us to keep refreshing our own perspectives and stay on our toes.

I hope I can bring all of the above. I believe that there is a place for brands to have meaningful conversations with the people who buy their products, whatever the size and sector. I also hope I can bring an entrepreneurial mindset to the work I do at Wolff Olins as well.

At innocent we still think like a challenger – when I started working there, there were just four of us, so I’m used to figuring out how to do things with little resource, money or time. I think those constraints can give rise to different sorts of ideas. As for what I’ll learn, I’m going to make sure I shut up and listen for long periods. I’m here to absorb the ways strategy is born, ideas are crafted, arguments are won. It’s like a mini MBA for my design mind.

Dan is just the first. We plan to invite one Visiting Creative Director to join us per 'term' - each a brilliant creative who's changed the game in their field, each with a different lens through which to challenge and stretch our thinking, each with an outsider's fresh perspective and curiosity.

The most exciting brands to work with these days are the ones that are shake off rules, embrace experimentation and love finding new ways to collaborate. And with the likes of Dan on board that’s exactly what we intend to do.

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