TWOP recently talked to Hollie Newton, newly appointed ECD at independent agency Sunshine and former award winning creative director at Grey London. We cover industry talent, what makes her tick, what she took away from this year’s Cannes Lions and women in advertising.
We first discovered Hollie at a SheSays awards roundup event earlier this year and it was clear she would be on our hit list from the offset. As the former creative director at acclaimed London agency Grey, Hollie led the team to win Volvo Cars, creating a turnaround for the agency’s business. Not only did she lead the team to winning the business, but she also led them to victory at this year’s Cannes Lions winning two Cannes Grand Prix for Volvo’s ‘LifePaint’ project.
Hollie joined Grey in September 2013 as global creative director, after four years at Wieden + Kennedy London. She started her career in the industry at Engine, where she was described as “a powerhouse of a thinker”, then shortly after joined the team at Nitro (known now as SapientNitro) in 2008, where she worked as a creative on Foot Locker and Volvo. More recently Hollie has taken on the executive creative director role at independent agency Sunshine which recently won work with Google, the Roald Dahl Literary Estate and the Lebara Play launch.
We asked Hollie about her passion for design (which may include finger paint and Play-Doh), her career to date, how she broke into advertising and what general advice she has for anyone who is thinking of taking a job in the industry. We also ask her what she would do with a million pounds to invest. Read on to find out more.
What makes you so passionate about creative? What / who makes you tick?
I think it’s something you’re born with. The deep-seated need to make “stuff”. I spent my formative years covered in finger paint and Play-Doh, and haven’t really changed (though there’s a lot more Adobe Creative Suite involved these days, and far less glitter glue. More’s the pity).
Working with brilliantly lateral minds who come up with things I never could. Learning from people far better than me. That’s what does it for me. When I look back at the last decade, at my portfolio of work… I wouldn’t have come close to that standard if I hadn’t acted like a creative sponge in every extraordinary creative department I’ve been lucky enough to work in.
How did you start out in the industry, who gave you your first break?
I was virtually unhireable when I started out. My old partner and I decided to make a monthly newspaper, instead of a portfolio of finely crafted work. It was called The Dirty Mac. We’d completely start again every 30 days, so it was consistently bright and colourful and completely wrong. Luckily for us, a few people saw our potential within the madness. Two of those were Rick Brim (now ECD of Adam + Eve) and Dan Fisher (now ECD of The Martin Agency) who made their friend hire us at his tiny digital agency in Engine. We suddenly found ourselves building massive interactive sites for Sky One shows and doing ‘actual work’. A miracle!
The advertising industry can be tough. What issues have you come up against in your career and how have you overcome them?
For the first few years it’s learning how to take constant rejection of your precious ideas. The biggest hurdle is, in fact, not only coping with it, but embracing it. The best thing that happened to me as a young creative was sitting in an enormous review at W+K, in a room filled with the some of the most brilliant creative directors and creatives in the industry, and seeing all of them – one after the other – totally fail to crack the brief. All of them! Me too, obviously, but that was one of the defining moments for me in my career. No one gets it right first time. It’s not rejection. It’s simply the process. You have to come up with wrong ideas to get closer to the right one.
You recently went to Cannes Lions, what was the key message you took away from this year’s ceremony?
Don’t make a 30 second TV advert. That would be my top line take-home message. Almost exclusively, the mind-blowing award winning work came in the form of an invention, a movement, a cunning and genius lateral thought in the face of a big problem. Basically, don’t restrict yourself to the old school, restrictive media solutions you so often see on a brief. What’s the business problem? What’s the human insight into that problem? The best creative ideas will come from these simple questions.
Women control around 80% of consumer spending, yet less than 5% of Creative Directors are female. Why do you think this is?
Well there’s evidently been a mountain of total and utter patriarchal bullshittery going on. Since the 40s. But it’s genuinely getting better as we speak. The world’s changed. Industry’s changed. When I sit down with senior clients, I sit opposite powerful brilliant women. Not exclusively, but it’s getting far closer to a 50/50 split on the brand side. In 2015, an agency who joins that conversation with a load of old men looks disastrously out of touch. In fact, creative agencies can’t afford not to have any female CDs anymore. A lot of the time, they won’t make it past the chemistry meeting of a pitch without them. So with the cold hard business need for female Creative Directors, the next step is to support us. The words “maternity leave” need to be de-criminalised in creative departments.
With so many agencies looking for talent, what are the deciding factors to make you decide to move elsewhere?
I’d imagine that it’s different for everyone, but for me it’s quite simple. Am I still learning in my current position? Am I being rewarded properly for my time, talent, and work? Is there room for me to grow? And most importantly, am I making the work I want to make? If the answers to those questions start to tip the scales the wrong way, for too long, I’ve always found it’s time to move on. In the words of the ever-wise Vicki Maguire, “never repeat a year.”
How do you decided what the right move is? Obviously, the above questions need to be answered, but more than that… Who will you be working with? What will you be helping to create, as a business? I’m not really a big network sort of ECD. I’ve recently joined Sunshine to build a brand new sort of creative company. I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by brilliant, funny, ambitious people who are equally frustrated by the limitations of the advertising agency model.
If it scares the shit out of you, and inspires you to arm-hair-tingling levels in equal measure, it’s the right move. Jump.
If you had a million pounds to invest into young talent, what would you do with it?
I’d start a creative industry backed government initiative to sort out the lack of diverse creative talent in the UK. There’s a talent time bomb on the horizon. If nothing changes – right across the country at GCSE art and design level – we’ll be looking at an industry entirely run by privileged white creatives. How are we meant to talk to the entire population if we’re only speaking from the minds of top 10%?
They’re taking coursework away. Our entire bloody job is coursework! Art departments can’t afford paint and paper, let alone decent computers with the latest design software. Young, creative, brilliant kids with a whole world of potential aren’t being nurtured and encouraged. From film to music to design to advertising – we’ll be well and truly fucked if we don’t step in now.
What’s the best bit of advice someone has ever given you?
When in doubt, over dress.
Finally what’s the best bit of advice you would give a youngster starting in the industry now?
Don’t give up. Work for someone you respect and can learn from. Get in first, leave last, and always come back for more. Enthusiasm combined with raw talent is an irresistible combo.
With thanks to Hollie.
Have a natter with Hollie on Twitter here.