Graham Kelly on APAC ECDs, creativity vs technology and how to deal with rejection

Graham KellyGraham Kelly joined Isobar three months ago as the digital agency’s first regional ECD.

In this Q&A with Mumbrella’s Asia editor Robin Hicks, Kelly talks about his new job, the value of the regional ECD role and how young creatives should deal with the rejection of their ideas.

You haven’t been at Isobar long. What do you see as your toughest task?

It’s the long term task of building a network. Some agencies have done it well, others not. Isobar is by far the youngest network I’ve ever joined [Kelly has worked for Ogilvy, TBWA, BBH, Leo Burnett and Saatchi & Saatchi]. Our offices are at different stages of development, and the challenge is bringing them together. Some are still run by the founders of acquired agencies, and they’re a very different animal to an agency like Ogilvy, which has had a network for as long as anyone can remember.

Some agencies have scrapped the regional ECD role. What’s your view this?

It’s an important role for a network with regional ambitions. If you’re going for big pieces of regional business, clients – especially the more traditional ones – like the fact that they can reach out to someone who’s calling the shots on a regional level.

Digital agencies didn’t have regional accounts five or six years ago. Now clients want agencies with a regional footprint.

How has the role changed?

A lot in terms of what you’re expected to be able to know. Before digital, things were a lot simpler. You did some TV and print, and may be little bit of something else. But now the remit has widened and the job has become far more complicated.

How do you cope with spending much of your working life on a plane?

I don’t have to travel as much as you might think. One of the nice things about digital is that, if you’re sharing creative work with your colleagues in different parts of the region, what they will see on their computer screens is what the consumer will see too. You can share input without physically being in the same room. I’m a big fan of Google Hangouts for that.

Of course when preparing for pitches, you need your team in the same room. But you need to be smart about how much time you spend on planes.

As a digital creative, how much of the role is about understanding technology and how much is about creativity?

To do breakthrough work, you have to understand technology. But you need a feel for both. Look at it this way. When a normal person puts their computer on, they don’t think of the amazing implementation of java scripting in your campaign, they think about whether it’s funny or clever. Technology is important, but you can’t leave digital advertising to the technologists. You need to communicate with people who don’t care about technology. And that starts with an idea, not a platform.

What’s your favourite digital campaign of all time?

Turbonium.com. This was a VW site done approximately 14 years ago.  It was way ahead of its time: integrating seamlessly with a TV campaign, plus the execution was superb [the site showcased the 150-horsepower New Beetle 1.8 T with high-end animation and a pumping dance track].

Watch the TV ad here (the website is not longer live):

What’s the best idea you’ve ever had that never saw the light of day?

I’m not being coy, but I have to pass on this one. I still think I’ll manage to do it one day, and wouldn’t want to let it out of the bag before I do.

Do you have any advice for young creatives in how to deal with the rejection of their ideas?

Well, they say that the best salesmen get the most knock backs. You need to be smart about how you take rejection. A lot of clients are not ready to buy great work. Some are scared of it. Some don’t actually want it.

If they’re not ready to buy it, make sure you save your passion for the clients who will. If they’ve bought great work before, they will buy it again. If you get rejected nine times out of 10, that one time really is worth the wait.

What was the first thing that went through your mind when you heard about the Aegis-Dentsu merger?

That it makes sense. We’re in a world of consolidation, and this merger seems to be mutually beneficial. Not all mergers are.

Where do you see Isobar in five years?

The most admired agencies do more than produce websites. They develop their own IP, for instance R/GA with the Nike Fuelband.

The ambition – and I’m aiming high here – is to become a company that produces breakthrough creative, as well as visionary technology. For example, imagine an agency capable of developing something as impressive as Oculus Rift while producing equally innovative creative work.


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