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Robert Gaxiola on life outside big agencies, working with Stephen Mangham and the US moon landing

Robert GaxiolaIn January 2012, Robert Gaxiola – better known as ‘Gax’ – teamed up with former Ogilvy Singapore boss Stephen Mangham to form Mangham Gaxiola.

In this interview, the creative director talks to Mumbrella’s Asia editor Robin Hicks about what makes his agency different, why he doesn’t miss big agency life, and the key to survival in ‘awards crazy’ Singapore.

Do you miss the steady life of a big agency?

Well, I don’t miss the steady bullshit. I don’t know how I played that game for so long. It was killing me and I didn’t even know it.

After almost two years of reflection, I’d still say a big agency remains the most unsteady place on earth. If you’re working for somebody else your job is never steady anyway. The concept of job security in a big advertising agency is hard for me to get my head around. Especially if you’re on the creative side of things. Today they love you, tomorrow you’re locked out of your email inbox. Repeat.

Mangham GaxiolaMangham Gaxiola is still a young agency. Have you achieved everything you hoped you would since starting out?

Everything we wanted to and more. One of our main objectives was to make this a good place to work. Our belief was that happy people translate into better everything. All we had to do was leave the big agency titles, late nights, politics, dogma, working weekends, time sheets, tools and force fed conventions behind us. We dropped all of it, and now I work in a very cool place. I love coming to work every day.

What makes your agency different to the other indies in Singapore?

I’d say no other place has me or Mangham. This partnership is the biggest difference. After heading some of the biggest and best agencies over the years I’d say we were both pretty successful. Right now, I don’t think there are a lot of shops out there that can deliver what we can. It’s a solid partnership through the line. And while we have no titles, our creative and account people mix is a dead even 50/50 split. This is the best team I’ve ever worked with.

Mangham GaxiolaYou and Stephen are very different characters. How does the working dynamic between the two of you work?

Why do people keep asking me that? Seriously, at face value I am sure it appears that we are polar opposites. But at work we share similar values and we both have very specific strengths. I’d say we both respect that about each other, so it’s easy to find a balance. It’s obvious we both care about the same things. The end result is a very complimentary partnership. But yeah, he’s more of a dog guy. I learned to like cats.

The legal case with Ogilvy couldn’t have been easy. What impact did that episode have on the agency?

LOL. No comment.

What’s the focus for Mangham Gaxiola over the next 12 months?

First, we are going to have more fun. Then we are going to make the creative work a little better. The first year was learning how to work as a team. This season we are finally getting our legs. I reckon we will really hit stride creatively next year. We have the right clients. We just need a few more daring brands to work with us as partners to blow this thing up.

What’s your favourite ad of all time and why?

The 1969 US moon landing was great stuff. Did you guys see that? It did wonders for the image of the United States.

I think the wag the dog type work is by far the most interesting around. The true power of the press and broadcast news media is incalculable. People are begging for a great story. The better the story, the bigger it will be.

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

I think I have one right here, but I’m not going to give this puppy away just yet. As creative people we really don’t put enough value on our ideas. Must be some insecurity thing. I used to give my ideas away for free to “clients” just to bag an award or two. I’m done with that. I have my own joint now, and like every creative I know, I still hold on to a secret cache of ideas in the hope that they may useful to one of my real clients someday.

Do you have any advice for young creatives in how to make it in advertising in Singapore?

Yes, be fucking bold in everything you do, but don’t get lost in the hype. Singapore is very “award” crazy so go ahead and win some awards if you want to, then get back to work and learn your trade. This is a great business to be in.

More so, keep yourself balanced with massive dollops of real life. How can you ever impact society as a person or with your work unless you’re grounded in the real world?

Please remember, advertising is not the real world.

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