Steve Elrick on his plans for the future, the best ad agencies in Asia and hiring Eva Mendes

Steve ElrickSteve Elrick is one of the best known creative directors in Asia, having spent a long stint as ECD of Bartle Bogle Hegarty Asia Pacific. He recently left to start his own thing.

In this Q&A interview Elrick tells Mumbrella’s Asia editor Robin Hicks about his favourite ad ever, the most overrated ad ever and going on an “ad detox”.

I bumped into John Hegarty in Cannes and he said he misses you. What do you miss most about BBH?

I miss bumping into Sir John Hegarty in Cannes and having him tell me how much he misses me.

Also, well – the whole BBH culture – of which he of course was one of the three architects.

I do miss having my name on that BBH name-card. It was a genuine credit (ability) card.

When you’ve been in with the bricks in an agency for almost 15 years, of course there’s going to be some stuff you miss. Working (and playing) with brains that are funny, inspiring, infuriating, intuitive, challenging, lightly pickled. etc etc. And tightly connected to that is the social side of it; the best agencies usually work and play together well; maybe us sad-sack self and work obsessed ad people often end up having most of our friends actually in the business.

Either because we don’t mix well with civilians who don’t realise the importance and gift to the world that advertising is – or the limited social time we grasp at is squeezed twixt the late finishes and enveloping nightly coma.

But zero regrets, no feelings of ‘dis-satisfaction’ with my time at BBH or even the ad business as a whole. Still the best fun you can have with your casual clothes on. I still think I had the best ECD job in Asia. Bar none. It’s just that I had reached something of a ‘now or never’ stage with my extra-curricular stuff. My ‘urges’ as I’ve named ‘em.

My context is: I’m a working-class country bumpkin from the North Of Scotland – this business is a meritocracy that’s offered me a very comfortable standard of living and amazing opportunities to work with an incredibly diverse and creative bunch of people from all around the world. It’s meant I’ve travelled the world, met many different friends, married one of them and I do really feel like a pretty damn lucky person.

It was simply more of a hunger, an urge to go off and explore some of the creative impulses that I’ve had to create something else outside the field of advertising. I’m pretty much workaholic (and numerous other ‘holics’ too) on most of the stuff I do – so being 100 per cent focused on ads for the past three decades ain’t a bad run. I just didn’t think I could start seriously on my ‘hobbies’ without it detracting from the day job. And I owe it to my colleagues to be 100 per cent either on or off the BBH thing.

As ECD, how much of your job was actually writing ads, and how much is about managing and mentoring?

I probably tried to stay as close to the creative process as I could – to be honest, for me that was always the engaging part. But as one moves on, of course it has to be about managing the bigger picture.

What’s your favourite ad of all time?

Kinda like music to me. Favourites change. One recent thing I wish I had written; a real standout in the pantheon of Nike stuff (no massive $$, no celebs, no gorgeous looking people): the fat kid running along the desert road. Greatness indeed.

Which ad do you think is the most overrated ever and why?

The VW snowplough ad. Oooh controversial! For me it was clever but not based on the same wonderful disarming truths as the other famous ads in the campaign. Disagree? Well, you try driving a 1000cc ’63 Beetle through snowdrifts and see how far you get.

Which agency do you think is doing the best work in Asia right now (sorry, you can’t say BBH)?

I honestly don’t know. Part of the thinking behind leaving BBH was to do a total ad-detox. If it’s business as usual; it will still be DDB Singapore, Guerrero in the Philippines, the boys in Party Japan and varying peaks from the usual crews.

Eva MendesIf you could hire anyone to work with you, who would it be?

Eva Mendes. You don’t need a ‘why?’ on this do you?

Who was your mentor and what was the most important thing he or she taught you?

I’ve worked directly with Sir John Hegarty, Neil French, Lee Clow (almost subliminally) and Jim Downie (a ‘Scottish great’) as my bosses – so I can’t complain about the stellar mentoring on the job I’ve had. But, since I never lose an opportunity to spread this: the most important thing I learned, albeit a little later, in advertising was a better sense of perspective. And that was from Linds Redding: my partner in Scotland over 25 years ago. He penned this a few months before he passed away last year.

Who’s the most exciting young creative you’ve ever come across in Asia?

Ooh fnarr, that’s a bit single entendre isn’t it. Oh…MMm I think I won’t commit on this….would probably make one person happy and disappoint too many others.

What plans do you have for the future? Can you tell us yet?

To be honest they are pretty vague, in a lovely fuzzy mellow way. ”Back To School’ would be the closest possible general description. And that could involve photography school, art school, creative writing school, and even the ‘school of life’ just to make it even less specific.

I just want to go off and experiment in a few areas that interest and excite me – and I have this luxury to do that.

The thinking is, after a rather wonderful long time playing the ad game, there was an opportunity and a bit of luck to change that game slightly quicker than even I expected.

The thought of coming back to do something in the ad game in various ways isn’t totally shelved…. But not for a while.


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