Hey, James! Hows things?
All good. Crazy busy so not complaining.
Tell us about yourself!
I live in Macclesfield, Cheshire, with my wife and 2 dogs. I'm one half of an award-winning senior creative team at HAVAS. And I'm also a Francophile, vintage watch fan, classic car enthusiast, wannabe bass player and a proud Duranie!
Talk to us about your time post uni and before you landed your first role. What was that time like?
Luckily I got my first job late in the summer of 2001 straight after graduating from MMU. A creative role where I spent most of my time learning the ropes and shadowing the key designer and the MD. They hated each other! It was quite amusing. Can't really say which I learnt more from. The MD did introduce me to the book, 'Ogilvy on Advertising'. Like many before me, a profound moment.
Do you have any advice for current grads that are going through this period?
Get a book together that demonstrates their thinking. Roughs, scribbles, headlines, thoughts. Really doesn't need any Photoshop visuals for me.
Why Art Direction?
I've always had a pencil or paint brush in my hand since I was a kid. Summer holidays spent drawing super heroes, James Bond, and then still life etc. There came a point I needed to pick a direction. Even after A Levels and during Art College, I wasn't sure what I was going to do with it all but my parents were happy for me to pursue my passion in visual arts without pressure. Something I'm thankful of. Naturally, there was suggestions by some in the wider family who felt I need to take a more academic route (my Uncle's a Solicitor and Grandfather was a highly respected Doctor). So I just knew I needed to steer into something that allowed me the chance to get on in life, have fun and make some money, quite frankly. At college I started to add headlines to certain pieces of work and started referencing advertising campaign layouts. One of the tutors noticed this and egged me on to pursue it. I enjoyed the marriage of visual comms and creative word play very much, so art direction in the commercial world seemed a natural step.
If not Art Direction what do you think you would be?
A racing driver. There's no doubt in my mind: I would have been superb! But more realistically, possibly an artist. Something I've now rediscovered since lockdown. The inner child has resurfaced.
You were an Associate Lecturer at Man Met Uni, did you enjoy your time there?
Yes, I did it part-time for 11 years. When you start running your own company, the reality is that the creative part becomes only part of what you do. It's just a sad reality that you spend the majority of the time in meetings, dealing with clients and chasing invoices! Doing lecturing is purely creative. You can forget all of that other stuff for a while so it was very therapeutic! It also helps you learn to articulate what creativity means to you and makes you rationalise what you actually do for a living. You pick-up skills, workflow and mental approaches in life and you just utilise them. Working with keen students forces you to explain these processes that you take for granted everyday and communicate them for the first time. It's quite cathartic. It also then allows you to better explain your creative approach to your clients too.
What was the best bit of advice you gave to your students?
It's difficult to say if I've even given them one piece of worth while advice. Although, to blow my own trumpet briefly, I've received a number of lovely messages on LinkedIn from Masters students thanking me having gained 1st Class Honours! The fact that I didn't do a Masters myself, makes their kind words even more meaningful. I guess just be interested in communication in general. Question and deconstruct messages as you take them in.
I'd also suggest becoming a student of what went before in order for it to inform the future. To understand what the great campaigns achieved and how they got the results they did.
Lets talk about Honest Creative, what was this?
Honest was the result of working in a number of agencies for 8 years and fancying having a go on my own. Myself and a copywriter pal of mine set-up shop along side a tech friend from school. We bagged a mix of private clients and agencies. Brands we wrote for included Antler, Astra Zeneca, Beaverbrooks, British Airways, CAB, Capcom, Caterpillar, The Conservative Party, Dell, Honda, Johnson & Johnson, Levi’s, MTV, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, National Trust, P&O, T-Mobile, United Utilities and Universal. Many clients became and remain close personal friends to this day.
Leading what project sticks out the most?
Perhaps an eshot campaign we did for P&O. It paid for itself in 180 seconds. Which was nice.
You then co-founded GB Advertising, how did this come about?
Honest had become more web-project based, and much like with the lecturing, I was yearning to do something that was more creative-led once more.
I'd teamed-up again with my friend and mentor, former Saatchi director, Richard Grisdale, a few years prior (I'd first worked with him in the mid-2000s on many award-winning campaigns), and we set about targeting agencies for creative briefs. GB (Grisdale / Bott) was the brand we put together to spear head the assault on Ad Land in February 2020. It worked out of the box. We had some fun on LinkedIn, pushing ourselves as a classic creative double-act. And during Covid, it just accelerated. Since 2007, I'd be working entirely remotely. So the whole 'working from home' thing that people were suddenly faced with was just business as usual for us. And whilst many were scrambling to adjust, many agencies just hired GB Advertising to carry on regardless. Hence, our slogan: THE AD AGENCY’S AD AGENCY.
You’re now working at Havas Lynx, what was the biggest change from founding agencies too working on a senior creative team?
So GB started doing some freelance for HAVAS in 2020. HAVAS's mission is to blend commercial creative thinking to the pharmaceutical sector. It's ironic that for all Big Pharma's incredible breakthroughs and lifesaving treatments, they often fail to tell their stories in the exciting ways they deserve. HAVAS is out to change this. And being a part of this drive is an honour. They also kindly made us an offer we couldn't refuse.
In terms of biggest changes, for me and Richard, not a lot. They get our approach. And we've not really changed it, save for honing certain deliverables. It's fully remote working for us, so again: business as usual. Naturally, they have some beautiful office spaces too in Manchester, London and around the world. When you stop to think of the size of the HAVAS empire, it's quite scary. They've got such a global reach. But they've done an incredible good job to maintain the feeling and excitement of a start-up. Most importantly, their briefs are amazing. The health campaigns we're writing everyday are literally changing the world. I'd like to think my aforementioned Grandfather would approve.
I also noticed you were hiring! What do you look for in this process?
Yes, HAVAS are always on a drive for the best talent. It's a great place to work and develop your career. I'd recommend it.
For my final question, whats next?
Hopefully I'll soon have reason to make room on the mantle piece for some new silverware! Or gold.