Family a fitting epitaph for Neil Lawrence in his last work for Qantas

simon canning-picAfter his last work for Qantas went to air last night Simon Canning looks back at his dealings with Neil Lawrence, one of the ad industry’s good guys.

Last night saw the debut of one of the last works of a commercial artist who had come to influence how Australians vote, how they flew, the TV they watched, the food they ate, the causes they supported and so much more.

For Neil Lawrence, who was lost to us far too soon, the two minute film for Qantas is a fitting epitaph.

More will flow from his eponymous agency that will bear his distinctive mark, but nothing is likely to match the scope of last night’s work.

The film, capturing the essence of family and homecoming mixed with a hint of disappointment before a happy fulfillment that tugs at the emotions, represents the very best of what Neil was good at.

That the work was for one of the very few brands with which Australian’s have a genuine and deep rooted attachment also seems fitting.

Neil was philanthropist with his ideas and creativity, but he also understood  more than most that beneath most campaigns lies a commercial imperative – be it politics, brands or charities.

Since the shock news of his passing broke, much has been written by people who worked with him, for him, or who had the pleasure of his friendship. People who knew Neil far better than I.

Time has passed, and last night gave me the chance to reflect on the career of Neil.

Neil Lawrence

Neil Lawrence

For me, it was a professional relationship – the occasionally awkward but necessary dance of journalist and subject – conducted across two decades, through three agencies, several elections and countless glasses of wine.

We talked conspiracies and cock ups, the talented and the terrible, but always of the opportunity that seemed forever to lie just around the corner.

I also had the pleasure of working with Neil directly on a project – a rare opportunity for a hack to actually see the man from the inside. It was at once illustrative and inspiring.

We worked together on a submission for TBWA supremo Jean Marie Dru’s book, Beyond Disruption. It highlighted the viral launch of Sony’s Playstation 2 and how Neil and his then offsider Paul Worboys (now with Grey) brought together the online and offline world’s to turn the console into a must.

It showed the vision of an adman schooled in TV and print, embracing the then emerging opportunity of the digital realm. In a time before Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and the rest, Neil helped harness communities in a way that was world leading.

It was a formula that in 2007, with the digital tools evolved, he used to devastating effect in the cause of Kevin Rudd.

Across so many brands and causes, Neil influenced people in a way that was positive and enduring. And he did it for things that he cared about.

Inevitably my interactions with Neil would turn to talk of the world beyond advertising – the surf and of course family – a family of which he was so desperately proud. Those are the parts of our chats that I will remember.

And so this work for Qantas seems so appropriate, encapsulating that which was most important to him – family.

Thanks Neil.

Simon Canning


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