Neil had integrity, wit and passion and was an inspiration to us all

Adam Hunt

The untimely and tragic death of Neil Lawrence has touched many people in the industry. Here, friend and colleague Adam Hunt pays tribute to the creative mastermind and remembers his talent, humour and integrity.

Neil was a mentor and a mate and I can’t believe he’s gone.

He taught me that an idea can change something much more important than a brand of toothpaste.

Neil’s ideas could both change a government or retain a government in power. Not only was his the sharpest strategic brain I ever worked with – his creative insight could inspire you to keep going even after he’d killed 99 out of the 100 ideas you’d presented.

(Creative Directors fall roughly into two camps – those you’d die for and those you want to kill).

Most of all Neil gave me the opportunity to do something that actually mattered – which is pretty rare in an industry that churns a lot of blancmange.

It was a busy Friday in my bar. Neil was propping up one end of it looking proudly at his beautiful son Tom, who was fast becoming a passionate and creative cocktail guru. (The fruit really doesn’t fall too far from the tree…)

Over several jugs of warm sake Neil gave me a creative brief for a cause close to his heart.

The brief was devoid of ad-speak and wrapped around a simple and beautiful insight about an assertion of identity – a recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the Australian Constitution.

RECOGNISE-Circle-LogoI had to create a visual identity for Recognise (the name given to the movement) by 8am Monday. I also had to work a busy bar all weekend, so I didn’t sit down to start until 1.30am Monday.

A simple brief with a great strategic insight is alchemy for creatives, and within five minutes an idea popped onto the blank page. With the aid of a 20-year-old plastic alphabet stencil, some black spray paint and some rudimentary Photoshop skills the idea came to life.

“I love it,” said Neil, and within 10 days his consummate skills had the idea sold into government and Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard wearing the Recognise logo in parliament, saying nice things to each other.

Neil made me proud to work with ideas.

He also made me laugh.

The funniest brief Neil ever gave me was after a tired and emotional moment when he’d pledged to Jay Weatherill to have “4.49pm” tattooed on his bum if Jay won the ‘unwinnable’ South Australian election. Days after Jay’s extraordinary victory Neil phoned me:

“Mate, I’ve got an unusual design brief for you…”

So I designed about a dozen options, from the bogan to the stylish to the classic, and Neil duly chose one and went through with it.

Above all Neil had integrity, wit and passion.

He also had a fierce sense of social justice, which will shortly be on display when his just finished documentary on the revolting poker machine industry is released.

Neil Lawrence harmonica

Lawrence, right, plays harmonica in Hunt’s bar Mamasan | Picture courtesy of Adam Hunt

It’s such a shame that we won’t see any more work from this master storyteller. But his brilliant legacy shall remain with the many he touched throughout his long career.

Neil was also a bloody good blues harmonica player, often holding his own amongst Australia’s best Jazz musicians playing in my bar. He was a mentor for artists & musicians – not just advertising types.

His passing, far too soon, makes me realise that time is the most expensive thing we have – so we should make time for things that matter.

I miss you already mate.

  • Adam Hunt worked in agencies including Saatchi & Saatchi, Host, BWM and MVBMS New York. He now owns Sydney restaurant chain Mamasan

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