Nick Garrett: Why he’s joined Deloitte, what he turned down and the decision to leave Clems

After two years out of the game, Nick Garrett has resurfaced in a new role at Deloitte Digital. He speaks to Mumbrella's Calum Jaspan about switching trading agency life for consultancy life, how he has been filling his time in the interim, reflections on his departure from Clemenger BBDO, and the new blood exciting him in the industry.

Deloitte Digital revealed last week that Nick Garrett would be joining Matt Lawson and Adrian Mills as the third partner in its creative business.

This move comes after almost two years out of the industry for Garrett, who left Clemenger BBDO in 2019, with the time in between not quite turning out as he foresaw it.

He spoke to Mumbrella following his appointment at the digital creative consultancy about why this was the perfect fit for him following a stint on the sidelines.

“When I left Clemenger, and I knew probably nine months before I left that I was going to go, I was looking at three different potential routes. I knew that I needed to diversify my skills and challenge myself either domestically or overseas.”

Garrett speaking at a Mumbrella event

Those three areas, client side, big tech and consulting, “big and little C”.

His intentions were to take 12 months off, but 6 months in, COVID happened. While there were overseas offers, moving abroad didn’t seem as appealing as it had previously.

“Suddenly working out in New York or LA or somewhere else overseas for my wife and I didn’t seem as logical as it might have done pre-COVID.”

Accidentally in the dream job.

One year turned into two, and in that time Garrett says he fell in love with working for himself, and the type of jobs he was doing. This included engaging with large clients, small clients, and startups, working as a client in front of agencies, behind the scenes with agencies (often without the client knowing he was involved), and also working with a suite of startups.

“A few of them are friends of mine that were looking to launch businesses, but didn’t have anyone with brand and marketing background. What ended up being something to kill six months, ended up being a very serious business option.”

With those three routes listed above, Garrett says that he found out very quickly that his morals were not aligned directly with most of big tech, and as a result he wouldn’t be able to be his best self. There were options client side, but Garrett says he knew it needed to be the right option, one that he believed in it and that he had to have a connection for it to work.

He turned down a few offers that weren’t right, and missed out on another that he was interested in.

At the time he left Clemenger in 2019, consulting did take his interest, but again, the right option wasn’t there at the time.

In the interim, Garrett has worked as a senior creative strategic consultant to the United Nations Development Program, which is based out of the US, two days a week. While he won’t be continuing to devote two days a week, he says it’s something he will continue through Deloitte.

“When you’re on a phone call every week with the chief economists and the chief environmental officer of the UN, I felt like a little kid in a candy store. It was amazing, I was pinching myself. And to be honest working for the UN was the first time my mum and dad probably understood what I did in 24 years.”

This time working for himself also saw Garrett work on a large global tender out of the Middle East, as well as spending a third of his time working across consultancies in the US, as well as six months as acting CEO of a company he says he cannot reveal.

It also included working on several more public projects in Australia, helping Chris Maxwell design and scale Lution, and working in advisory role at Mutiny; both of which have been documented in Mumbrella. He says they are great businesses and that he will remain an investor in both.

Garrett remains an investor in Mutiny

“I reckon I learned more in the last 18 months than I have in the decade before,” he says.

Time to dive back in, before it is too late.

This period came to a close after he turned down several opportunities, and then took time to consider what was next.

“I’m being honest and a little bit vulnerable, you get to a point where I had turned down a CEO role in New York, I turned down a major startup in LA, and I turned down a really dynamic role in London, all for the right reasons. My wife and I weren’t moving overseas. I got a little anxious that if I spent another year out of the game, that maybe it would be hard for me to go back into corporate if that’s the truth.”

He says that after a while, the Deloitte team, Mills and Lawson, tapped him on the shoulder, and their passion, and articulation of this passion for what Deloitte was doing was clear to him.

“Every time you met someone else in the organisation, while not everyone was fluent about creative thinking and the power of creativity, they absolutely embraced it, and were excited by it and wanted to tap into and harness it.”

Deloitte Digital’s Adrian Mills

Speaking of the two, Garrett says he’s known Lawson for many years:“I think he’s absolutely one of the most interesting, quirky, smart and capable ideas people I’ve ever met”. While he describes Adrian as “someone I’ve got to know really well in the last 18 months, and someone I have a huge amount of respect for”.

On his new employer, Garrett says that Deloitte is a company with “unbelievable strategic and technical depth”, one that has a confident and optimistic view of the world and is investing ahead of the curve. “I really want to give it a go”.

“The creative canvas is increasing. It’s not creativity and technology, creativity is where humanity and technology collide. So if you’re excited by that, and you realise that most of the dynamic, creative opportunities aren’t going to be what you say, but what you do, I think there’s a huge future.”

Striving for the ‘big moments’

“I’m still passionate about beautiful brand ads, stunning moments, and classic communication. It’s in my lifeblood,” says Garett.

“When you have that type of dialogue and you get a chance to work with people you already respect, you can play to your strengths and probably have a broader influence than what you can in the agency world. I felt it was really exciting, and that it was a wonderful, steep learning curve to challenge me.”

Matt Lawson (L) with Deloitte Digital CD, Gustavo Vampre

On moving forward with Deloitte, Garrett says the focus will be using its “insane architectural and technology capabilities” to make more dynamic and interesting conceptual experiences come to life, looking for larger creative ideas that can influence enterprise wide, while playing to “bigger deeper moments”, rather than to height, volume and high intensity.

“There’s a role for that as well, and there’s some great companies that are brilliantly suited to it, but it’s just not likely to be our design.”

Half of the opportunity, he says, will be continuing the “amazing work Matt and Adrian have done and to continue building credibility into what is really good advertising”. Garrett says this will include adding creative energy and mindset into the consultancy side of Deloitte’s business, helping it in any way they can with its senior clients.

It’s talent that will make the difference

Garrett says that his time out of the local industry has allowed him to reflect on his experiences working for agencies, and foresee some of the changes that are incoming. But he says he doesn’t necessarily like the ongoing narrative of agencies versus consultancies.

“I think that’s ridiculous. Really good agencies are going to continue to be brilliant and really great consultancies are going to continue to be brilliant.

“The creative industries are going to have an unbelievably rewarding and successful time in the next five years and more, and talent is going to be so sought after, and they’re going to land in amazing roles. But I think the bigger legacy agencies, connected to networks, are in trouble.”

Though he does say that during this time, hearing clients suddenly talk in less complementary and slightly disparaging terms about agency behaviour, including the one he was responsible for, was eye opening.

“You sort of think right, we’re actually not as important to them as we think we are.

“Boy do we have an internal, not external look of the world.”

Garrett also says that for the past 20-30 years, he feels the industry has brainwashed everyone within it to think “we’re really narrow and our skills aren’t valuable and dynamic outside of agencies and comms”.

“I don’t think this is new news, but by the time it’s a marketing problem, it’s probably not a problem. It’s pretty far down the food chain.

“The more capable agency folk can talk brand brilliantly, but they can also talk business strategy, through brand innovation, product design, experience design, and we don’t actually give ourselves enough credit and confidence to be able to do it. So I think the world is going to be awash with opportunities and some of those great opportunities will be agency side as well.”

On the timing of his departure, Garrett says that he doesn’t know whether he feels lucky that he wasn’t leading an agency during COVID, or unlucky as he says he wishes he could’ve done something to help an organisation, something that wasn’t nice watching from the sidelines.

Leaving Clemenger before the mess of COVID

When asked specifically about how his former employer handled the pandemic, as reported in Mumbrella, he was fairly critical.

“I am very grateful I wasn’t at the company during that time, because it’s not the way I would’ve behaved, and I would’ve been very uncomfortable about the way they handled it.”

Garrett’s boss during the lion’s share of his time within the Clemenger Group, Jim Moser, left in 2018. Moser, was chairman of Clemenger BBDO Melbourne during Garrett’s time there, and was also chairman of Colenso BBDO while Garrett was CEO at the agency, before moving across to the Melbourne operation.

He says that losing Moser was huge for him, and refers to Moser as a mentor, and a “huge part of his time at the company”. He says that Moser’s departure was a moment of reflection for him, and the first time he started thinking about whether he wanted to stay at the company, what he wanted to do, and where he wanted to go.

“This was the moment I started thinking about what was on the horizon beyond Clemenger.”

Garrett’s ‘mentor’, Jim Moser

In the meantime, Garrett had added the Sydney office to his remit in 2017, and following Moser’s departure, he would be reporting into Robert Morgan for the first time. Less than a year later, Garrett departed Clemenger.

Garrett and his then counterpart, Chris Howatson at CHE Proximity (now Howatson + Company) were both hotly tipped to be in line to succeed Morgan in the CEO role at Clemenger Group. With both leaving Clemenger in the space of 18 months, there was no longer an obvious replacement in line.

Les Timar a gentleman, but will he really lead?

Two weeks ago, it was revealed that founder and CEO of GRACosway, Les Timar will be taking on the CEO role at the turn of the year, to some surprise around the industry. Yet with Morgan remaining chairman, there remain suspicions as to how things will change day-to-day within the company.

On his appointment, Garrett says that he is deeply happy for the people he still adores at Clemenger that Timar is stepping in.

“I have the deepest respect for him and I think it’s super smart having someone who’s connected at C-Suite. Even better than he’s an absolute gentleman and a lovely human being.”

Les Timar will step up to the Clemenger Group CEO role in January

When asked about how this would change things, in regard to Morgan’s influence, Garrett chuckled and respectfully says, “we’ll see”.

“I imagine it will be hard for Robert to let go, but I hope he does. Because Les will do a great job. But time will tell.”

In the time since his own departure, a number of high level talents have also left, among them, Gayle While left Clemenger BBDO Melbourne after less than a year as Garrett’s replacement, chief creative officer Stephen de Wolf departed the agency to become CCO of BBH London (this morning was announced to be joining DDB), executive creative director Evan Roberts joined TBWA Sydney as chief creative officer, Ben Coulson, the former chief creative officer of Clemenger BBDO Sydney, joined McCann Sydney as chief creative officer, Scott Coldham left Colenso after 15 years and on Friday, Colenso’s chief creative officer, Levi Slavin also left the agency. Added to this, creative chairman, James McGrath also stepped back from his role, moving to part-time last month as creative director at-large across the Clemenger Group.

With such heavyweight creative talent all leaving in such a short period, this would clearly provide a serious shakeup at the top of the Group.

When asked about all of this, Garrett says there can’t be another holding group locally that has “had a generation’s worth of talent: Chris Howatson, Scott Coldham, Levi Slavin, Ant White, and others, leave in two years and find it easy”.

Chris Howatson, one of the high level talent’s to leave Clemenger Group in recent times

“If there is anyone that can get through it, it is Clemenger. And it’s a wonderful opportunity to let the next generation step up and make their mark on the Group in their own way.”

The Davids versus the Goliaths

On the fortunes of the wider industry, Garrett predicts that things are going to be tough for the networks moving forward, as he says he would no longer wish to be heading up one of them.

From this time on the outside, he observes that clients are becoming less excited by the networks. He says there is emergence of “a whole generation of startups and indies in Australia, that are really, really exciting, and for the first time in probably several generations, they have as good, if not better talent than the networks have got.”

“What I think is clear is that being good at everything is impossible. No one has achieved it, or at least no one has achieved at scale.”

He says he has been impressed by the really interesting and agile, creative or systems orientated companies that are able to stay small, dynamic, independent and nimble, yet can do “big creative projects”, not requiring retainers, as long as they’re paid well.

“It has been really refreshing to see, and it is really exciting for the industry.”

Dave Di Veroli, Miles Scott, Aden Hepburn launched Akcelo in 2020

Amongst these he highlights Aden Hepburn’s Akcelo, Abel, a creative agency ran by Nicole Hetherington and Simon Fowler, Micah Walker’s team at Bear Meets Eagle on Fire, Untangled, a strategic consultancy in Melbourne, The Brand Terminal, which has just launched in Melbourne out of LA, and most impressively, he notes, Marty Wirth and his team at Present Company.

“I think the industry is ripe with extraordinary talent. Most of that talent is going off and doing their own thing. The smartest ones are becoming narrow around what their offer is, not broader, because that’s what the market’s asking for. As a result, the broader more integrated networks are struggling to be brilliant at any one thing, and be able to package things in such a way that puts the client first, although some are doing it.”

With all of this perspective fresh in his mind, and with the many lessons he has learned while working for himself, Garrett wanted to make sure that he, Mills and Lawson were aligned upon what lies ahead at Deloitte Digital.

“I’m a few years older than Matt and Adrian and they would have rightly wanted to know I’ve still got another sprint in me. I do. I don’t know if I’ve got three sprints. But let’s say a sprint is five years, and I believe the best album that I will be part of hasn’t been made yet.

“I don’t come up with the ideas, but I do know how to twist them, engage them, protect them, and build on them, and I’ve done that for 20 odd years. So going to Deloitte, to not produce world-class work is counter-intuitive.”


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