Whybin\TBWA’s incoming ECDs talk talent, reputation and why limited budgets are a good thing

Hawes and McCreadie

In August two of the most decorated and celebrated creatives in Australia, Dave Bowman and Matty Burton, announced they were leaving Whybin\TBWA Sydney, the agency they had helped to turn around, for a startup. The two men tasked with replacing them sat down with Miranda Ward on a visit to Australia last week to talk about their ambitions for the agency, and their views on Australian creativity.

With the departure of acclaimed creative duo Dave Bowman and Matty Burton to Lindsey Evans’ The Special Group Sydney Whybin\TBWA boss Paul Bradbury knew he had big boots to fill. His answer was to look abroad, and bring in an established creative duo from one of the most revered agencies in the world as executive creative directors. 

Gary McCreadie and Wesley Hawes are returning for their second stint with Whybins, having spent six months there in the latter half of 2009 under then ECD Garry Horder, before departing to spend two years at Host in January 2010, and then heading off to BBH London.

Reminiscing about their short stint at Whybins McCreadie said the agency back then “was completely different”, adding “it’s really changed and it’s developed into something special.”

On what has changed Hawes expanded: “There seems to be more of a buzz and positivity around the place. This is probably due to the success the agency has enjoyed and the quality of work produced over the last few years, but I’d also attribute it to the type of people working there now. There’s so much talent and confidence across the building, from all departments, that you just get the sense that anything is possible right now.

“We had a vision for the agency then but it was hard for us to apply it because we were a middle weight team. When Matty and Dave came in they took a lot of the ideas and did everything right, we would have done the same thing if we were in the same position,” he added.

The pair, who most recently have been working at BBH as the global creative directors on Unilever’s Axe/Lynx brand, credit their time in Australia as the reason they were able to get ahead of their UK peers due to a need locally to be more self-sufficient.

“The interesting thing we found when we went back to BBH after working at TBWA and Host is that we kind of got ahead of our peers. We were forced to be more self sufficient, more proactive,” said Hawes.

Chiming in, McCreadie said: “We found we had an advantage. It’s almost going back to art school at one point, you had to fashion your arguments a lot more clearly. When you’re in London you tend to rely on the resources around you and you didn’t have that all the time here, you had to make it yourself, do it all yourself.”

“It’s that Australian ‘have a go’ mentality which comes out in the work and the spirit of the creatives here,” added Hawes.

McCreadie joked “we’re probably behind again now”.

The duo’s work for Axe/Lynx included a part in the Cannes Lions winning ‘Apollo’ campaign, which saw the brand team up with Buzz Aldrin to send 22 people into space, as well as the ‘Monday/Wednesday‘ campaign and the ‘Soulmates‘ campaign.

On the ‘Apollo’ campaign, Hawes said the campaign “lived or died” on actually being able to send people into space.

“We spent six months talking to Richard Branson and all the other companies about how far the technology was in being able to send people up,” he said.

The pair also worked on The Guardian’s ‘We own the weekend’ campaign.

The past year has been something of a roller coaster for Whybins in Sydney, picking up the prestigious David Jones account from M&C Saatchi last year, before parting ways with NRMA, which went the other way, a client the agency picked up multiple awards for.

Looking to the future and their new roles at Whybins, Hawes is focused on growing both the creative department and the agency’s client roster, but is cool about awards.

“I’d like to think we’d grown the agency’s roster of clients. A massive achievement would be winning awards but we’re not necessarily an award-chasing team, we just like to do work that’s loved by people and if awards come then that’s great,” Hawes said.

“A bigger department, it would be great to grow the agency in size. That would be a sign of an achievement,” he added.

On the state of the agency’s creative department, Hawes and McCreadie were full of praise for Burton and Bowman.

“They’ve left the agency in a really good place,” said Hawes. “We had a plan coming into this week on just trying to work out on the areas we can improve, whether they’ve nailed down certain ways of work, but everything seems pretty tight.”

McCreadie added: “Our job is to progress that and find the places we can make it even better and also keep the progression of growth in the creative department.”

Indeed it was Bowman and Burton’s reputation that helped seal the deal for McCreadie and Hawes to take on the joint-ECD role.

“What attracted us to Whybin\TBWA specifically is we knew Paul (Bradbury – CEO), we’d almost crossed over four or five times with Matty and Dave so we’d heard so much about them and their reputation and we’ve admired their work from afar and the impact they’ve had on the agency. Compared to when we were here it’s a different place,” said Hawes.

“I don’t think we would have come back for another agency, the opportunity came at the right time. It really helped us knowing Paul and the reputation of Matty and Dave.

“The momentum was really kicking in for the last three years and its an exciting opportunity for us to maintain that,” he added.

McCreadie added: “It’s an opportunity to work with really good people and learn how to be an ECD and be part of a management team with people you trust and like, which is quite hard.”

“We want to be at the table making the key decisions,” summed up Hawes on the decision to take on the role.

However, the pair remained coy when asked which of the agency’s clients – which include David Jones, ANZ Bank and Tourism New Zealand – with McCreadie saying “there’s loads of opportunity in all the clients”.

Hawes added: “It’s really insightful talking to them about the type of work they’re wanting to be doing and the type of work they’ve done, a lot of our philosophies they’ve really taken hold of. We really want to do work that affects culture and gets into mainstream and feels less like advertising.

“And also do a job for them,” added McCreadie.

“Despite being playful people we do take this really seriously and we’re very responsible in that sense. We want them to like it. There’s nothing worse than a client who doesn’t like what you’ve done, it’s what you’ve created it for. You want to solve a problem, you want to fix something.”

The pair also have a good regard for the state of creativity in Australia, with McCreadie saying “it feels a lot more solid and a lot less sporadic”.

“I think it’s really strong,” Hawes added. “We watch from afar, then we go to Cannes and all the award ceremonies and there seems to be a good bulk of Australian work coming through and there’s always one stand out piece that seems to clear up every year.”

On the challenges creatives are faced with locally Hawes named budgets as the main contender.

“The budget thing is a challenge, but I kind of like being forced to think around doing a big TV campaign each time,” he said.

“Maybe there isn’t the money to do the grander things but most of the time it leads to a more interesting idea and some London agencies might be guilty of going TV first, and nowadays there’s a stronger case for starting with the business problem and creating a solution that’s media neutral and can work through a range of channels.”

McCreadie added: “I obviously haven’t worked here for a while but it feels like there’s a lot more money knocking around Europe.

“Creativity wise, we’ve always said this, some of the most creative people we’ve ever met were from when we’ve worked in Australia. In terms of thinking, it’s not very different.”

McCreadie said in London a major challenge is finding the right talent, however was cautious about suggesting it was a problem locally.

“At the moment there’s a challenge, I don’t know if it exists here, of getting the talent and keeping the talent,” he said.

“A lot of places where we’ve come from have had to promote prematurely and bump up salaries prematurely to keep talent because they were getting offers from other places because people want cutting edge and best new talent all the time. There’s a lot of young teams who seem to be CDs.”

However, Hawes is confident he and McCreadie will be able to find the right talent in the market, suggesting Australia has an “abundance” of the talent they’ll be looking for.

“We know the marketplace so our knowledge is pretty extensive on who’s doing the good work and the sort of creative we want to hire. Australia has an abundance of the type of teams we’re looking for: multi-skilled, can approach briefs in a media neutral way and can do the big platform ideas and then execute them as well. We have a good idea of what we’re after, we just have to go and find it now,” he said.

On what BBH has taught them Hawes said their time with the agency has encouraged them to look beyond the work rival local agencies are producing and to have a more global perspective on the industry.

“There’s a big worldly view from the creative at BBH, there’s less of teams seeing what the agency are doing next door, they’re more concerned with what’s going on from a global perspective,” he said.

“That’s something we’d like to instil in our creative department here, to take more of a global view and not feel so insular. It’s good to know what’s going on in Australia but it’s not necessarily the be-all and end-all. It’s important to know what’s going on around the world and what trends are happening around the world and not being Australia specific.”

Having been described by CEO Paul Bradbury at the time of their appointment as “one of the most exciting creative leadership teams in the world right now”, McCreadie and Hawes put their successful partnership down to an ability to be free with one another and being able to play off their strengths and weaknesses.

The duo teamed up in 2003 and have since worked across a number of agencies including Host Sydney, CHI & Partners, VCCP in London and BBH London.

During their two years with Host, McCreadie and Hawes worked on the Vodafone account, working on a campaign for the telco’s Ashes sponsorship, and for The Fantasy Cheater’s League, work which Hawes said was one of the pair’s favourite ideas from their time in Australia.

Vodafone Australia’s ‘Ashes Sponsorship’ November 2010 – Host Sydney

The Fantasy Cheaters League 2010 – Host Sydney

“Freedom to say and do whatever you want,” said McCreadie when asked what makes a successful creative partnership. “So being able to say to Wesley ‘that’s a rubbish idea’ or ‘I love that idea’. Being able to have genuine emotional battles without taking it personally, being a mate allows you to do that sort of stuff.”

Hawes added: “We have certain weaknesses and strengths, so we play off those. But not just the usual. Gary’s an art director so he’s more visual and I’m a writer so words are my forte, but even in presenting I’m better at the initial stuff and landing points and Gary’s better at riffing.

“In every aspect of our work we compliment each other and try and have fun and that’s quite important.

“We have a more relaxed attitude about work, we never put pressure on ourselves and when we get over here we want to relay that to our teams.”

“No matter what situation we’ve been in we’ve been able to have a laugh while we’re doing it and relax and not put too much pressure on ourselves. Hopefully we’ll be able to instil that in the creative department,” he added.

The pair move into the joint-ECD role in early December.

Miranda Ward


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