Pampered clients, the Mexican government and the toughest audience in the world

We recently caught up with copywriter of many parts Simon D-T to mull over a career that has been many things but never boring.

You’ve won innumerable international awards. What’s the best ad of yours that never got made or never won an award.
The best, easy. It’s not an ad but a whole campaign. Cuervo the tequila people have a tiny island that they open up from time to time as a holiday getaway in competitions – a sort of Necker Island for spring break. They asked me to come up with a new promotion. Ignoring the usual holiday in the sun nonsense, the approach was simple. Win the chance to run your own country. You could become president, your friends could make up the government, you could make your own laws. And not only that, as we would also try and get FIFA, the UN, Miss World competition and so on to recognise you. The Mexican government were up for it too and were prepared to hold a party at their Embassy in London. To this day I still don’t understand why they said no.

You set up and ran your own agency for years. The highs and the lows must have been incredible. What did you learn? Did you do it because you wanted to do things differently? Sum it up for us.
I have so many ideas as to how an agency should run to be future proof: a new type of creative department structure, a new range of skill sets, a different approach to working with one another. We tried many of them and we succeeded massively, especially in the areas of creativity and the work, so I feel vindicated. But my biggest lesson is that you can’t run ahead of where people are comfortable and sometimes, a little patience is going to be way more effective than enthusiasm and vision.

Clients. How do you deal with them?
Gently, with patience and with respect. I’m horrified sometimes at some agencies’ attitudes to their clients. In the course of my career I’ve seen marketeers get smarter and smarter, they’re now hugely savvy especially when it comes to the media landscape. When it comes to creative work though, it’s important to remember how scary looking an idea for the first time is. Just because I can see what is in my head down to the nth degree doesn’t mean they do. Plus you’ve got to remember that creative appraisal is a tiny part of their job. That’s why you’ve got to take the time to explain why something is worth investing in, what the idea is about, why it will work and then give them the tools to help them up-sell internally.

“Great creatives are born, they’re not made”. Do you agree?
Utter rubbish. Not even great writers or artists are born. A belief in oneself, a thirst for knowledge and the capacity for hard work is all you need. Creativity is after all just about making connections that other people haven’t seen.

After far too many years in advertising are you still passionate about it? Was it better before the internet? Before mobile devices? When life was simpler.
Yes I am. Right now, if you’re brave then there’s never been a better time to be in the industry. I have no time for those who mourn the loss of the multi-million dollar 60 second commercial. This is the beginning of something new.

Which creatives or ad agency do you most admire now? Who’s got the hottest hotshop? If you could start out again in any ad agency which one would it be?
You can’t separate an agency from its time, so it would have to be Wiener & Gossage, San Francisco in the 50s-60s. Or CDP, London in the 70s. Today, maybe Droga5 or 4Creative.

You’ve worked all around the world. What’s the best country to work in? What way of working have you found the most refreshing? And the least?
I love the South Americans. They’re so creative, uninhibited and, in the best sense, child-like. The worst, maybe not the worst, but I’ve always found Russia and Poland a tough audience.

What’s the best or worst experience you’ve ever had in an agency? It doesn’t matter which. Give us your juciest anecdote.
The worst experiences can best be summed up with the initials, SA, MS and RW. Each one awful. The best(s): blagging my first job, winning my first-award, running my first agency. Nothing better than a first

There’s a lot more to life than advertising. Please plug some of your other projects.
I have a passion for craft and, in my case, that means writing. Right now I am 45,000 words into my next novel which I’m hoping will be the first of many best-sellers.