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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > creatives >  Gavin Gordon-Rogers
Gavin Gordon-Rogers

3ttt0001 Gavin Gordon RogersExecutive Creative Director
Agency Republic

You know how it seems all advertising creatives want to quit the industry one day to direct music videos?

Well, we’ve found someone who’s been the opposite direction. After directing music videos for several years, Gavin and wife Gemma worked at numerous traditional ad agencies before ‘digitising’ into glue London and later Agency Republic where they eventually became joint Creative Directors, and led the agency to many international awards and Agency of the Year accolades. Maybe there is something about that whole grass being always greener on the other side of the fence business after all.

Now do you know what else all advertising creatives want?

That’s right, winning a Tomorrow Awards trophy. Gavin’s been there and done that. And is one of the Monster Judges for the Winter 2011 edition, so if you’ve done work you think could impress him and teach the whole industry a thing or two, you have until February 16th 2011 to enter it.

ihaveanidea: How did you make the jump from the exciting world of directing music videos to the ad world? It seems like most creatives aspire to the former, but you went backwards…

Gavin: We got a lot of those comments when Gemma (my partner, we’ve always been a creative team) and I were first shopping our book around. Creatives usually start directing music videos as a way out of advertising. At that time, we were using my music videos show reel and Gemma’s illustration and fine art portfolios as a secret little test that we used on the ad agencies that we were going to see. All the agencies that weren’t really interested in those sorts of things and said “We only want to see your ad book” were the ones that didn’t really impress us very much. They turned us off immediately.  It was an interesting exercise for us to be going into creative places and actually find out how open to different sorts of creativity they were.

Why did we start doing it?

It’s sort of a long story.  I’d always been freelancing in advertising on and off, even whilst making music videos.  It started off as a way to pay the bills, since music videos certainly didn’t used to pay very much—and even less today.  You do it for the love of it. Because you love music and film making and you want to make cool stuff and experiment and have fun with the bands and all of that. It’s brilliant, I did it for a few years, but you can’t really survive doing that. Not unless you become Michel Gondry within a year or two. I directed music videos with larger and larger budgets over time, but it still wasn’t a reliable way to make a living.  So that’s why we got more and more into advertising and started freelancing for bigger above the line places in London.

I think the future modern agency will be struggling almost to not define itself

ihaveanidea:  All right, so after spending more time than is healthy stalking you on Linkedln, I saw that you spent many years freelancing after your first job in advertising. Was it a bad time to get full time gigs or just that much of a great time to be a freelancer?

Gavin: It was a bit of all sorts of things. My CV does look a bit jumbled up, but some of those freelance gigs would be for three or six months.  It was a mixture of short and long-term contracts, while we just hadn’t necessarily found the right place for us. We went to see some of the best agencies, although through luck or bad-timing, or simply not being good enough, we just couldn’t get into some those places at that time.  I’m a big believer in the fact that things don’t happen for certain reasons.  Perhaps our entire career and the fact that we even ended up getting into digital and specializing in it for the past nine years or whatever, wouldn’t have happened if we’d gotten a job at some of the places we were pestering like Mother for example.

We would have loved to get a permanent job at Mother back then, but it just didn’t happen to come off.  With hindsight, you kind of look back and go “maybe it was a good thing  we didn’t because we ended up with this different career, skills and specializations”.  It worked out for the best.

screen shot 2011 02 01 at 112112 am 300x183 Gavin Gordon Rogers

Mercedes-Benz - ‘a-to-s’

ihaveanidea:  Did you end up getting the lion share of the digital briefs when you were freelancing because the in-house teams preferred the TV briefs?

Gavin: No, not especially.  We got the odd digital brief from freelancing, but most were traditional briefs.  It wasn’t until 2002 when we joined Glue London that we really started getting into digital because at the time they were exclusively a digital agency.  That’s why it was a bit of a was a bit of a leap of faith for us, and it turned out to be was a great place where we learned a lot. 2002 was right about that time when digital started to move forward and started to become much more of a serious commodity and a serious media for clients as well.  It was kind of lucky timing for us, it’s not like we had some kind of master plan or anything.  It just turned out that way. (laughs)

ihaveanidea: Speaking of which, do you think it’s still important to make the distinction between digital and traditional agencies, or has it become irrelevant?

Gavin: I think it’s a really interesting time in regards to all of that.  Traditional agencies – at least the forward thinking ones – have been trying to work out what their plans are for the past few years, and as one of the leading digital agencies, we’ve had hundreds of discussions about where it’s all going and what’s our plan of attack going forward.  So there are loads of discussions going on, and ultimately, the way I see it all going is that all these different areas are merging together. Even digital as a term is becoming more and more meaningless because all agencies should be able to do digital work and to think digitally going forward. That’s the way everything is going, like it or not.

ihaveanidea: That notion isn’t limited to advertising, it’s also extending to real life, so to speak.

Gavin: Exactly. Consumers don’t think of it like that, so why should agencies?  They’ll see an ad on the tele that says “Join the campaign on Facebook.” without trying to fit it into the right category. They don’t think of digital as a channel, they just think of it as another place to be, to connect with friends, or whatever.

But back to your question (laughs)… I think the future modern agency will be struggling almost to not define itself. They’ll try to come up with some sort of term that says “We do amazing creative stuff for our clients, and it doesn’t matter where we do it or what channel we use.”

You’re starting to see some companies saying these things already. New York’s Co: being one of them. There’s also a new one in London called 101, started by one of Fallon’s founders, that’s also talking about similar stuff.  It’s an interesting and exciting time for sure.

image 300x299 Gavin Gordon Rogers

BBC Radio 1 - ‘Musicubes’ (no longer live)

ihaveanidea: It seems like you need to be in an extremely privileged position, where you’d spent years dealing with very senior clients to do that adopt that sort of model though, no?

Gavin: I suppose, but they worked hard in the previous years to get into that position.  Maybe it’s similar with 101 in London.  One of the founding partners used to be a client, so it’s an agency with a client almost built into it if you like.

There’s a lot of evolution going on, and that’s the point.  Traditional agencies will get in trouble if they don’t open up. There’s been a lot of talk recently about digital agencies being the new dinosaurs, because obviously in the past digital agencies have been calling the above the line agencies dinosaurs.  But I think you still need specialists.  That’s the ultimate point, you’ll always do and I don’t think that’s going to change.

ihaveanidea:  Do you guys at Agency Republic even try pitching for digital assignments, or do you still focus exclusively on digital?

Gavin: We try when it makes sense in regards to the client or the project. Our focus always has been and will remain digital.  Let me explain; we have delivered global integrated work for the likes of EA Games for instance.  In that case it kind of made sense for us to pitch for it, because EA Games is intrinsically a digital company and that company’s audience is pretty much online all the time or is at least very digitally savvy. The best way to speak to that audience is through digital media, and it made sense to go for that because it was a real brief with digital at the heart of it.

So if some of the ideas we come up with end up becoming a TV ad or press ad as they did for the job we did for EA Games, that’s fine, we’re up for it.  We’ll go to specialist production companies to execute those pieces of the campaign, just as a traditional agency would. We try to judge everything on whether or not we think the clients or the project have got digital at the heart of it, because that’s where we see our focus remaining.

….you can’t really survive doing that. Not unless you become Michel Gondry within a year or two.

ihaveanidea:  Lots of agencies especially digital ones seem to be obsessed with innovation, yourselves included. Which kind of make sense for you since you’re a Tomorrow Awards Monster Judge.  So what kind of things do you do to maintain an atmosphere of innovation in your department?  To make sure your creatives, or anybody else working for you always remains on their toes and doesn’t settle for the “Hey, let’s just do a banner ad.” route…not that there’s anything wrong with banner ads of course! (laughs)

Gavin: That’s a good caveat you added there at the last minute (laughs). On that point actually, one of the things I’ve always said that, even if the brief is just asking for a banner ad, there’s still the chance to make the best fucking banner ad you’ve ever made. You can still win a Cannes Gold Lion for a banner ad.

ihaveanidea: Well, they do say it’s the easiest category to win gold in because banners tend to suck, right?

Gavin: It is! (laughs). Lean Mean won interactive agency of the year a couple of years ago thanks to a lot of banner ads.  It was an amazing job by those guys and I think they’re brilliant, but there wasn’t an awful lot of innovation going on in those ads.  They were just nicely, well done banner ads.  But back to the question about innovation:  I think it’s really important to foster innovation in any kind of digital agency. It’s really important for me personally.  We’ve always pushed for doing new stuff, innovative stuff, because it’s more exciting apart from anything else.  And if you tend to surround yourself with like-minded people, they’ll get thirsty for it too, especially when the leadership for the agency is excited about it. It fosters an atmosphere where everyone constantly wants to work with the newest latest stuff.  That’s not just for our own satisfaction, especially in the world of digital, it’s the kind of stuff that makes a splash more easily.  In some regards, digital gets a bit of bad press from more traditional creative for pursuing whatever’s the newest thing as opposed to executing stuff in the best possible way and focusing on the craft, which is what their expertise is all about. But TV essentially hasn’t changed in 100 years, and print hasn’t changed in however hundreds years, so there’s very little innovation for them to pursue.

It was an interesting exercise for us to be going into creative places and actually find out how open to different sorts of creativity they were.

ihaveanidea:  Well, don’t they have a bit of a point in that if you keep chasing innovation all of the time, you’ll never get to perfect whatever you came up with, and you’ll just end up with a lot of beta versions? It’s kind of hard to draw the line.

Gavin: Yeah, that’s true, and the challenge for me or someone in my position in any agency is to try and marry those two up.  My background is more from the perfection of filmmaking and above the line work, but I’m equally excited about innovation and possibilities, and combining new services and platforms together to make who knows what. There’s nothing more exciting than setting out on a project where the client doesn’t know what the hell you’re doing and you don’t really know what the hell you’re doing or whether or not it’s going to work.  That’s the most creative exciting atmosphere you can be in.  But as long as everyone’s up for it, and we’re going to try and make something really brilliant, then that’s great.  My focus is that we need to make sure that we can deliver that and that it’s also well presented, the copy is beautiful, and that we have the whole package.   Not just a kind of new flashy whiz-bang thing, which does something new but is not really representative of the brand. I think that’s another thing that gets lost quite often in digital work. This kind of skill, or a sense of appreciation rather for the brand, telling its story and keeping true to the brand’s tone of voice.  All of the things that are far more crafted and thought about in above the line work, usually.

screen shot 2011 02 01 at 113533 am 300x211 Gavin Gordon Rogers

EA Games – Battlefield Bad Company 2

screen shot 2011 02 01 at 114631 am 300x155 Gavin Gordon Rogers

PlayStation – Killzone 2 Webgame

ihaveanidea:  So how do you apply all that in your department?

Gavin: Well, that part of your question I didn’t actually answer, did I? I’ve instigated this ongoing R&D program here at Republic that we’ve had running for a couple of years now. There’re dedicated tech resources and creatives and designers can get dedicated time to spend on R&D ideas.  All the concepts – that anyone in the agency can come up with, not just creatives – for innovative projects get presented and those ideas can be taken on.  We can have dedicated time in-house spent to developing those things.

Obviously, it’s tough because you need to make money as well, you know we’re not an art collection; we’re not a start-up with massive backing from a Google co-founder or whatever. So it’s a question of trying to balance cash between your existing clients and pitching and pushing forwards. Because sometimes clients aren’t asking for a crazy innovation, so you need to get on with that yourself. I think that’s one of the ways that we encourage it.

The other thing is sharing. Sharing knowledge, which is essentially the foundation of the internet. If you think about it, that’s what it’s all about.  We have very open culture here where we share everything.  So if someone spots something cool on their Twitter feed or whatever, within a minute it will be emailed around the agency. We have different groups and resources for the whole agency to access whenever they want so that they can see where the latest cool things are happening.  It’s an incredible and extremely valuable resource.  I haven’t worked for another agency in six years, so I don’t know how much it happens in other agencies, but it’s something really valuable here.

We went to see some of the best agencies, although through luck or bad-timing, or simply not being good enough, we just couldn’t get into some those places at that time

ihaveanidea: Last question: Since you briefly mentioned your wife also being your creative partner for the best part of your career, was there ever such a thing as leaving the work at work when you got home?  If so, how did you manage it?

Gavin: Well, sometimes we didn’t manage it very easily (laughs).  We had worked together before we began working in advertising; we first worked together at the Edinburgh National Film Festival sticking up posters.  After that, when I started directing the music videos, Gems was Art Directing and she was helping to build the sets, and even doing the storyboards for some of my bigger music videos.  And, as we started to get into advertising more and more, it started to seem like a natural extension of that.

We were already getting used to talking about work without letting it take over our life.  When you know someone really really well, and when you spend a lot of time with someone—which you do if you live and work together— you quite frankly get to a kind of flow where you instinctively know when it’s okay or not to talk about work stuff. The other more important thing is that we have two kids. And you don’t’ have time to talk about work at home with two kids.

screen shot 2011 02 01 at 113238 am 300x163 Gavin Gordon Rogers

BBC Radio1 – Meet the DJs

screen shot 2011 02 01 at 114818 am 300x180 Gavin Gordon Rogers

Make Poverty History –

screen shot 2011 02 01 at 115056 am 300x154 Gavin Gordon Rogers

Smart – The Truth About Smart

Interview by:

rafikcreditpic Gavin Gordon Rogers

Rafik Belmesk
Operations, AKOS

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