The Interview Series // 51

Juniors, meet Kieran Antill. Originally hailing from Sydney – Kieran is a Creative Director at Leo Burnett in NYC (http://lbny Not only is he one of the most awarded Art Directors in the universe (voted Cannes 2010 #1 Art Director), he is also a fine artist – exhibiting in Sydney, London and New York for the last 10 years. Together with his creative partner and good mate Michael Canning, he’s responsible for flippin’ successful campaigns like this (http://www NULL.canningandantill NULL.html), this (http://www NULL.canningandantill NULL.html) and this (http://www NULL.canningandantill NULL.html). We got in touch with Kieran to find out just how he got so darn good at making stuff. Turns out, it could be as simple just saying “yes”…

Junior: Hey Kieran! How is NYC treating you? How has the first year been?

Kieran Antill: Great! I made the move to New York with the Leo Burnett network with my great mate Michael Canning which was a reunion with Chief Creative Officer, Jay Benjamin. So to be honest it has been about as smooth anyone could ask for. We’ve had an amazing year 1 in New York – opening the office winning 2 major clients in Chobani Yogurt and Dewars scotch, and launching a new creative platform in New York Writes Itself (http://www NULL.newyorkwritesitself

Jr: Jealous! We’ve got so many questions… Let’s go from the top – What’s your background? What did you study? How did you get into advertising?

KA: My background? Ok, here is the abridged version: I grew up in Australia. Chased girls. Left on a basketball scholarship to the US aged 18. Had to pick something to study at University in the States so I chose Biology. A year into my degree I did a photography class and fell in love with the arts. I changed my degree to Fine Arts with a Graphic Design emphasis, but spent most of my time in the painting studio, and on the road with basketball. Basketball took me around the states for 5 years and then to Europe, but after knee surgery and thousands of better players I returned to Australia.

When I got home, I spent a full year waiting for people to ask me to design and paint them something while selling my art at the local Manly markets. That never happened and I finally I realised I hadn’t told anyone I existed – so I took a freelance job with a friend of mine. That only lasted a month, but he gave me contacts at two other companies. I called them both. One of them never called me back (dick) and the other one asked me to come in. I met Graham Nunn at the then FNL offices. He was a very nice man and he seemed to like my work. I left, a.k.a I went back to the beach and sold my art for two more months. The phone then rang when I was in this shitty hardware store where I couldn’t find the right paint colour I was looking for. Graham somehow hadn’t lost my number (nice man) and he asked if I could do style guides. I, naturally, lied, and said “of course”-  then called my friend and asked what the hell a style guide was. I started freelancing for FNL, and left 2 years later with a business card that said ‘Art Director’. From there on I have kept saying “yes, I can do that”, then figuring out how to actually do it. Along the way I have realised the secret is to just say ‘yes’ and figure the rest out as you go.

Jr: So true. Lots of people we’ve interviewed got started in a similar way. It’s nice to know we all have to start somewhere – be it style guides, 8×7 press ads or that shitty retailer no one wants to work on. Do you see your time at FNL as a bit of an advertising apprenticeship?

KA: FNL was a small agency that had very premium clients like VW, Sony and Harley Davidson (at least back 8 years ago). It was a great training ground for me as the work was top shelf, but by the agency being so small, even as a junior my role was important.

The best agencies to get a start in are often the smaller more boutique agencies that have a big reputation. Working at a smaller agency means ‘all hands on deck’, so you will be exposed to everything and it’s much easier getting onto big opportunities in that kind of environment. If the agency is too big the culture tends to teach hierarchy to its creatives, so you spend your first years being told that you are a junior – which in my opinion just stunts creative growth and simply serves as an excuse not to be better.

However, the thing to realize about larger agencies (150+ people) is that they are often made up of smaller sub-agencies. Not defined by walls, but by the personalities of the people that work there. If you are a junior, you want to find out who you report to – who is the Creative Director that will be giving you your opportunities. Great work is often made by a handful of people regardless of the size of the agency. You want to know who they are because just having the same business card does not mean you will work with them, or learn from them. If the agency is too small there are often no opportunities and the budgets can be so tight that keeping the doors open is considered a success.

Ultimately however, you need to learn the people and not the agencies. Find out who does what work and contact them directly. If they work in your agency ask them to tell you more about the work they have done, and maybe a brief you could help out on. If they work somewhere else, ask for a job (you never know what they will say). A tip on finding really good people is that they have done more than just one great bit of work – consistently great work is the real test. Google names of people credited on the work you like and see what else they have done.


Jr: Coming from more of a graphic design background – Did you ever do Award School – or did you ‘get’ advertising straight away?

KA: AWARD school is heavily weighted towards idea generation, and it should be. But, once you have a great idea you need to be able to articulate it in words and/or pictures to help people around you understand the idea. Your Creative Director, the Account Management team, your client and in the case of AWARD school, your tutors. This might be the hardest part.

Producing your ideas lives outside of AWARD school and it usually comes more naturally to those with a design and art background. This is something no school can really teach, it is only though the doing that you get better. Plenty of great ideas stumble and fall at this stage.

So in short, if you were in a job interview you might have someone ask – “I see you’ve done AWARD school, what else have you done?” – Make sure you have the ‘what else’.

Jr: Tell us about your art. Was that your “What else”?

KA: My art is my personal space. The role it plays in my life is to feel completely free. I love all the commercial ventures I find myself apart of, but collaboration often comes with compromise. My art is the thing “what else” that has opened plenty of doors as it has not needed to compromise.

That being said, when it comes to my commercial ventures I’ve learned from working with great creatives like Michael Canning, Steve Coll, Jay Benjamin and Andy DiLallo that it’s all about protecting the core idea and never compromising on that part, which has led to work that has defined my career to this point.

Having personal projects for all creatives in whatever form is essential. It builds confidence. You know you can create without all the hype, all the meetings and all the award shows.

Jr: At what point did you aspire to become a Creative Director?

KA: I’ve never aspired to be a Creative Director by title. But I’ve never enjoyed reporting to people. That has been a mix of immaturity and confidence to tell the truth. But today it just feels like the right position to be in, the younger guys teach me as much as I teach them.

Written by Junior
Originally posted on: 11/04/2012