The Interview Series // 47

Tony. He hangs out with rock stars (http://www, wins a shit load of awards, and I’m sure gets mocked for being a little bit ‘Special’. Ha! Oh, we’re so clever. A talented Art Director by trade, Tony is the ECD of one of NZ’s top ad agencies (http://www NULL.specialgroup, and is kicking goals left right and center in the creative scene — the world over. We don’t quite know where he fitted in a beer or three with us in the midst of all that, but we managed to ask him a few questions while we could.

Junior: Where did it all begin, take us back to the start?

Tony: That should only take a minute; Design school Auckland, I got bored of just design, and started doing advertising halfway through the course, much to the confusion of my tutors. I got a job here (Auckland) at a company that no longer exists called DMB&B. I did an ad, which got a bunch of attention. Went to London, had fun for seven and a half years, spent mainly in bars. Then went to Amsterdam for two and a half years working on Volvo across Europe. Then I came back to New Zealand as the Creative Director for Generator for about two years, resigned when it was sold, started Special. Three years later, we are here.

Jr: What is your best tip for juniors starting their creative career?

T: Well besides the obvious things that you can’t control… (an older man interrupts our conversation. He looks similar to a actor off a 70’s cop show)

Older man that looks like a 70’s cop: (slightly slurred and angry tone) I thought leaving my drink and my glasses would be enough to reserve my seat while I was gone.

T: So are you saying that you want your seat back?

Jr: We can move if you want?

Older man that looks like a 70’s cop: I’ll move inside.

T: Besides things you can’t control like being really, really good or being really lucky. I’d say be positive and really enthusiastic and basically keep coming up with ideas. Don’t stop or go home early, don’t think that this idea is good enough or that will do. You’ve got to keep going. The other thing is you have to make yourself indispensable. Be hungry for everything. Everything is an opportunity — even if it is just a brief for a banner, you can still try to do something really good for it.

Jr: What is the trick to winning 8 Gold Axis awards, The Best in Show Axis, a Grand Prix at Cannes, which ranked Special as the 8th best Independent Agency in the world — then come back to New Zealand to win National Business Review Agency of the Year, Fairfax Independent Agency of the Year, as well as taking home USD $10,000 for the Grand Prix at Adstars — all in 2010?

T: Don’t sleep? Ha. I think a lot of that stuff was achieved through being ambitious. Not thinking you can or can’t do things. So I think it is really about thinking ‘why couldn’t we do this?’, or ‘why couldn’t you try and do that?’. With the Iggy thing I think there was a bit of luck in pulling that campaign off, timing and everything else worked really well, but the main thing about it was ambition – believing ‘sure we can sell this’, ‘sure we can get Iggy’, ‘sure it will work.’ The other thing about it is we started Special to do things our own way, and to do things better, and as soon as you say that — you put yourself out there. You put your neck on the chopping block. There is no hiding; people know it’s your agency and your work — you can’t blame anyone else. So you have to try really hard to avoid screwing up in public in a big way. Which means working every weekend and working every night, very late.

Jr: Was it fun hanging out with Iggy Pop?

T: Yep, he is very cool. He was pretty focused. We met him by the roof top pool at our hotel in Miami, and besides taking his shirt of in the first two minutes, he was very focused on the orchestration of it. He really looked at the different people and had already worked out in his own mind the structure of the song. He was really pleased with how the ad was received, and how much acclaim it got worldwide. We had dinner with his manager, who is a really nice Scottish guy, when Iggy was playing at the Big Day Out this year. He told us over dinner that Iggy kept talking about this Grand Prix and how much he really liked it etc, so we ended up giving it to him backstage at the Big Day Out. We thought we’d had enough use out of it so he may as well have it. He was chuffed.

Jr: How do you live a balanced life?

T: 3 of the 4 partners at Special have young kids, so we normally finish up at 5:30pm or 6pm and go home to bath time and all the rest of it. I know it doesn’t sound that rock and roll. Then we turn the laptops on again about 9:30pm. You have to work very quickly and be very focused. You can’t muck around. Then the big trick is to put down the iPhone the rest of the time you’re at home. Otherwise it is too much of a distraction.

Jr: What floats your boat when you are looking through a junior’s book?

T: I would say, actually, not ads that look like classic award winning press ads, or ads that look like they are created for Luerzers Archive. I guess I want to see ideas that are a little broader or a little bit different, as opposed to just big visual and little logo. I want to see ideas that are more engaging and involving, just interesting, different stuff really. Because what you are really looking for is how someone thinks.

Jr: How much digital should we have in our book?

T: Digital is so important. Almost everything thing you do now has a digital component to it. Good uses, or misuses of digital are great to have in your book. Often the trick is to make technology really simple. Don’t be put off if you haven’t actually made anything digital – it’s the simple, engaging ideas people will be looking for. But yeah – pack your book full of digital thinking.

Jr: What’s your best/worst junior story?

T: Nah, they’re all pretty boring really. Look, starting out is tough. Everyone knows that, you’ve got to work your socks off and hopefully you can get a chance to create some good stuff. You’ve also got to look for opportunities, not wait for them to be handed to you.

Jr: If you could do your creative career again what would you do differently?

T: Shit, I don’t know. Work at better agencies, work under better Creative Directors. I really think it is all about working with better people. It is one of the key things. It makes it more enjoyable. You respect their opinion more. If you work in agencies that want to do good work rather than agencies that want to do things for other reasons you will have a better time.

Jr: Do you think you need to be at a great agency to do great work?

T: No, but it definitely helps. By a huge amount, but no, that is not essential, but it helps a heck of a lot.

Jr: What keeps you inspired?

T: I guess all creatives like the excitement of ideas. They like seeing things come to life and getting out there in the world and seeing how the public react to it. I also think creatives are highly competitive so that always keeps you motivated. I think also personal pride and fear of embarrassment keep you motivated. You don’t want to do stuff that people don’t like. Even though there is nothing wrong with doing work that polarizes, there is nothing wrong with doing work that a bunch of people don’t like as long — as the right people react the right way to it, in other words, as long as it creates the right results. Was that an answer?

Jr: Yeah, that was good. What is your best/worst moment in advertising?

T: Well one of the best moments was winning our first bit of business for Special. I think that was good, basically because it says you’re up, you’re away.

The worst moment in advertising? Shit, that is a tough one, there have been lots of tough moments. I guess the worst moment is when you see an idea that you believed was going to be great, turn out not as good as it could be, for whatever reason. You kinda die a little bit inside, so yeah that is kinda the worst bit for me.

Jr: Do you have time to do other creative stuff apart from advertising – have you got a side project?

T: I used to have a few. But now I have young children, and Special. Both are really consuming.

Jr: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

T: That’s a good question. I’d be a bit old by then. That’s a tough one, I don’t really have a smart enough answer for that one, sorry!

Jr: How does the NZ/Australian junior creative scene stack up to the rest of the world?

T: I think New Zealand has had a really good history in Young Guns and young teams doing really well in award shows. I think NZ punches above it’s weight creatively, as we said at Axis last year, per capita NZ had more Cannes Lions than anywhere else in the world. Also, New Zealand junior creatives seem to be quite broad and flexible thinkers, which I think really helps.

Jr: How do you get ideas?

T: I think it is about distilling the business problem down and down, until you can get it into a malleable size in terms of focusing on what we really are trying to do here. Once you strip away all the layers of the brief, you get to what you are really trying to achieve. Then once you’ve got that in your mind, then you can generally work out interesting ways of bringing that to life. But I think it is about keeping things simple, that doesn’t mean you can’t be spectacular. But it is getting right down to that thing you want to say, and then doing something extraordinary with it. And throw in a rockstar, it always helps.

Interview by: Jono Kemps

Written by Junior
Originally posted on: 22/06/2011