Zac Schwarz is former executive Creative Director, at Golin. There he was creative lead on Cadbury, Johnnie Walker Red Label and Unilever’s detergent brands, he started his career at Cake in the music and events department then moved onto Borkowski, Shine Communications and Freuds. His passions include cooking, the natural world and the recent birth of his new puppies.
What was the last ‘big idea’ that you developed?
We were the lead creative agency in the UK for Johnnie Walker Red Label and I developed a platform called Go Bold and that has been in special build advertising, it’s a Facebook campaign, a PR campaign: a through-the-line campaign that I developed and the one I’m most proud of.
Was being the lead creative a real punch-the-air moment?
Yes, we’re trying to see that our creative thinking is given its just dues and it’s great when that happens.
How did the idea come about?
It followed the insight that young men want to demonstrate their progression through life so we came up with ‘why not go bold and drink this new drink.’ But it all starts with research – for me, it’s all about research. I use a book, which probably doesn’t sound all that innovative given that it’s so years old – it’s by James Webb Young and it’s called Producing Ideas – and it’s the definitive book on advertising from the 1950s.
What he talks abut is the five key stages of creativity and what I try and remind everyone I work with is to follow those stages. Stage 1 is research, stage 2 is initial ideas, stage 3 is stop and let your brain recover, stage 4 is look at the ideas again and then stage 5 is share and refine the ideas. It’s amazing how often people come to me going, “A brief’s just come in! Quick, we need some ideas!” And I always go, “Let’s just stop a second, think about what we’re doing and use that model.” It’s amazing how many people fall at that first stumbling block and don’t really think about what they’re doing before trying to find an idea.
Was there a Eureka moment during that campaign?
Not really, it was more a case of research and thinking and thinking and more hard work. In essence the idea is just six letters, but I think it was about six weeks of going over and over it. That’s my big thing – never underestimate how much thinking time needs to go into something. The more people are researching and thinking, the better the idea.
Do you have any special creativity tools?
I used to work for myself and I developed a couple of techniques of my own, one of which is called the Links Machine. It’s a way to get people to think of ideas in buckets and then try and join the ideas together. I get people to think about four different ‘pillars’ of information: one could be target audience, one could be cultural moments, one could be work they admire and I get people to do those in silos and then link them up. I find that quite useful.
Have you been doing anything different recently with regards creativity?
One of the techniques we are using borrows from advertising agencies: pairs of creatives are briefed then work independently before coming back together to share and critique ideas. We have populated these teams with recent advertising graduate interns working alongside our connector communities and have found it to be increasingly successful in developing multi-channel content and campaigns. I’ve been pleased with the results – it allows us to have a lot more people researching and thinking and I can get a lot more points of view. We’ve won some very big business on the back of that approach very recently.
54 per cent of respondents to the Holmes Report 2014 Creativity in PR survey say that budget holds back creativity. Is that a valid complaint or a cop-out?
A cop out… with a caveat. A worse thing is budgets being cut after the ideas have been presented. That happens all the time, often because the client hasn’t yet decided how to divvy everything up yet. People buy into an idea at a certain budget, then they cut the budget and still want the same idea. And you just can’t produce it. But what makes PR agile is that we can do ideas for any budget.
What do you think the PR agency of 5 years’ time will look like in terms of creativity?
There will be lots of specialists. I think the key will be managing all those specialists so that you get the good ideas on budget, on time.
Is that shift starting to happen?
Golin changed two or three years ago to a G4 model where people are being routed into different specialities and communities, the creatives, the strategists, the publicists, the producers. The managers then make sure that the specialists are harnessed and that proper work is produced.
I can see a time where a large agency will even have a head of costume or wardrobe, say, because they’re doing lots of work in a certain field and really need someone who knows their stuff. Within each of those different disciplines we’ve got to have the best creative thinkers.