John Hegarty (and David Droga): why there’s more to creativity than just sitting on a beanbag

Cannes 2014: The Cannes speaker line-up this past week has been staggering. The sublime to the ridiculous. We’ve had actors, musicians, activists, scientists, business leaders, tech pioneers and Kanye West.

But sometimes what you really want is to just hear two creative legends sit down and have a chat.

No bluster. No bullshit. Just two people at the top of their game whose agencies are doing the work that every young creative in the audience at Cannes aspires to do.

Sir John Hegarty and David Droga fit the bill perfectly. They spent 45 minutes myth-busting, talking honestly and passionately about their craft.

Hegarty set the tone early on. Not for him is this new-fangled creative guff. “If I could start by saying one thing, it’s that simply sitting on a bean bag doesn’t automatically make you creative,” he said, to rapturous applause from an audience who have pretty much spent the entire week doing just that.

Droga too wanted to warn people not to get too wrapped up in the razzmatazz that the industry – and events like Cannes in particular – provides. “You have to keep it real. By all means enjoy the shininess and hype of the industry, just don’t believe it.”

Don’t believe the hype. An important lesson for anyone who’s been enjoying the sun in the South of France all week. But there’s a fine line between being inspired by the week and simply being indulgent.

And just because everyone you meet on the Croissette is telling you how much they love your work, and just because a bunch of other creatives have decided to give you a piece of silverware shaped like a Lion, it doesn’t mean you can get complacent. “We are good if our peers think we’re great, but we are great if the real world thinks we’re good,” Droga neatly put it.

Hegarty also continued to throw the punches. Next up on his list was global advertising. Which, he said, simply doesn’t work. “Increasingly I’m looking at international work and I’m thinking that global advertising does not work. I’m looking at work that glides past people…that isn’t a part of their culture and doesn’t connect with them, so I think we have to start challenging this idea that global is the right way to go. It might be for some things, but for most global work I’m seeing a decline in impact, a decline in creativity.”

There was also a questioning of current agency structures. Hegarty issued another warning about creative-client relationships, which, he contends, are in danger of getting too close. He suggested that there’s a school of thought now that the client needs to be the creative’s best friend, that they need to work almost hand-in-hand, and that’s dangerous. “A degree of distance is important, you need to have an ability to observe from afar. Otherwise you end up having the same perspective as your client, and that’s the last thing you want.”

So there are a growing number of dangerous trends emerging that need to be avoided. But what can you do to ensure that you overcome these challenges that lie ahead?

Luckily, Droga and Hegarty had a few words of advice. Firstly, you’ve got to crack mobile. “Everyone knows it’s the Mecca, but few people have done it,” Droga said. “It’s the most intimate thing, which is why it’s the Holy Grail…but we’ve all still got a lot of work to do. Bad traditional advertising is bad, bad online advertising is shit, bad mobile advertising is offensive.”

On a more personal note, Hegarty’s overriding piece of advice for the audience was to live by one vital rule: always tell the truth. “Be honest to each other. Admit when something isn’t great. Only when we’re up front about the standard of work can we go on to make something truly great.”

And to end on a truly positive note, Droga reminded all creatives why they got into the industry in the first place. “Do something that really inspires you…we’re the best meeting in a client’s week right? They have all these boring meetings with suppliers etc so they like meeting with us because we can be spiky and funky and have interesting ideas. But then you have to back all that up by producing something good.”

And fair play, Hegarty and Droga are two who consistently do that. And to prove it, they each showed one piece of work that they’re proud of. This was a real treat, two brilliant campaigns that helped put a long, tiring week into perspective. Keep your Kanye’s, your Carlton Terraces and your extortionately-priced Kronenbourgs, it’s stuff like this that make the industry and the Cannes Lions great.

Hegarty’s choice:

Droga’s choice:

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About Matt Williams

Matt Williams is head of content at Partners Andrews Aldridge.