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St Luke’s’ Richard Denney: why Jeremy Craigen is my ad hero

From when Mike Cozens gave me my first job at Y&R, to working with Robert Campbell and Mark Roalfe at RKCR then joining Tony Grainger and Kate Stanners at Saatchi & Saatchi London, I‘ve been lucky to work with a series of true creative heroes. “So how many am I allowed?” I ask More About Advertising. “One” they say.

If it has to be a single individual, that one is Jeremy Craigen (below).

Jeremy has had the greatest impact on me both professionally and personally – he was my boss as ECD of DDB London. He’s now global CCO at Innocean Worldwide. He’s a legend. I loved every moment of working for him and, to this day, if I’m unsure of anything or need some advice he’s the person I always call on for help.

Despite wanting to work for him and DDB for some time, my first encounter I had with Jezza didn’t that go well. I was over at Bishops Bridge Rd having a book crit from Ewan Paterson, with my old partner Dave Henderson. Jeremy turned up half way through and began to rip into one of the ads on our showreel. We told ourselves it was just good-natured banter or that he was just messing with us because our ad beat his at The British Arrows Awards (the only time we did) but whatever he was thinking he didn’t get back to us for some time.

In fact it took a further three years for his call to come. He’d seen Carlsberg ‘Old Lions’ (below) – an ad we created at Saatchis and I will never forget answering the phone to hear him asking us if we’d like to have a chat. It was probably the best industry call I’d ever received other than the one telling us Chris Palmer and Jon Glazer wanted to chat about our Carlsberg script. I was shaking with excitement with the thought of being given the chance to become a part of DDB London – at the time, the world’s best creative department.

Walking into the creative department as an employee of DDB was an experience in itself. The talent there was everything we hoped and feared it would be. Incredible creativity, highly competitive but everyone respected and looked out for each other. Why did they care about one another? Because that’s the way Jeremy wanted it, and that was the way he got the best work. He didn’t have time for egos and wankers. It was all about the work and creating the best possible place to make it. It was so much fun.

At DDB, the holiest of holies was always a brief for Volkswagen. Doyle Dane Bernbach had been creating the greatest automotive ads for that brand for 30 years. You didn’t just have to make a good ad, you had to live up to the legacy. And Jeremy knew how to do that perfectly. I remember getting our first VW brief – Jeremy solemnly gave us the book ‘Remember those wonderful Volkswagen ads’ and told us to study it before even putting pen to paper.

VW Polo ‘Protection’ is one of my favourite ads of all time. I wish I could say it was our answer to Jeremy’s brief, but this one, of course, was created by Jeremy himself and shot by Jon Glazer. It’s perfection itself from insight to execution.

Jeremy always went above and beyond to get the best work out of you and protected his department, giving them space and support however they needed it. He also knew how to make your work better too – sometimes by advice, sometimes by example, but always pushing you find truth as well as keeping it simple. This superb press ad Jeremy did for Budweiser is the perfect example of that (if anyone has a better version let us know.)

Jeremy is a thoughtful man and deep thinker but also has a wicked sense of humour and knows how to handle it on screen, as demonstrated here in his clever Sony Stamina Camcorder ad directed by the genius who is sadly no longer with us – Frank Budgen.

Jeremy always worked with the best talent in the business to realise his work, but to achieve that you have to have the work and talent to get them on board. The best always wanted to work with him and trusted him 100 per cent to protect what they would create both as a creative as well as the ECD. Dave and I always said that getting the chance to work at DDB London was like finishing school and Jeremy gave us the chance to do that, for which I will be forever grateful.

Richard Denney is Executive Creative Director of St. Luke’s.

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