Matt Williams: an Hour of Advertising with Creature London founder Dan Cullen-Shute

An Hour of Advertising…four things I learned from Dan Cullen-Shute

At the start of the month, I launched ‘An Hour of Advertising’. It’s a series of long-read interviews designed to learn from some of the industry’s best and brightest minds.

No awkward structure, no flippancy. Proper conversations with people I think are interesting.

The criteria for choosing the subjects is fourfold:
They have a genuine passion for the industry and those who work in it
They’re respected for their craft and are leaders in their field
They have insights, opinions and experience we can learn from
They’re the type of person you wouldn’t mind meeting outside of the office

Believe me, it’s harder to find people who tick all four than you think. But already I’ve spoken to some great people and heard some fascinating stories. From Twitter’s David Wilding to copy guru Vikki Ross. From Adam & Eve founder Ben Priest, to BBH Labs founder Mel Exon, to the Fawnbrake Collective founder Amelia Torode.

Each interview will be published on a fortnightly basis, and today a chat with another founder goes live – Creature London’s Dan Cullen-Shute.

Creature London is an agency that’s fun, optimistic, and full of energy. And Dan himself is that too, only with extra swearing. He’s the man behind the infamous Adland Suit blog and Twitter account, he sits on the IPA Council, and has more than a few things to say about the way the industry treats account managers.

You can read the full interview here. I promise you it’s worth it. We cover everything from what it’s really like to launch an agency, to what makes a good account man, to how Adland Suit helped his career (and how a front-page story about Halifax Howard nearly killed it).

But if you don’t have 15 minutes right now, save it as a bookmark and take a look below at four lessons from the chat that really stood out for me.

The worst part of founding an agency is the 12th of the month

The biggest thing about going it alone? “That feeling from when payday goes from the best day of the month to the worst day of the month, because for everybody else it’s still the best day of the month.”

Dan says that feeling defined the first 18 months of Creature – and it always came about at a similar time. “Around the 12th or 13th of every month I started to get a bit fidgety and a bit nervous, because I knew that there’s a bunch of people just assuming that on the 25th of the month their money would arrive in their bank accounts.”

It doesn’t matter where your desk is

We all fear a desk move. No-one wants to be right by the toilets. Or with our computer screen on show to the world. But the truth is, it doesn’t matter.

“I can plot my career by people,” Dan says. “Where my desk happened to be made much less difference than who it was next to. I don’t think there was any point in which I consciously realised that working with good people made the difference, but when we started at Creature we were very self-righteous – and I think we probably are still now – and I quite like that.”

Good suits are irrelevant

They may as well just be project managers. But great suits, Dan says, make things better throughout the whole production process. “These are smart, interesting, creative people who chose to work in a creative industry and then got put in a small box with limited creativity. And you think ‘fuck that’.

“We’ve always wanted to take those bored people and set them free. Not set them free in a hippy commune way – there’s a job to be done and clients pay for structure and process and a need to know what’s going on. It’s not anarchy – but I would never want anyone at our agency to feel like they don’t have value to add or they can’t make the work better as opposed to just making it happen.”

The financial crash was helpful for some

The biggest fuck up of Dan’s career is too long to explain fully here. You’ll have to read the piece. But let’s just say it happened in 2008, it involved Halifax Howard, a massive piss up and an Independent front-page headline. But the following day, just before the axe looked likely to fall on his career, Lloyds bought HBOS, and Dan’s client – and his agency – saw their lives turn upside down. Suddenly, Dan’s mistake was forgotten as quickly as it occurred…

Matt Williams is Head of Content at MSQ Partners. You can read the full Hour of Advertising article with Dan here. Illustrations by Guy Sexty.

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