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5 minutes with...

5 Minutes with… Sally Campbell

The Somesuch Founding Partner on meritocracy, diversity and moving to LA

5 Minutes with… Sally Campbell

In just seven years, Somesuch has built up an aura of cool competence and a back catalogue of killer creative work. That is down, in no small part, to the extreme passion shown by Founding Partners Sally Campbell and Tim Nash. They’re behind some of the most culturally impactful commercials, branded films and music videos of the last decade - work that’s won them a list of accolades disproportionate to their years in business.

On the eve of the pair moving to Los Angeles to further build their business on the other side of the Atlantic, LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Sally to reflect on her 25-year career and try to understand the secret to the contagious passion that fuels Somesuch.

LBB> You started as a runner at The Mill. What brought you from New Zealand to make a start in London's filmmaking community?

SC> A British passport thanks to my dad (who was sent on a ship to NZ post WWII after his own dad, a Spitfire pilot, got shot down and killed), rebellion and a feeling of not fitting in in my homeland (round peg, square hole…). My dad said, ‘give London two years’. 25 years later I’m still here. London is the best city in the world. To me that’s a fact, not an opinion.

LBB> From starting as a runner you've become one of production's most admired figures. People often talk about the meritocracy that illustrates. What are your thoughts on the opportunities for people to progress through the industry?

SC> Thank you. That's kind. Probably due to being one of the most outspoken. 

Meritocracy, I looked it up: 'government or the holding of power by people selected according to merit.' Merit in what? I left school at 16, battered and confused by the inflexible, unrelenting ‘80s education system. So, my only merit is being an excellent observer and organiser (and clearly an extraordinary hustler). I am therefore proof that the opportunities should be endless in our industry. From hugely skilled creative people, accountants, cooks, techs, people who ensure you can go to the loo in comfort in the ass end of nowhere to fuckups like me and beyond. Each have completely differing merits.

I've spent the last four years trying to encourage more diversity, both racially and in class, and it's been the toughest challenge of my career thus far. Not because the people I work alongside don't want it, but because we are so middle class we don't know where to start.

I've made big changes with recruitment at Somesuch, which I'm super proud of. It is a lot of work but it's worth it. Seeing kids from tough backgrounds flourish and succeed has been a highlight of my career. 

LBB> You worked agency side at WCRS and BBH for a while. What made you realise you belonged at a production company?

SC> Getting told off constantly for having an opinion. That wasn't appreciated in a TV assistant in an agency in the ‘90s. In fact it still isn’t in most agencies. I get very frustrated that great agency producers aren’t looked after better. It’s no coincidence to me that a great piece of work will have a great producer involved in it.

LBB> Early in your career, were there any moments or experiences that particularly helped shape you?

SC> Being a runner at The Mill was an excellent apprenticeship in teaching me what to expect from people. You learn a lot by the way you're treated as a runner. Luckily my bosses were good people and very good to me. Some of the tasks our clients had me do in the early ‘90s, well... best we don’t go there. But they taught me what to expect.

And BBH then Academy made me the producer I am today. Attention to detail. Never complacency. Observation. An understanding of how to deal with the many different personalities in our industry. If a producer has Academy on their CV I know they'll be fucking good. 

LBB> What was your vision when you first co-founded Somesuch in 2010? And what's the journey been like since then?

SC> To be open to the future, not try and fight it. Allow it. Embrace it even. Look at more than 60 seconds. Be flexible. Produce in a more modern way (that wasn’t so popular at first).

I think we have very exciting times ahead, I wanted to be ready.

LBB> Somesuch maintains a good balance of commercial and music video work. Why is that so important?

SC> Actually our business is now probably 60% traditional advertising, 20% branded/content projects, 20% music videos.

The branded and music work is very important in not only nurturing and growing talent, but also keeping established directors current and creatively sated.

These days a great video or piece of content has more longevity and makes both Somesuch and the director more famous than an advert, which are very often here today and gone tomorrow. Obviously there are exceptions like Honda ‘The Other Side’, Hennessy, Uniqlo and ‘This Girl Can’, but when I look back our videos are the most timeless.

LBB> Advertising is always talking about creating culture but it often just follows. Do you think brands can ever be as relevant in culture as real artists and entertainers?

SC> That’s true, it does too often follow. Generally, I find that pretty uncomfortable. But when advertising creates there’s nothing better. Look at the ‘90s: Levi’s, Stella, Guinness. And more recently Honda, Hennessy, Old Spice. Look at the statistics for what ‘This Girl Can’ achieved for women in exercise. All of those campaigns and individual pieces of work created a culture with very clever and original ideas.

LBB> You've won a heap of awards and built an impressive body of work as a company. What single project are you most proud of being part of?

SC> That’s a hard question, it’s like being forced to choose your favourite child. Presently it's being a producer on Aoife McArdle's debut feature film, a piece of work of which I am so proud of.

When I look back it’s being involved in amazing videos like The Shoes, that video created a culture still present today.

LBB> You and Tim are just about to move to Los Angeles. Can you tell us a little bit about that decision?

SC> Yes, I am! In fact I am presently surrounded by boxes. We opened Somesuch with Anonymous in USA around three years ago and it’s been a real success. Anonymous are not only utterly good, honourable people, but also their business model is incredibly exciting to Tim and me. Steve Golin started in music videos and has grown one of the most exciting entertainment companies in the world - in ads, content, films and TV, and he’s a fucking good guy. How can we not take advantage of that? Steve’s proven to us if you put your head down you can do it all. He’s my idol. I’m lucky.

One of us will be back in London every eight weeks, and as a total control freak I will still be all over everything and everyone, but we have an incredible team here with Seth overseeing, directors aside, he’s one of the best things that ever happened to Somesuch.

LBB> As your time working and living in London comes to an end, what do you think British advertising does particularly well? 

SC> British advertising is still the best in the world when it sets its mind to it, listens, takes risks and LISTENS again. I loved our work with BBH for Absolut. It reminded me of Levi’s in the ‘90s; it was bold and had an opinion.

I think Chris [Bovill] and John [Allison]'s ‘Meet the Superhumans’ [for Channel 4] is a classic example of having an opinion. And Chris and John are a perfect example of truly talented people that can and do listen.

The fact they're going to a label is sad for the traditional advertising industry but no surprise to me. I hope agencies and clients worldwide understand they will lose more incredible talent if they don’t allow more creative risks, freedom and listen.

LBB> And are there any aspects that the UK ad industry needs to work harder on?

SC> Yes. We should all remember why we pay creative talent so much and listen to them. We must all remember we are very good at some things but not everything and be more inclusive. Shitting yourself is a good thing. 

And we still need so much more representation in advertising - culturally, racially and in gender - to reflect more the incredible population of the UK.

LBB> You've been a passionate advocate for diversity of various kinds. Do you think the industry is making progress or is it all just talk?

SC> It's trying. But it’s getting lost. Sometimes I feel like a lone soldier and that frustrates me. But thankfully there are many other lone soldiers. We just need to come together and form a team.

LBB> Outside of work, what do you get excited about?

SC> I love architecture and beautiful design. I’m an ex-chef so an avid cook (and eater!). I read a lot, mostly American literature.

And my four year old. She's rad. I’m really proud of her.