Back to School: How This Creative Director is Re-Educating Herself
Senior creatives often talk as if they’re working on the sharp end of cultural and societal change, leading humanity through the revolutionary age we live in. They’ve got to say things like that to justify their place on stage at industry festivals and conferences, but the reality is often a lot more prosaic - much of their day is still spent trying to sell more air freshener to professional couples aged 25 to 40.
Some creatives want to practice what they preach though. And there are agencies that allow them to mould themselves into people with the tools to shape the world through the brands they work for. Felicitas Olschewski, Creative Director at 72andSunny Amsterdam, is doing just that. She’s currently studying for an MA in Innovation Management at Central Saint Martins, exploring new ways of thinking and working in a rapidly shifting world. In the meantime she’s working at the agency still, applying her studies while she works on clients’ briefs.
LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with her to explore the merits of creative re-education.
LBB> Tell us a bit about your background. You grew up in the Bavarian Alps as a keen skier, right?
FO> Yes, I had an athletic upbringing and skied quite seriously - with glacier training all summer, after school sessions and competitions on the weekends. I’m from a small town in the south of Germany, in between lakes and the Alps. I grew up outside, skiing, horse riding, swimming… that’s what we did as kids. Roam around in the fields and forests and not come home until the evening.
LBB> How did you first get into the ad industry? Was it always somewhere you wanted to work?
FO> Originally I wanted to study photo design because I was always drawn to editorial. In the end I opted for Graphic Design / Art Direction and in my last year took Copywriting on, too. I finished both in my undergrad but never worked as a graphic designer for a single day. Ideas and concepts derived from written work, and quite analytic and strategic thinking; and so my first traineeship, still during school, was actually in brand strategy. I was interested in hybridity and versatile thinking from very early on.
LBB> How do you balance doing a research MA in London and being a Creative Director in the Netherlands?
FO> I approach it with a very athletic mindset - it requires a lot of discipline, self-organisation and management. I was lucky to have the support from my team(s) at 72andSunny. They accept me working remotely at times and make it work. At the same time, I had set up my team in a way that would allow them to take ownership and responsibility themselves, I have clear expectations and give the creatives a lot of space. It’s a relationship based on trust and accountability, between my ECDs and me and my teams. I draw a lot on sport regarding team leadership - mindfulness, strength and commitment, which transfers into my everyday work. Being a leader at work, and a follower in academia, helped me to ping pong ideas in both fields and be a more insightful leader and creative thinker.
LBB> What made you decide to go back to school?
FO> In recent years I have taken on a lot of social impact projects, beyond purpose-driven marketing, mostly on technology clients such as Google, Samsung and YouTube. I noticed that in some instances, communication is not enough. As creatives, we have to understand behaviours, and work much more with strategic insights - and ideally - business and product development, to make a true impactful change in society. I knew that these were new ways of thinking that I couldn’t learn in my everyday work environment. So I took on an MA in Innovation Management at Central Saint Martins in London - a course which has given birth to smart innovative thinkers who now work in social impact at Google or Ideo, for example. At the same time I have the desire to constantly re-invent myself and be the most inspiring person to others as I can possibly be. To do so, one has to never give up learning.
LBB> What is your degree about and how did you settle on the subject matter?
FO> Essentially, the Innovation Management course is a management and leadership program on how to manage innovation, uniting thinking from business, culture and design in order to develop strategies and entrepreneurial models for the future, taking into account global uncertainties accelerating at the speed of light. Drawing on different academic methodologies, innovation strategists think on how to cultivate an organisational culture which allows for creativity to thrive and innovation (product/service/ideas) to emerge, and how to manage innovation processes for long term success. My primary focus now is on the topic of sustainability and regenerative processes as these will require new business models and commerce of the future.
LBB> How does your study feed into your creative work? Are there any campaigns that have particularly benefited from it yet?
FO> I am able to transfer my new skill-set around leadership in the way I run my team and the work. Certain topics and discussions with clients around circularity, sustainability and design are based on learnings from the course, and will most likely benefit particular campaigns. eBay for example in its core encourages circularity at the heart of its product, offering customer to customer sales and re-sales.
LBB> There are some terms people might not understand that relate to your studies. Can you please explain the following concepts and what about them particularly interests you: The Circular Economy?
FO> This is a new economic model advocating the move from a linear production consumption model, to a circular “reduce-reuse-recycle” lifecycle. In this model, product use replaces product consumption, and discourses of waste shift towards resource. Thus everything that is thrown away can be used for another product again. It challenges existing business models to change for the future of consumerism - think of how Netflix or Airbnb have changed their respective industries, for example, and transfer it to cars, clothes and other consumer goods. I’m particularly interested in this topic as it presents a liveable vision for the future of our planet, as it requires radical creative re-thinking on materials, design, use and reuse - and challenges the existing ‘sustainability’ consumer narrative around it.
FO> Eco-Innovation frames highly creative products, technologies, services or processes created for commercial use but with the intent to protect the natural resources of our planet. I’m from a very rural area in Germany, and I’m seeing the impacts of climate change and human influence affecting the natural environment. I have a hard time seeing Alpine lakes drained and landscapes being devastated for the sake of human pleasure. Eco-innovation technologies promote a more mindful relationship with our environment, which is what excites me.
LBB> Can you explain your passion for sports, and how your studies apply to it?
FO> Sport is a creative outlet for me, which helps me to gain focus, a sharp mind and most importantly, creates room for failure and experimentation. Learnings from sport transfer into life: from how you calculate and estimate risk, how to gain a competitive mindset, how to work in a team and take on different roles, how to mix up routine and training to get new insights, how to get up after defeat, and how to learn and grow through your competition. These are things, that essentially Innovation Management cares about too, but in a more methodological and academic way.
LBB> How do you feel the advertising and creative industries are approaching subjects like this? How could they do more?
FO> It will be essential for agencies to innovate themselves to stay competitive in a world where consultancies are buying small creative shops to offer communication services as part of their business innovation portfolio. A lot of agencies are stuck in traditional thinking and need to put on an entrepreneurial lens and try more things, think like a startup, be more open to experimental pilots and ventures, and engage with new upcoming topics. This will eventually attract a new generation of creative talent, which seeks to work in innovative emerging environments.
LBB> Is there anything else you want to say about your research or your creative career?
FO> I would like to encourage everyone to be fearless and have the guts to try something new if they want to. By taking the ‘risk’ of starting a master’s in my late 20s again, I have only benefited from this experience. But it’s also a reciprocal relationship – I dared to go for something new and thereby have inspired everyone around me to find trust in the unusual, and finding ways of benefiting everyone - from my creative partners, colleagues, to the agency as a whole.