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Opinion and Insight

Vegas, Baby! Creative LIAisons 2018

John McPartland, senior art director at Havas Lynx, Manchester, reflects on an inspiring week that gives back to the creative community

Vegas, Baby! Creative LIAisons 2018

Arriving in Las Vegas you are met with a familiar atmosphere of a busy metropolis. As you look closer, however, it is unlike anything else. The normally beige and soulless airport lounges come alive with the clicking and ringing of slot machines. The hotels become towns within themselves, and even as you walk down the street, you are surrounded by plants that continually serenade you with Jack Johnson and James Blunt.   
 
It’s a fitting place for an awards show unlike any other. 
 
Most prestigious awards shows follow a tried and tested formula. Work is entered, judged and the winners then spend the weekend collecting their metal (or wood) and partying in the south of France. 
 
In 2012, the organisers of the London International Awards decided to buck this tradition. Rather than making the whole awards show about the winners, they realised it was a great opportunity to give back to the creative community, especially the young creative community. Creative LIAisons was born, and with it a programme that would help nurture and inspire the next generation of creative directors and even chief creative officers. The four-day programme consists of talks from leaders in the industry, sitting in on judging of work and networking with other creatives from around the world. 
 
Day one kicked off with a fizz of nervous energy but that nervousness was instantly dispelled as radio legend and host Ralph van Dijk took to the stage to introduce the programme and shamelessly plug his podcast Don’t Judge Me.
 
The first speaker of the day was Riccardo Wolff, who after being on the first Creative LIAisons programme had moved on to become ECD of Innocean Worldwide, Europe, Berlin. It was a fascinating insight of how his experience of the Creative LIAisons programme helped to shape and develop his career. 
 
We also heard from Pum Lefebure of Design Army and Matt Eastwood, former Worldwide CCO of JWT. Each talk offered us different insights into how they approach their work, the common thread, passion and tenacity. Not taking no for an answer can sometimes lead to creatives being seen as stubborn, but listening to these leaders of the industry talk makes you realise that to do great work, sometimes you just need to fight for what you believe. 
 
As we moved into the afternoon (or late night as my body clock was telling me), BBDO’s Matt MacDonald gave an impassioned talk on selling ideas. You could hear the collective understanding as he spoke of great ideas not being bought, then shared some tips on how as an agency they set about changing that. The work they are producing is testament to that change in approach. 

Beyond Do-Gooding

 
Opening proceedings on day two was Susan Credle, global CCO of FCB. As younger creatives we are so often told to be nice to people, a fact reinforced so often by Anthony Burrill’s ‘work hard and be nice to people’ print adorning almost every creative agency’s office wall. Susan’s talk offered an insight into how to practically make that advice work. Drawing on her own experiences, she talked of how transitioning from a creative to a CD meant having to adapt your approach to work. The characteristics that have defined you as an aspiring creative - tenacity and relentlessness - would now have to be changed to a softer approach or risk being seen as tyrannical or an asshole (arsehole for us Brits).  In just over an hour, Susan managed impart a treasure trove of advice and insights. 
 
Following on from Susan we were transported from Vegas to Thailand as Sompat Trisadikun from Leo Burnett offered us an insight into the culture of Thai advertising and why it has such a distinct tone. For years Thai ads have been at the forefront of humorous and outright weird work, from Sunsnack's fire farting ducks (watch it) to a fatty-acid-stopping traffic cop for Verena. 

 
But what makes Thai advertising so distinct and unique? It turns out that the culture of the country is intrinsically tied to the work, Thai people are often perceived as happy, and so for years the work had reflected this. Over the past few years, political turmoil in the country has had a direct impact on the work. But now it’s making a comeback. This year has seen some utterly brilliant work coming back out of Thailand, one of the most notable being Friendshit, a-five-and-a-half-minute film that breaks with all conventions and keeps you watching for every second. An insight into Thai advertising shows that you really must capture the culture of your audience. Rather than talking to everybody, you must define your audience and talk to them in a language that they understand. 

 
The final talk of the morning came in the form of audio. Tom Eymundson, Jill Kershaw and Ralph van Dijk opened up a panel discussion on the use of sound in branding and advertising. After a technical issue led to us spending five minutes listening to Kevin Spacey deliver the same line (he was back with a vengeance in this talk), we heard of the process of creating sound design. Often sound can be seen as very subjective, feedback from clients often becomes a personal preference, but the discussion helped us to understand the technical elements that can help us make informed decisions, thus creating technical and logical arguments for choices we make.  
 
The afternoon was taken over by Great Guns and their six-second workshop. With the way that media is now consumed we need to grab attention, and grab it quickly. Bearing this in mind we were asked to produce six-second ads based on very specific briefs (if you’ve never seen a set of 12 art directors hovering over a camera it’s truly a sight to behold).
 
The end results were varied but all remarkable and it offered a great way to reinforce how much you can get into six-seconds when you think of it as a format of its own, rather than a cutdown. 

Don’t Judge Me

 
Entering work into awards shows you are always wondering what it takes to win. How important is the case study? Do results matter? Is the idea simple enough? Day three was a chance to see behind the curtain, to sit and listen in as judges debate what work is worthy of some serious metal.
 
Sitting in on the Non-Traditional jury was an eye opener. To stand out in the industry you need to do something seriously different and this category was full of that. 
 
Led by Tham Khai Meng the jury worked its way through some of the best work in the world and each entry was put to the test. Ideas that weren’t truly original were left behind, a line in a case film could help move an entry up or down and choosing the right category was crucial. 
 
There were some stand out pieces of work that didn’t require much debate though. The Palau Pledge was one of those ideas that is so simple and pure that there isn’t much to argue against. A simple stamp, placed in a passport, that makes people change their behaviour towards the environment and holds them responsible. Brilliant. 
 
C21 for the National Down Syndrome Society was another inspiring piece. How do you convince a set of lawmakers that people with Down Syndrome should be allowed to work? You let them experience what they can really do when given the chance. Both pieces flew through. 
 
Others were debated more, the trend was becoming apparent. The more complex an idea, the more it was discussed. If the idea is not simple enough then it can open up so many more uncomfortable conversations. 
 
Once all of the work was awarded, it was time for the big discussion. Which piece was worthy of the Grand Prix. One piece that stood out above all else. It was an intense discussion with arguments being made for many pieces. 
 
Towards the end one topic was brought up that has been debated for the past few years: consumer work vs charity and NGO work. More and more ‘for good’ campaigns have been cleaning up at shows, most notably last year belonged to Fearless Girl - a campaign that inspired millions through the simple use of a statue. But was this trend having a negative effect on the industry? As more and more brands are moving into the space of ‘for good’ campaigns it can be seen as people exploiting these forms of advertising to win awards. It was an intriguing debate about which direction the industry should head, when the results are out you will see which way this jury chose to go. 
 

Final Correspondence 

 
After sitting in on statue discussions it was going to be hard to top that experience. Up stepped Lara Logan. As a journalist and war correspondent Lara has seen just about everything there is to see. Her story is one of the most compelling and inspiring I have ever heard. 
 
As she talked of her experience in Afghanistan and Iraq you could sense this was somebody whose outlook on life was different, she placed the truth as her central focus in life. No matter where that truth came from or where it would take her. 

One night on 11th February 2011 that focus would take her to Tahrir Square, Egypt. The social media revolution had led to Hosni Mubarak's resignation from power, and with it a mass crowd gathered in the square. Lara travelled with her team to cover the story but what happened there that night would not only change the course of the political landscape, it would change the course of Lara’s life. 
 
Halfway into covering the story, a mob of around 200 men had started to gather and surround Lara and her team. As her cameraman bent down to change his battery, they were set upon. Over the course of the next 25 minutes Lara was assaulted and raped. Pulling her limbs in multiple directions as if to rip them from her body, trying to physically rip her scalp from her head and all the while taking photographs of the event. In that moment something inside Lara changed, just as she was about to give up she realised that she couldn’t, for the sake of her children she would not accept that this was where her story ended. Just as the worst of humanity had appeared, so did the best. A group seeing the attack managed to help protect Lara, forming a human barrier between the mob and herself. 
 
Her story is not just one of survival, but one of learning to look at life through a different lens. Lara shows us that you cannot control what happens to you in life. All you can do is take the experiences it throws at you, and use those to form who you are. 
 
A fitting end to one of the most intense and inspiring weeks I have ever experienced. 
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