5 Minutes with… Jeremy Craigen
The past year has been a whirlwind for Jeremy Craigen. Since joining Innocean as its global Chief Creative Officer in the summer he’s barely stayed in any one country for more than a couple of weeks. There’s lots to be done as he drives forward new hires and raises the creative ambitions of the ten-year-old South Korean-owned network – and the fun that he’s having doing so can be read all over his face and body language.
It’s clear that the multi-award-winning creative director, best known for his 25 years at DDB, is experiencing a new lease of life and falling back in love with advertising. You could even say it’s the second coming of J.C.
LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with him to find out more
LBB> You joined Innocean as its Global Chief Creative Officer last summer. At the risk of sounding like Simon Cowell… what’s that journey been like so far?
JC> It’s been amazing. It’s a little bit like spinning plates at the moment, just understanding the company, understanding the clients, understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each office. At the moment I’m on a bit of a hiring spree. I put someone great into LA, Eric Springer, he joined in January. We had some success with the Super Bowl ad [the agency scooped Hollywood’s man-of-the-hour Ryan Reynolds just before his movie Deadpool went on to break box office records] which started prior to him joining but he even helped a little bit at the end. It’s a whirlwind tour. I’ve been in an aeroplane three times round the world at least… my Air Miles are at 3.5 million at the moment.
LBB> It’s a South Korea-based network – how have you found getting to grips with the culture?
JC> I go to Seoul once a month and I absolutely love it there. It’s an absolutely crazy city. It’s young and vibrant and on the way up. The interesting thing with the Seoul agency is that as a Westerner I can’t tell a Korean how to talk to a Korean, though I can learn that over time. But there’s also a lot of international work that comes out of that office and hopefully I can influence that. It’s a big agency out there, I think it’s about 700 people.
LBB> Another unique thing about the South Korean industry is the ‘chaebol’ system, in which agencies are part of much bigger family business empires. So there’s Innocean and Hyundai, Cheil and Samsung… how has it been getting your head around that business structure?
JC> I think what’s good is that now the network is 10 years old and its transitioning to be much more independent, so it’s becoming more of a client-agency partnership than ownership. And the great thing is that both Hyundai and Kia are both interested in moving forward. Their products are amazing and I think in the UK we don’t really know that because it’s not as big a brand as it should be – but when you come out to Seoul, they make up 70-80 per cent of the cars that you see on the road. What we need to do is get our communications to catch up with the products.
LBB> Seoul seems to be such a cutting edge city in terms of technology. I think South Korea was the first place to implement 5G. That must be eye-opening…
JC> Eye-opening and eye-watering!
You feel it, though. I remember I bought a few books on Korea before I started so I could get my head around the culture and Seoul is the coolest place in Asia now. I walk from the hotel to the agency in the morning and I just see everything – apart from Westerners! It’s so vibrant, as I was saying earlier, and you just feel it going up and up and up and up! It’s a privilege to be part of that.
LBB> It sounds like you’ve been travelling a lot, so this is probably an impossible question… but as a global CCO, what does your typical day look like?
JC> I wish I had a typical day! It depends where I am in the world.
In a way it helps to be based in London, even though I’m really not there that often. There’s roughly an eight hour time difference to Seoul and an eight hour time difference to LA and they are our two main offices. I have to make myself available 24/7 really. I love it, though.
Europe is the main area that I’m trying to sort out right now, so that, at least is in the same time zone… ish. As I get people in the various offices hopefully it will settle down a bit because I’m not a control freak… well, I am… but I don’t want to micromanage. I want to get people in who I can have a very open and honest relationship with. With Eric, he contacts me the whole time and we talk and text and we can have a laugh and solve problems when they come up. I want to get lots of Erics around the world. I’ve got someone very good in Sydney already, Dave King.
There is no typical day, is the short answer.
LBB> Aside from hiring new people, what are your goals for the network in terms of creativity.
JC> Well, to be more of a network. We’ve been put on a pitch recently and what’s great is that everyone around the world wants to get involved and help even though it’s based in France, which is one of our smaller offices. London, Sydney, Spain and L.A. are working on it.
My mid-term goal is to not have any ‘weak’ offices. It’s funny, I’ve only been here seven months and already I sometimes feel ‘this is too slow, there’s so much to do, we need to get a move on’. But, really, I’d much rather get it right and take a little bit longer and sort it out rather than rushing in and hiring the wrong people.
LBB> You were with DDB for 25 years – it must be quite refreshing to be not only in a completely different network but a completely different culture…
JC> Very refreshing, and this is not to slight DDB but I needed to. And I didn’t realise how much I needed to until I started doing this. It’s totally different. There are 22 offices around the world, which means we’re kind of more nimble, we’re younger, we’re hungrier. I don’t really want Innocean to be a DDB. I look at places like Wieden+Kennedy – that’s the sort of network I’d like us to be.
I’ve been trying to educate Innocean that they need to embrace Hyundai as our client, not as an owner. They’re our Nike. Kia are our Nike too. Once you get into that it’s like… yes! If we were a start-up agency and they were our first clients then that would be such an amazing start.
I want to get that feeling going. When you bring new people in, they totally get it. So I’ve got to get the people who are good but who have been there a bit longer to change their mind set too.
LBB> Across your career, what has been the campaign that you’re proudest of?
JC> There are a few… I’m really proud, actually (and this is another mind set I’m trying to get into Innocean) of some of our value campaigns for Volkswagen over the years, from ‘Surprisingly Ordinary Prices’ right through. That is a brand that talked right down to what a lot of people would call ‘tier two’. And for me, there is no ‘tier two’. Every single piece of communication you do is important, to retailers and everywhere else.
To me, I think the biggest campaign was Night Drive because I think it was our first proper integrated campaign we did for Volkswagen. It had a core idea and the individual elements were all brilliant. It had great TV, brilliant outdoor, was brilliant in the retailers. It was shortlisted for Titanium and it won Gold at Cannes for TV. For me, the ultimate goal is that proper fully-integrated campaign. That was a few years ago now.
I was asked to do a talk at Adfest but I said, “I don’t want to talk about the past”. I did a talk in New Zealand last year around my top ten VW ads, and now the next talk I want to do is going to be around my top ten Hyundai ads. When I’ve got a story to tell, I will tell it.
LBB> How did you end up in advertising, anyway?
JC> I always loved advertising as a child. I would recite TV commercials and annoy my parents. But actually… I wanted to be an actor originally but I received that horrible home truth that I wasn’t really very good at it. I auditioned at RADA and LAMDA and the Central School of Speech and Music and all these places, and I didn’t even make it to the second interview at any of them! So I had to think, “hmm, ok, what else should I do?”
I remembered a friend of mine at school saying that they thought I’d be good at advertising and I thought, “gosh, is that a business? Because I love ads…” Through a friend of a friend of a friend I spent a day in an agency and thought I loved the fact that no one wore a suit.
LBB> You’ve never tried to cast yourself in any of your ads, have you?
JC> No. I won’t let anyone who works for me do that either. I remember a creative team that was working on an American Airlines ad who told me that the director said they could be firemen in it. I said, “no, you can’t. You’ll ruin the ad for me forever because I’ll always see you in it.” And actually, Frank Budgen wanted me to be in the VW ‘UFO’ commercial in 1997 and I said no for exactly the same reason. I’m not that much of an egomaniac!
LBB> What’s the biggest frustration you have about the industry right now?
JC> They keep beating themselves up. And it’s like, come on, be more positive. The client-agency relationship is changing. We need to be partners and we need to listen to each other and solve each other’s problems. For the past ten years, it has felt like we’re on the back foot and that’s going down the whole chain. Money-wise, production companies are feeling it. But, going back to Innocean, it feels like it doesn’t have those problems because it’s young and hungry but I read about these problems everywhere. It kind of makes me sad about the business.
LBB> I saw a talk recently by Susan Credle at FCB where she said that one of the big problems is that everyone who works in advertising seems to be ashamed of that fact.
JC> The ‘A’ word! [Gasp of mock horror] A very good friend of mine, Justin Tindall, I remember him saying ‘since when is the dictionary definition of advertising a TV commercial?’
This is the other thing, we’ve got to remember why we’re here. It’s to sell our clients’ products. Everyone is obsessed with asking for ‘likes’ on Facebook. “Tweet me.” No, “buy me”. We’ve got to get back to that, and, like Susan says, we shouldn’t be ashamed of that.
LBB> If that’s your frustration, what’s the most exciting thing?
JC> What’s exciting is my job at the moment and that’s what I’m focused on. There are so many possibilities out there. I feel like part of a huge team. The industry is going through so many changes but at the end of the day, we’re about ideas and you can’t get away from that. It’s just that there are lots of different places to show those ideas.