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Dream Teams: A Scotsman, an Englishman and 100 Beardless Santas



Creative directors Darren Urquhart and Thomas Smith at Dentsu Creative on moving to the US together, meeting in the middle, and the two sides of one coin, writes LBB’s Zoe Antonov

Dream Teams: A Scotsman, an Englishman and 100 Beardless Santas

The creative directing duo of Darren Urquhart and Thomas Smith came from the two opposite ends of the United Kingdom, with Darren being from Aberdeen and Tom from Margate. Their separate paths, however, led them to meet in the perfect middle at the University of Lincoln, when they did their Bachelor’s degrees in creative advertising. As with many great creative couples, university life and projects brought them together, and since the final year of their course, the two have been inseparable. From placements to first job, moving companies, to jumping over the Atlantic to the US together, and today, when they start at Dentsu Creative shoulder by shoulder.

Actually, everything started with a brief for a shaving cream brand, at university. The main proof point was that each little bottle of shaving cream gave you 100 ‘big shaves’. “We did some dumb visuals of 100 clean shaven Santas, 100 clean shaven gnomes and a bunch of other similar stuff,” says Tom. “Looking back at it, we actually don’t hate it.” Prior to teaming up on the project, Tom liked Darren’s work and vice-versa, so they decided that it was a natural continuation to make things together. However, Darren admits that their friendship didn’t blossom until a bit after that. “In our experience, that seems to be the best way to approach forming a partnership,” they say. “The process doesn’t feel personal when the starting point is a huge respect for the other person as a creative rather than just as a friend.”

Even though their shared path started as a strictly professional one, today Darren and Tom admit it has developed into a lifelong friendship. Willingly or not, the two ended up forming the same social groups and now, years post Lincoln University, titles like ‘best man’ and ‘god parent’ are in the conversation. “So it got real deep,” the two say. Besides this, their personal projects outside of work align too, such as their illustrations. “So, we spend too much time together - probably more than we do with our wives.” And besides, huge decisions like moving both of their families to New York and then back to London require a huge amount of trust and openness, which can come to fruition only in a real friendship. 

However, regardless of how their friendship developed later, what led them to continue building their creative partnership beyond just university projects was that initial spark of inspiration they felt from each other’s work, and the respect they had for it. The duo’s first real job together advertised the chance to win champions league tickets with Ford. “We had to do a radio ad and we didn’t know anything. We wrote what was realistically a 60 second but the media buy was a 40. We nearly killed the VO artist in the process, trying to get him to cram it all in. We found him hyperventilating in the bathroom afterwards, but he did it.” Coincidentally, the ad came out the day Darren and Tom graduated from Lincoln, and they couldn’t have been prouder. 

For the years that they’ve polished the creative partnership between them, the pair learned one classic parallel between each other - Darren is the eternal optimist and Tom is the pessimist. This crucial difference is what prompts them to start off projects in slightly different headspaces, but is also what helps them see other points of view. The golden ribbon that ties the differences together is always the work ethic.

“We never approach a brief in the same way, so it’s always surprising how we get to the answer. But either way, we both know it’s the right one when we reach it,” they explain. “We balance each other out - that’s what gets us to the best conclusions.” But, the path wasn’t always as smooth. There were times, Darren and Tom admit, when creative differences took a while to smooth out and criticism was an enemy that had to be defeated rather than a friend that helps one grow.

“Once you get over that first hurdle though, it gets easy,” they say. “We realised that our success is a shared success, so pushing each other to go further with the work is always a good thing. And once you realise you can talk it through over a couple of pints at the end of the day, it actually becomes quite fun to work through an idea. It’s just advertising.”

And although a lighthearted approach helps, sometimes things aren’t ‘just advertising’. Especially when it comes to relaunching a brand from scratch, which is Darren and Tom’s favourite thing to do. “It’s probably also the longest and hardest process, but it’s so satisfying when you accomplish it,” they explain. “Our recent work with Zippo is a good example of this. It was a year of hard work, and we had to get super smart about how we could accomplish such an ambitious project with the budget.” They ended up using a director duo (Roos Brothers) and a photographer duo (Wade Brothers), so that they could have four sets shooting at any one time. It was of great help that the team on Zippo’s side were ‘incredibly collaborative’ and put a lot of trust in them, so they could manage to pull the final project off. “Plus, we got to literally play with fire, which is always a win in our book.”

Ultimately, through thick and thin, Darren and Tom are one of the duos in the creative industry that believe having a second set of eyes can’t be beaten by anything else. Sharing wins, fails, and weekdays is, to them, better than being on your own through it all. “You always feel understood. We’ve been doing this for 13 years now and it really feels like you get paid to hang out with your best friend every day.”

Of course, differences exist and they define who we are, but who cares about North and South in the face of true friendship and inspiration? “One person calls it mince and tatties, the other calls it mince and potatoes. We cook it very differently. But it tastes amazing either way.”

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Dentsu Creative UK, Wed, 11 Jan 2023 17:10:26 GMT