Through the Lens is the latest entertainment series from Rankin Creative. Born out of a desire to understand exactly how the world’s leading CMO’s think, the series sees Rankin himself sit down in conversation with the creative minds behind some of the world’s most loved brands, across a diverse range of categories.
John Rudaizky is a partner at the global professional services organisation EY, where he leads global brand, experiences, marketing. His career has seen him go from running a market stall, to working within world-class agencies such as WPP and Saatchi & Saatchi, then going client side, driving global change at the most distinctive professional services brand in the world. A passionate believer in the power of ideas to impact society, his experience in transitioning from agency life to client-side means he’s acquired a unique understanding of exactly how to get the best work from creatives. Here, he sits down with Rankin to discuss authenticity, the importance of honest feedback, and the role of advertising in driving behavioural change.
RANKIN: With your experience - from being in an agency, to being an agency yourself, and then going to client side - do you think that as a client you’re easier or more complicated to work with?
JOHN: I’d like to say easier, because I believe I know how to make a great brief from which they can work from, and I know how to spark an idea, and I think that’s an advantage to agencies. The other thing I’ve learned over the years in agencies is to speak the truth: to give honest, straight feedback along the way - even if it’s a bit painful - because it means an agency can react and do things differently. Sometimes clients can gloss over, or use the wrong language. I remember years ago, we had a client from an alcohol brand. They said to us “we want to be bold, daring and different”. And of course, we turned up with a bold, daring, and different creative idea. But their definition of “bold, daring and different” and ours was completely different. Being on the agency side gives you a great insight when you become a client on how to build ideas: how to brief an idea, nurture an idea, defend an idea. Something that came into stark focus when I went over [to the client side], is that what you’re buying is confidence. You need people around you that you’re confident can deliver results. When you become a client, you suddenly realise that all eyes are on you to deliver. You therefore want the team around you that you know will produce the right outcome. Confidence at that level is important.
The other part is confidence in the ideas you have. Very few people say “I love it, make it” - that just doesn’t happen. You need the confidence to shepherd an idea through an organisation, and you need to listen - because sometimes there’s genuine feedback that can help elevate an idea, even reject an idea - yet sometimes you’ve just got to push it forward because you can see the end outcome. And then connections. Fundamentally, creativity is about looking for different connections: you have an idea and then you connect it to the outcome. I think confidence and connections are essential to have at a client level.
RANKIN: What’s the key to great creative work?
JOHN: I think motivation is key. You want people to want to come to work to do the job, and I think great people want to be proud of the outcome. At the end of the day, most people just want to do the right thing. The difficulty is that doing the right thing creatively can be interpreted by different people in different ways. The judgement of ideas is not a science, and that’s the hard part about the business we’re in. In a lot of the work that my organisation does, we’re paid to be 100% accurate. But creativity by its nature, you never quite know what the final product will look like. There’s a high degree of risk taking.
If you’re looking at it from the lens of the client, that’s a good start. Equally, you’ve got to look at it from the lens of the audience, and sometimes the agencies are closer to the external. When you’re in an organisation, it’s very easy to become blinded by what you already know, so getting an agency to challenge you along the way is really important. It’s a tricky balance, because you want to get under the skin of what the client is thinking, and you have to do that. But you also need to hold on to the challenge, the pushback, and the belief that you can turn this idea into magic at the end of it.
RANKIN: What’s the best way to get great work out of your agency?
JOHN: I know it’s very obvious, but a great brief - and a lot of hard work in getting to that brief and understanding the nuance. And within that brief is sparking creativity. One of the things I’ve always found throughout my career is I believe I’m able to spark ideas. And that comes through really thinking about what the brief is and what the insight is. And the more you focus on that with the right talent, actually the job becomes very easy. So that’s the first step, the great brief.
The other one is judgement and building an idea. Great clients are able to push and are able to connect the dots around an idea. We might get a little piece of the jigsaw puzzle from one agency, match it with another, and then the magic comes through connecting different thoughts into higher order thought. Being a connector of ideas and a builder of ideas is the next phase.
And then shepherding ideas through the system: you have to get behind the idea with confidence and take people on that journey.
And so that’s it, those three: a great brief, build and connect the idea, and then shepherd it through the system with confidence.
RANKIN: Do you think having worked with creatives has given you a better understanding of how to get the best out of them?
JOHN: It’s making sure that you give them the freedom to create, and that you defend the ideas that they have, and that you will shepherd their ideas. I think the best creators and the best account handlers build a trust that they both have mutual interest in producing the best possible outcome.
RANKIN: Can you smell a good idea?
JOHN: I think I can. But that’s where if you’re totally confident in the creative people you have around you, sometimes you just trust their judgement a little bit over yours. And that’s the hard part. I remember working with a creative director years ago at Saatchi who said to me when we were debating an idea, “John, you’re probably right, but I’m paid to be a bit more right on the creative judgement than you are”. I thought that was a good way of looking at it. Creative people have an instinct for an idea, and they have a belief of where the idea can go that you might not initially see. And that’s where as a client, you have to just trust them to do the right thing. If you get the right talent around you, then you trust they will add something you yourself cannot do or cannot see, but it will come out the other end.
RANKIN: Is creativity an instinct or learned?
JOHN: I think it’s a skill that’s learned over the years. And it’s not called a profession, but taking a brief, turning into an idea, crafting it - that is a profession. There is a degree of learning around it.
RANKIN: What do you think about modern media platforms? You obviously have to put work out on these platforms. Do you think it is as good? Is it as much fun?
JOHN: I think the best use of these platforms is a creative process. And I think the definition of creativity has broadened, in a good way. It’s not the domain of someone sitting in a room coming up with a film script. It’s actually fragments that build the brand. And an influencer can be creative in a different way because they are creative in how they build their profile - it’s just a different form of creativity. I don’t think it’s better or worse, it’s just a new palette that we all have to play with.
RANKIN: One of the things I learned very early on about brands is about truth. If you’re selling something that is an entire lie, then it doesn’t really work, does it?
JOHN: If you are selling something that is an entire lie, then that clearly doesn’t work, and is clearly not advisable. Truth well told is the way to look at it. Now, there’s a lot of talk about brands being authentic, and I think authenticity is really important. You have to be authentic to who you are. You have to tell your story in an authentic way. It’s just too public not to. Brands today mostly want to have an authentic truth. It’s like they’re people. If you’re going to show people, you want them to be authentic to who they are, as opposed to some false view of a model or a performer saying, “this is how we do client service”. You want the real people.
RANKIN: Do you feel there is a generation gap? And do you feel that what we’re doing in our jobs helps bridge it?
JOHN: People coming into the workforce today want purpose. And they want to feel that they’re contributing. They want to do something for the world. Entrepreneurship has become the de facto way of having a career, rather than getting a job. And that’s a big shift: the self determination of the next generation, both within a workforce or on their own. So whether it comes to talent, the kind of experiences they want to work on, or the brands they want to be part of - you have to think about the next generation’s needs. The great thing about being in marketing, advertising, the creative industry by default, you have to understand those. I’ve always thought it’s such a privilege to be in advertising, marketing, because I’ve flown around the world, I’ve sat in focus groups from Spain to Australia, in households that you would never get into - to interview people about ideas. And so we’re all gifted with the privilege to influence the next generation. That’s probably the biggest responsibility we have: how are you shaping your brand, your purpose, your authenticity in the world that will inspire the next generation?
RANKIN: Was there a light bulb moment for you between the market stall and the agency?
JOHN: I had one of these graduate interviews and you had to do a presentation of anything, to show - I guess - how you can speak to an audience. And I pretended to sell my side line to university, my market stall as a growing concern to the agency I ended up joining. And David Wheldon was in the audience. And he said, “If you’re doing so well in your market stall, why would you possibly want to come into the advertising business?” I’ve often pondered that question and thought maybe I could have built a retail empire instead [laughs]. But the attraction is the impact that advertising can make: whether that’s helping do a party election or a charity campaign. One of the proudest campaigns I’ve ever been involved with was with NSPCC, with the team creating the Full Stop Campaign. You have a gift of impacting human beings in a way, you can shift behaviour. At its best, advertising can change attitudes. As long as you pick the clients that are going to positively impact the world, you have the gift of being part of a cultural change.
Join us next time as Rankin sits down with Ellie Norman, Chief Communications Officer at Manchester United.