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Creative Catch-Up: Grey Group’s Graham Drew

Last month saw Grey appoint Graham Drew as its ECD. Drew has had extensive experience in through-the-line advertising, with focus in cross platform creative ideas. After starting his own PR agency in 2004, Drew later founded VCCP Kin in 2010, the branded content arm of VCCP partnership that is a subsidiary of Chime Communications.

We asked Drew about his journey so far and here’s what he had to say.

How’d you stumble into this industry?

I’d always loved reading. One of my clearest memories is having my mind blown by Roald Dahl’s ‘Danny the Champion of the World’ when I was 7 or 8. I soon found out that was one of his less imaginative ones, as I inhaled his entire catalogue reading at every opportunity I could. That led to me studying English and wanting to be a journalist – that didn’t work out (straight out of uni, saddled with debt…usual story). So I applied for any job that looked interesting In the media and got on a grad scheme at a PR agency – it wasn’t journalism, or writing a novel, but my god was there a lot of fiction involved.

Harshest thing anyone has said to you

‘You can’t write for shit.’ That hurt, especially as at the time they were right.

Meanest thing you’ve heard someone say to anyone on the job

That’s a tough one. Anyone who’s sat through countless reviews grows a thick skin. The honest answer is unrepeatable, suffice to say it involved a degree of physical abuse as well as verbal. But personally, as long as it isn’t personal, I’m a fan of arguments, it means you care enough to make it uncomfortable. If you’re not prepared to defend your work you shouldn’t have made it in the first place.

Meanest thing you’ve personally said to anyone (And do you regret it?)

Said lots of harsh things, but I’d not class them as mean as I’d always meant it. I’m not a natural arguer, but it is a sad reality that sometimes you have to tear a strip off people. I remember, last year, shouting two inches from a planners face in a stairwell because they had just totally undermined a very important piece of work right in front of the client. I regretted making them tearful, but I don’t regret what I said.

Proudest moment in your career

Yet to come. More cliché’s available on request. But one that sticks in the head is everything we did for Stella Artios – very happy days.

A mistake in your career you won’t forget

Myself and the MD of my previous company jumped ship and started up our own agency. It was hard, really stressful at times, but we managed to get on a roll, we became a hot agency, we kept winning stuff and it was the best feeling in the world. Because of this, we got the opportunity to merge/take over an older, larger agency. We almost tripled in size overnight, moved from our quirky East London warehouse with a roof terrace to a big office block and…. Well, we murdered the culture, became far too much like a ‘business’ and never really recovered.

Weirdest thing you’ve ever done in your career

In the early days we were so lucky. We had a few clients who were prepared to run with us. We created a Real Bloody Mary (made with Real Blood), staged the world first Cash Mob (throwing £5k into a crowded street), commissioned a football ballet with the English National Ballet, sent fake bombs to Fleet Street…

How do you get inspired when you aren’t?

I’m a huge advocate of theft. Everyone knows that all ideas are a Frankenstein’s monster born of kleptomania. The more things you see, the more you can steal, the better you will be. As you progress, you just get better at hiding the stitches.

My creative hero is Thomas Heatherwick – he’s an inventor withan incredible aesthetic, the aesthetic is the idea. I first saw his bridge when walking in Paddington, I had to know who did it. Then I saw the Seed Cathedral, the chair, even the agency Christmas card each year is brilliant. Along with the 1,657 other things he’s come up with. Also SXSW is by a mile the best conference in the world for what we do. The caliber and variety of the subject matter is truly awe inspiring. I’ve been for the past three years and every time the things I see there trickle through over the next 12 months.

Mentor you look up to most?

There have been a few. My old business partner Michael Frohlich is still a great friend, he ran the business and shielded me from all of the numbers that made me go cross-eyed. He was also the best sounding board for ideas I’ve ever had….but that may have been the gin.

What makes the difference between an average creative and a mind-blowing one?

People who are passionate are irreplaceable. But more than that, anyone who’s prepared to be wrong. The good ideas are always different, everyone loves a risky bit of creative. But the best ideas have an element of ‘wrongness’ about them, they don’t feel right, but they are the ones that burrow into your head and don’t leave you alone.

Most frustrating thing about being a creative

Never having enough time to make it quite as good as you want it to be. That and seeing an idea that you had on the tip of your tongue done by someone else.

One of my favourite definitions is one about modern art. Modern Art is – “I could have done that. Yeah, but you didn’t”

A dream brand you would like to work on and why?

I’d love to work on Ikea – there is so much scope with their brand. They are always trying new channels, new ideas. The thought of marketing IP, or products that are intrinsically marketable is exciting.

How you wind down on the weekends

Family. We’ve just uprooted from London and have so much to see and do over here. That said, the lure ofjust staying at home and making up stories with my kids is always tempting. I take great pride in the fact that, despite getting older, both girls still have personal mythical characters that look out for them and they write to each other regularly. Keeping a sense of wonder for as long as possible is a huge part of what being a parent is all about. Plus, it’s infectious and the best tonic to any stress this job can throw at you.

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