SD: You made it to the big job zig zagging and surfing. Tell the story?
GL: It was a bit of a happy accident that I ended up in Sydney. In 1997 I was working in Cape Town and decided to do an around-the-world surfing trip. I planned to travel for six months, starting with three weeks in New Zealand. It's now widely regarded as the most unsuccessful surf trip of all time.
I fell in love with NZ and stayed for three years. In 2000, I decided to continue my travels and accepted a job at M&C Saatchi in Sydney. I spent 10 very happy years there and worked with some amazingly talented people. We won lots of awards and became the biggest agency in Australia. I ended up as executive creative director of digital and direct and a highlight was being recognized as one of the top three direct agencies in the world by the Won report in 2006, 2007 and 2009.
SD: You're now CD at TBWA Sydney. What is the creative community like relative to the rest of the world?
GL: Australians have a real drive to succeed on the world stage. As a consequence, the ad industry takes Cannes very seriously as it's a great way to measure ourselves against the best. Because our budgets are reasonably small, we have to be innovative if we want to compete. Perhaps because of this we punch far beyond our weight. This year we smashed the all time Australian Cannes haul and brought home 59 Lions. Not a bad effort for a country with only 22 million people. It's something most of us in the Aussie ad industry are very proud of.
SD: You moved a year ago or so. How did you onboard yourself in the role to have such a rapid impact?
GL: The reason I left M&C, an agency I still love, was because I wanted a new creative challenge. TBWA Sydney had just employed two guys as ECDs that I really admire. They had a vision for the agency to be a world-class creative shop and I wanted to be part of making it happen.
It's been exciting working at an agency that has a clear vision of what it wants to be and immensely satisfying to achieve some of our creative goals within such a short time frame. Our next challenge is to make sure we do it again next year.
SD: You're a multiple award winner in your own right. Now you get to lead and inspire and do. What is it like to lead? What are the pressure points?
GL: I once read a great quote by a famous South African creative director who said the secret to being a great CD was not too be scared to employ people who you thought were better than you. I've followed his advice and I've rarely been disappointed. By far the hardest thing I have to do as creative director is to balance what we can do as a creative department and what I know our clients want. Sometimes it's not much fun having to be the voice of reason within the creative department.
SD: You raked in a lot of hardware in Cannes. Two golds, four silver and two bronze. Happy with the performance? TBWA Sydney has been a creative turn around has it not? How did it happen?
GL: We were the best performing office at Cannes in the TBWA network, so you'd think we'd be pretty happy with that. But the truth is, we were a bit disappointed. We started the week with a bang and ended with a bit of a whimper. We would have liked to pick up a few more Lions at the back end of the week, but it was not to be. It's certainly made us hungry to try and beat our performance next year.
It has been really satisfying to help turn around an agency that hasn't been particularly successful in the past. No one person can take all the credit for doing this and we have a great team of people all working towards the same vision.
SD: Does being Canadian mean anything in South Africa or Australia?
GL: No, not really. In my experience most Australians don't give a stuff where you're from. They're much more impressed by what you can do rather than were you're from. A book of Lion winning work always gets more attention than a funny accent.
Stefan Danis, reporting for Adnews.com, is CEO of Mandrake and NEXCareer and has published Gobi Runner, a book about overcoming adversity, available at Amazon.