Getting to Know… Creative Director, John

John answers seven questions, discussing everything from why he become a Creative Director to his favourite projects so far, and his must-follow Twitter accounts!

30th January 2018

30th January 2018


Estimated Reading Time 7 Minutes

James Bolton

James Bolton

James Bolton

Written by James Bolton,
Creative Copywriter

Alongside creative storytelling across a variety of channels and audiences, James helps define our client propositions by creating unique brand stories and verbal guidelines that get to the heart of their purpose and mission.

Getting to Know… is a new feature to our blog, where we put one fortunate member of the team under the spotlight by quizzing them on their role and what makes them tick. As we rack the brains behind Better, we hope to give you a small insight into life at a brand agency, while unearthing the people and personalities responsible for some of our great work. First in the hot seat is our Creative Director John.

John joined Better just over two years ago, after spending over a decade on and off working at a range of London agencies, as well as gaining an MA in Creative Writing.

His role here at Better is to oversee the output of the Creative Department and lead the BetterBrandBuilder™ process. He works closely with clients to gather the raw ingredients required to build their brand, then blends, distills and crystallises all the disparate ideas into a sharp, concise and engaging brand position. After translating this into a concise brief for the team, he oversees the creative process to ensure it stays true to the original vision.

John is here to answer seven challenging questions, discussing everything from his choice to become a Creative Director and his favourite project so far, to three of his favourite Twitter accounts!

What made you dive into the world of branding, creative and design?

My first job after university was as a Junior Designer at Zinc on the Microsoft account, producing animated GIF banners for the web. As simple and as dull as that sounds, it taught me lessons in how to communicate a marketing message in 3 or 4 frames, keep it interesting and work within tight constraints.

My last job before Better was as Creative Director on Tresemmé, where my partner and I were in charge of all Print and TV advertising across the UK, US, Brazil, China and India. Responsibilities here ranged from rethinking the overarching template for the advertising to better fit with a new BCI, developing initial ad concepts from Unilever product strategy, scripting ads, creatively directing every aspect of the ads from music to casting, selecting directors and stylists, the shoot, voice recording and post production.

Those sound like two massive extremes. But ultimately the core skillset of problem solving is the same:

Figuring out how to engage a specific audience by saying the right thing, in the right way, at the right time, within very tight constraints.

Throughout my career occasionally projects would arise where questions were being asked at a brand level, rather than a campaign level. This would always interest me because it presented an opportunity to steer things more dramatically, in fact this happened at one point with Philip Morris on Chesterfield. They were experiencing something of a brand hijack and it presented an interesting opportunity to experiment with new directions. That might have been one of the first times I got hooked by the brand bug. Although I came from a more visual background, over time I started to become more and more interested in dark arts of brand strategy and language of brand.

After maybe eight or nine years in agencies I had become more and more interested in the storytelling aspects of brand and advertising. I wanted to develop this so I took some time out and studied an MA in Creative Writing. That led onto more advertising and brand work both locally, in London and Amsterdam.

BetterBrandBuilder Workshop

Now I’m back and I feel genuinely at home here at Better. Hopefully I’m bringing some of that big brand thinking back with me to help fuel our big ambitions.

What is your favourite aspect of working at Better?

There is always new tech and new techniques but ultimately being Creative Director comes down to solving problems. Looking at all the pieces and trying to put them together in the most a logical, surprising and interesting way. That can be utilising a team in the right way, managing people, sourcing skills from elsewhere or just moving words and pictures around till they work.

Puzzling things out till everything fits together in a pleasing way is what I enjoy doing.

Taking over a hundred pages of interviews, distilling it into a ten paragraph strategy, then folding it into a three word strapline, without losing meaning or impact is very satisfying if you enjoy problem solving.

When those three things happen together;

when a beautiful visual expression meshes with the tone and message of the distilled Brand Story and it surprises me… it’s a great feeling.

I love working at Better because I get that feeling almost every week.

Helping translate that from a verbal to a visual expression is satisfying in a different way. I love being surprised by where the design team takes those ideas. I enjoy drifting further out into the ‘creative waters’ while at the same time keeping hold of the ‘strategic anchor’. The major misconception with design is that it is ‘there to look nice’. But it is actually a careful blend of form and function, it must serve a purpose.

What has been your favourite project whilst working at Better?

That really is hard. For a start I think as an agency and as a department we are going from strength to strength, so in many ways our latest stuff is always my favourite stuff. Also ‘favourite’ is a difficult word when the challenges of every project are so different, it is like saying what’s your favourite song or food.

Design Process

But if I had to really be pushed to pick a project that is live now, out in the world … Baltic.

Right from the start there were some clear threads that we wanted to focus on, the enthusiasm of the team at Baltic, the feeling that we actively wanted Baltic to look like a more exciting option than university the idea that we wanted to reach out to kids who weren’t sure where to go next but had bags of potential.

The idea that we could change the way businesses recruit and change the future of these kids was really exciting.

From the positive, punchy headlines to the imperative strapline BE THE FUTURE, everything was designed to excite, inspire and empower.

A lot of things aligned on that project, things just seemed to flow, the client was very brave and put their complete trust in us and I felt like that trust was repaid by the team. There was a fair few late nights and a lot of extra effort put into that project, over and above what was necessary to deliver the basics. This was because morale was high throughout and there was an infectious energy to both the client and the project.

However, I have to say there are some projects still under wraps that are even more exciting. But then again I would say that.

If you had the chance to rebrand any brand in the world, who would you choose?

That’s a really tough question because that implies there would need to be something wrong with it. On one hand it’s fun to work with really big effective brands. It’s a nice ego boost but sometimes the most well known ‘exciting’ brands are some of the dullest and most difficult to work with. Everything is so locked down because if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

It would have to be a challenger brand, with a client who is confident enough to know what they don’t know and brave enough to get behind some exciting work.

A lot of the time the old adage that 'clients get the work they deserve' rings true.

I think if I had to think of a huge client, that is well known, still not number one and (in my opinion) a very unsatisfying solution … I’d say Pepsi. They don’t really seem to know who they are. The Coca-Cola design system is streets ahead of Pepsi. I’ve never understood the bloated ‘fat tummy’ logo from 2009 and their logotype makes me cringe. It would be an interesting challenge.

If you could live in a game, series or film universe, which would you choose?


Where is your favourite place in the world and why?

Japan. I’ve always loved it. I love the blend of tech and tradition. I have visited the MAZDA factory at Hiroshima with work as well as Tokyo and Kyoto. It’s completely, utterly and wonderfully alien and they literally couldn’t care less. It’s genuinely another world, tons of history, great food, beautiful art, tranquil temples, stunning landscapes and neon insanity all in one place at the same time.

I like the Japanese philosophy and approach to certain things. They seem to be a nation of improvers, I was once told by a Japanese friend that this is because they have no natural resources. So (on a very simple level) historically their whole economy is built around bringing something in and transforming it somehow. Essentially improving it.

Three Twitter accounts to follow?

@VICEUK, @TrumpsTies, @LettersofNote

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