David MacGregor is an internationally-awarded creative director and brand consultant with extensive experience in advertising, design, IT and publishing. He is co-founder and creative director of Idealog - the award winning magazine for New Zealand's creative business. He is also a senior visiting tutor at Massey University, teaching marketing, communications and design research to design students. Today he is Creative Director of Product Development at Brand World.
David, I'm struggling to find the words to describe what you do. You're a creative director but equally you're a strategist. How would you describe it?
Frankly I don't really know why I am used. I guess having multiple doing skills and experiences gives me some insights I wouldn't otherwise have, or rather that others don't have.
I was reading an article you'd written a few years back that said agencies should fire their creative departments and use the unemployed creatives as freelancers. If I remember rightly you said people perform better when they are responsible for putting food on the table.
Ad agency structures from the 20th Century mean they have struggled to compete in an era when everyone has access to everything all the time. I can hire a writer or art director who lives in Sweden who has a world-class reputation. So, that is one side of the equation. The other is that I strongly believe creative people should 'own' their talent and be professional practitioners. This would mean they would also be less cosseted or precious about their work. Ultimately I'd like to see the 'middle men' out of the equation and recommend creatives deal directly with the client. I would also encourage them to increase their skills and business acumen.
You say on your LinkedIn page that you were creative director at Y&R New Zealand in the early 90s. On the day you joined you discovered that your largest client was about to fire the agency, but you persuaded them to stay. What happened?
I called and asked for one week to solve a problem that the agency had been wallowing around in for a year. I was lucky the client hadn't already given the project to someone else. Within two months I was filming the commercial in the Bahamas.
Then you decided to leave New Zealand and work in the UK?
Going to the UK was an experience and a half. I was well known here in New Zealand but completely obscure in London. I arrived without contacts (I ran after a woman I had fallen for, it was a spontaneous thing). But I loved the experience of schlepping around with my portfolio and showreel. It was good for me to go from Metro magazine' top creative director (10th Anniversary 'Hot' edition) to a face in the crowd from New Zealand. It was a reality check. I had to earn a reputation and the trust of my rep by starting with the crumbiest jobs in the smallest agencies. I had to return home as suddenly as I had left New Zealand when my ex-wife passed away I was working in a part of the Saatchi & Saatchi empire by then. It was a fun experience to disappear into the wild for a while.
So what are you doing with yourself these days?
I work at BrandWorld. With two partners we started the business when I came home from the UK. We produce advertising that is pre-formatted. We call them 'mastheads'. It is a very successful idea. I sold my share of the company in 2002 to explore opportunities on the web and to do mad things like launching Idealog magazine. I came back to develop new concepts three years ago the business is changing quickly. We are unusual in that we only have a small crew relative to the volume of work we do 12 or so, all senior and very experienced in many categories. Our workspace is an open, airy loft with wall to ceiling picture windows and decks that overlook the picturesque Auckland harbour. Sadly I have learned to ignore the view.
Is it keeping you busy?
I am working a number of new initiatives. A couple are unlike anything we have done before. We need to surprise competitors as much as any company and develop new, proprietary solutions.
What would you say has been your biggest challenge so far?
Adapting my skills and increasing my knowledge to remain relevant and competitive is always a challenge but it is one I love.
How have you've changed from the guy that first started out in this business?
I am older and wise enough to agree with the Chiat Day motto that you have to 'walk in stupid' every day.
Where do you think creativity is right now? Better than 10 years ago or worse?
I am uncomfortable talking about the state of creativity. Technology has meant we can access so much more of it and allowed talented people to share what they create so much more easily with both the tools of creation and the means to distribute. It is an exciting time to be working. When I started out in the business the 'creative department' (curious term) was an exclusive club. That said; it's not all good and creative direction is an essential skill to discern between the wheat and the chaff in the commercial world.
Where does your story go from here?