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Interrupting creatively - #GettingToKnow wannabe stuntman Dave Sullivan

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Dave Sullivan is a Creative Director and Senior Creative with a copywriting background but a strong eye for design and art direction. 

During his 20+ year career he’s worked at top London agencies, won numerous awards at everything from D&AD to Cannes and has amassed a wealth of experience  and a strong understanding of the opportunities that technology and platforms offer brands to tell their stories in new and engaging ways. 

He also understands, however, that these opportunities mean nothing if they're not used to tell the right stories. Speaking of storytelling, let’s get to know Dave a little better, shall we?

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Tell us a bit about your role! Is there a “typical” day?

I feel pretty lucky really. My days are varied. I work from home on Monday and Friday. I save my ‘head down’ work for those days. This could be anything from writing scripts or advertorials to creating storyboards or putting decks together. 

For the other three days I work with the team in the office. There are five of us in our creative department. We work closely with one another. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are concepting days. I love Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. 

What was the biggest challenge in getting to your current position?

The last 4 years have been a mixture of freelancing and working directly with brands. I spent a year working with a fintech start-up and I also launched a womenswear brand. Both were great experiences. 

I learnt a lot about the business side of what we do, which has been very valuable. Previously I had freelanced at Tribal London a few times and always really enjoyed my time there. They’re a smart bunch with a great culture. I did a long stint with them again  over the summer of 2021. Happily, I was invited to join the agency full-time in November. 

What is your personal background and what role did it play in your career?

I’ve got a broad range of interests. I have London, the city I grew up in, to thank for that. I’ve always made the most of what it has to offer – music, art, culture. It’s spoilt me to a degree. I get bored easily. Being a creative is one of the few jobs I can think of that has enough variety to keep me focused.

What is your biggest career-related win? What is your biggest loss?

My biggest win to date was being the creative lead on the Tourism Ireland pitch whilst I was at Publicis London. We went on to make some of the work I’m most proud of in my career. Biggest loss? I wish we’d won the Stella Artois pitch. Damn you, Mother. 

Which individuals and/or agencies do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?

In the early years of my career, Walter Campbell (the bloke that did that Guinness surfer ad) helped me lot. If I ever had a question, and I had many, I’d ask him. He would never give me the answer. 

He would though, give me just enough to solve the problem myself. Far more rewarding. And kind of how good advertising works in a way. I also have a lot to thank Sean Doyle for. The best copywriter in the world in my opinion. And probably the funniest man in Europe. 

If you could go back to your teenage years, would you have done things differently? Do you have any regrets?

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I would have got into the industry much sooner. I mucked about a bit too much. I remember my father, who was understandably a bit frustrated by my lack of direction telling me to get an apprenticeship. I think he meant builder or bricklayer. I became a hairdresser. I did it for four years just to wind him up. Yeah, I know. I regret that now. 

If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

A stunt man. 

What’s your one big dream for the future of the industry?

I hope we’re able to hold onto the power of the idea. So often these days, the medium or a trend within it, is mistaken for an idea. “Let’s do that thing everyone’s doing on Tik-Tok only with a product in it.” It’s kind of okay. 

But to me, it’s a bit like trying to blend in rather than stand out. I think people are smart enough to recognise a piece of advertising. Even if it is dressed in the latest social media clothing. We’ve always been interrupters, and if you’re going to interrupt, you’d better be interesting. 

What are your top tips for aspiring creative professionals?

Be an idea hunter and always try and take down the biggest one you can. They’re usually hiding in your client’s product somewhere. Once you’ve found it, protect it at any cost. 

What are your top tips for other creative leaders?

Encourage autonomy. People will always protect and be accountable for work that they own. Give people creative freedom, you didn’t hire them so they could be like you. 

When you think about your team, what is the thing that matters to you the most?

I believe great work comes from a happy place. I’m not saying that it comes without a certain amount of stress and hard work, but your team should always feel supported and appreciated for what they do. I learnt that lesson a few years back when I worked at AMV BBDO, and they haven’t done too badly. 

Do you have any websites, books or resources you would recommend?

I’m a big reader so I’ll recommend a couple of books…

Nina Simone’s Gum by Warren Ellis. This is joyfully eccentric. What happens when you take the most ordinary object; a piece of chewed gum (okay, admittedly it had been a legend’s mouth) and inject it with absolute majesty. 

He Used Thought as a Wife: An Anthology of thoughts and conversations (from inside)

Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush: An Anthology of thoughts and conversations (from outside) 

Both of Tim Key’s books about the Covid lockdowns are nothing short of genius.

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