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From Space Monkeys to ITV Creative with ECD Tony Pipes

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Surely Executive Creative Director of ITV Creative Tony Pipes knew that someday his Space Monkeys would lead him to love everything and anything creative. What he probably didn't know was that he would become such a successful leadership figure in the creative industry – but something tells us he doesn't mind too much.

It was Tony Wilson, the owner and founder of Factory Records, that taught him many of the lessons he still lives up to today. And with time, Tony has become a leader many would be keen to envy, a passionate creative with a true drive for his job and an everlasting care for his team. Too humble to recognise he should see himself as one of his heroes, Tony now leads the creative division of ITV and has led them to countless successes, including winning a Gold prize in this year's Annual 2020.

Today we are Getting to Know one of our Top 100 Influencers of the Year and one of the most inspiring figures in the British advertising and creative industry.

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Tell us about your current role!

My current role is ECD of ITV Creative, ITV’s in-house advertising agency. We create all the campaigns promoting the Network’s output, create all the branding and graphic furniture for the business, plus have a commercial arm that looks after branded content and partnerships. We have our own production unit too, so very self sufficient!

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

I started my creative career in the music industry. My band “Space Monkeys” were the last band to sign to Manchester’s infamous Factory Records. We spent about 5 years touring the world and making records. Tony Wilson, the owner and founder of Factory, was a massive inspiration as he was about the creativity over everything.

He didn’t care about making money, making you famous or pleasing the critics, he just cared about being creative and treated music and everything that surrounded it as art. It was about the adventure for him and that’s something I’ve taken with me throughout my career. Make sure everything you are doing is important, make it the best it can be, put yourself in it and most of all have fun. These were all lessons learnt from Tony Wilson and my time in the Space Monkeys.

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Do you have any heroes in the industry?

Heroes have always been important to me - ever since I fell in love with Run DMC at a young age, heroes have bounced me into the next thing and kept me moving. 
Poet, Lemn Sissay, Hip Hop Producer Prince Paul, Jean Michel Basquat, Hitchcock, Rod Serling- I think it's good to have figures to stand on the shoulders of.

Agency wise, Droga 5 have always been the benchmark for me- always pushing it a different way, but never navel gazing or self serving- they make advertising full of playfulness and entertainment, and it sticks.

Individuals who have inspired me include advertising legend Paul Arden - just for sheer braveness and guts. Stefan Sagmeister continues to be an inspiration in his outlook and analysis of life and I'm currently obsessed with the Megaforce directing crew. 

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

I’m a creative, whether that’s in the advertising and TV industries or anything else. Whatever I would be doing, it would be making something.  I’m a big believer in keeping busy as a way to keep the creativity flowing, so in my spare time I’m a writer / playwright, I still make music, releasing it as “The Infamous Beat Thief”, and I’m a visual artist, so if I wasn’t doing what I was doing, I’d probably turn up the dial on one of these.

What is your biggest career-related win?

I'm lucky to be paid to be creative. If you are doing that, you are winning. 

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How has COVID-19 affected you as a leader?

Once lockdown hit us I was suddenly left with a team that was siloed and although working remotely functioned on the surface, a lot of what we need as creatives and as a team vanished. The main thing missing was stimulation and a lot of my team, including myself, struggled without the overheard conversations on the way to work, the hustle and bustle of the city and those moments of banter and sharing in the office that can be important, unconscious, ingredients to ideas.

We had to find new ways to bring some of that stimulation and inspiration.

We started to share everything we were seeing, so you’d get random stuff in your inbox that might spark something off and then I started a weekly non-work related, that was open to answer in any medium. It was a nice distraction and got people thinking in different ways as we got everything, from stop-motion animations, Lino prints, photography to really emotive poetry, as responses.

Alongside this we’ve started to pair people up to work together so you get something to rub off. Everyday is a challenge though and it's almost an invisible problem that only creatives can see and it gets harder the more we are apart as a team.

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What have you learned from 2020?

Inspiration is everything! You only realise how important outside influence is on your thinking when it's taken away. Overheard conversations, office banter, exhibitions, gigs, wandering the streets- they are all the ingredients you keep in your brain ready to cook up ideas. This year has left us with a lean larder.

What is your biggest hope for 2021?

My hope is that after the pandemic crawls back to hell, we move forward in a different way. We have learnt so much and proved that we can be creative in different ways, embracing tech and finding new ways to work. I want us to not just rebuild the past, but also build the future.

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What is your one advice to aspiring creatives looking to be successful?

I’m a working class kid, so I was brought up to work hard and that’s true in this industry as much as any, opportunity won’t find you. Resilience is also important, brace yourself for rejection but learn that it only makes the wins sweeter. Also- having fun is the best thing for creativity, so make sure you play a lot.

How do you recharge away from the office?

I believe that the more creative you are, the more creative you are, so recharging for me comes form doing different, but creative things. I write, I draw, I make a bit of music- I also like to listen to a nice conspiracy theory podcast now and again! 

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

Can I be greedy and have two big dreams? The first is a true return to creativity in the industry, a backing away from advertising as a science, tested and prodded before it goes near an audience. Data is important, useful and can be creative, but the power of a good idea can be diluted to nothing if it’s led by logic and not by instinct.

For my second dream I’d like to see way more diversity and inclusion in the industry. Any one, anywhere can be creative, so I’d like to see ways into the creative industries for all, every social, racial and economic background.  The more diverse the people, the more diverse the work, so let's make it easy for people to see us as an industry they want to work in. 

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

Paul Arden's "It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want To Be" is a book everyone should read. Followed by "Hey Whipple Squeeze this" by Luke Sullivan and Sam Bennett. "The Secret Lives of Colour" by Kassia St Clair is a rainbow of inspiration too. I also love the insta feed - "fuckadvertisments" for a microscope on the absurdity of pop culture, and the NASA website for a reality check when you start to think the world revolves around you. 

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