Have you ever caught yourself wondering what a Creative Director gets up to on the day to day? Perhaps you’re a budding designer aspiring towards a career in the creative. Or maybe you’re an experienced designer in search of a new perspective on what it means to be a Creative Director. Well, we’d like to introduce you to our resident CD, Andrew Hancock, as he tells all on what it is to be a creative at Oxfordshire Branding agency BrandAsylum. Let’s get started on our ‘Interview with a Creative Director.’

Andrew, tell us a little bit more about your role at BrandAsylum.

I’m the Creative Director and one of the founding partners of Oxfordshire branding agency, BrandAsylum Group. As Creative Director I work cross strategy, new business, design, the day-to-day running of the business, concept creation, idea generation and problem-solving. I would say very much kind of client-facing. I have been in the industry for near on 24 years and running BrandAsylum for 10 years. Before then I was a creative in London at some of the top London ad agencies.

So how has Brand asylum evolved for you over those 10 years?

I think the industry’s evolved massively, as a whole, they used to be above the line, below the line, through the line with the three keywords and sectors within the industry. It’s now merged into digital, traditional, social, marketing strategy and we cover all of those. I think we, as a creative industry and a problem-solving service provider we need to be able to change, adapt and be agile for our market position within that.

Sounds exciting, so who do you do that for?

We do it for a whole range of clients ranging over a spectrum of industries from, financial services, manufacturing, logistics, automotive, FMCG – amongst many. We work through the full communications journey and how brand is leveraged for market position.

So what does branding mean to you Andrew?

Different people define “brand” in different ways – from “a characteristic that serves to identify”, to “a gut feeling”, to “the collective perception”. However the most common definition amongst marketers is “the meaning your audience attaches to your organisation, product or services”. The scary thing is that “brands” are therefore not defined by marketers. They are defined by a person’s emotional responses to any aspect of an offer. You don’t own your brand.

A potential buyer does. “Branding” is the practice of actively seeking to manage the meaning your audience attaches to your brand. This is done through marketing assets such as websites, brochures, videos, social media, graphics and other communication devices. These are all employed in order to attract potential customers and help them make a decision to purchase. The management of the meaning our audience attaches to us, spans the whole buying process and the customer experience whilst they use our product and service.

How did you end up working in the creative industry? What was your path like?

Ever since I think I was seven or eight years old, for some reason, I just wanted to be a designer. I would see stuff and go, that could look better. I think it’s because I had a fear of exam and I realized if I followed may passions into the arts I wouldn’t have to sit any more exams. So I started off school and then art college and then a degree in advertising and graphic design and then got my little toe in the door in a London agency. And then the rest is history.

Where did you study?

I studied at Brunel University, London. I have a degree in advertising

Do you want to put a year on that?

No that gives my age away. Lets just say it was mid-to late eighties shall we…, haha

What was your first industry position?

Yeah, I was in my early twenties. I went in very green, literally, a week after getting my degree for an agency in Central London, called the Anvil Consultancy. And I was a junior art director. I worked in a team of senior art directors, a creative director and a copywriter, and it was very much getting to learn the job, the roles, and what it entailed. So working on accounts like Lloyds Bank and Mercedes-Benz, so I was really fortunate to work with some great brands.

What was inspiring you at that stage?

I always had a passion for art and design. I think art college really opened my eyes to the depth and the breadth of what they call art in inverted brackets. A big hero of mine is an artist and sculptor called Andy Goldsworthy. Who takes really complex forms and creates the most simplistic and amazing sculptures from it.He was a big inspiration to me hundred percent. And then you look further down the line to Phillipe Starck, people like that who are traditional designers. And then, Norman Foster, again, design by architecture, taking and making the complex simple, and that’s a big, big mantra of mine to this day,

Moving forward to BrandAsylum group now. In your role right now, what do you fear? Where is the industry’s heading and where you see yourself fitting in?

I think it’s changing at such a pace now with new technology, new thinking, and new ways of doing work. The approach to creative strategy needs to be balanced between visual, verbal and mental. Thee are so many distraction for younger creatives, so many short cuts. Everything is automated… for me the core concept of an idea is essentially something that can only come from within and that can’t be automated. A lot of people come into the industry and think they’re amazing designers. And I’ll show you an amazing picture with a nice bit of typography. And then when you ask about the rationale and the reason why they just don’t have it, they haven’t got the thinking behind the idea or the reason why they’ve done it.

Do you think that’s an education problem or a speed to money problem?

I think it’s a massive education problem. I was very lucky in university, say lucky, literally, the course was like working in an advertising agency. So you’re in at eight in the morning and then you left it 10, 11 o’clock at night when the work was done, the brief had been completed. It was a lifestyle, we all wanted to be there and we were focused. I can’t be certain that todays’ generation would hold onto those values… hopefully I’m wrong.

How do you face a new challenge when it lands on y our desk, where you need to incorporate new technology or something, or a new industry that you’ve not worked with or new technology that you have to accept and be able to apply a creative director role towards?

I love new tech and I love new ways of thinking. I think it’s the only way that this industry is moving forward and it has to adapt, over the past five years, it’s changed dramatically. What it does, is that it still goes back to this, you should be able to have an idea and sell it on the back of a napkin to a client. If it sells on the back of a napkin, like a scribble with whatever new technology you wrap around or to use as a mechanic or a vehicle. If the idea is strong and works, it’ll fly.

It comes back down to the craft direction, being a graphic designer, part of that is being able to sell, being able to rationalize your idea, and being able to sell it. And you should be able to do that verbally, not just visually.

A hundred percent, but also it’s… And what I’ve learned, I guess, through the experience is getting into the client’s head and understanding what the client wants, because sometimes what the client wants is very different from what the client actually needs. So they might want a website, but really they don’t need a website. They need a whole new proposition, they need a whole new way of thinking. They need a whole new culture. So it’s more than just… we deliver bespoke solutions to problems that businesses have.

“…because sometimes what the client wants is very different from what the client actually needs. So they might want a website, but really they don’t need a website. They need a whole new proposition, they need a whole new way of thinking. They need a whole new culture…”

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading a book called I am Pilgrim, Novel by Terry Hayes. it’s about a bunch of terrorists who have a pandemic, which is very apt in today’s market, but it’s one of those books that you’re told about and you said, yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever, but is a page-turner. I can’t put it down.

So it sounds cheery in the current climate

It’s fascinating cause it could be so true.

I’ll put it on my list. What’s your favourite book?

My favorite book ever, it’s a book called Touching the Void by Joe Simpson. I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie outside of the advertising world. It’s an account of Joe Simpson’s terrifying adventure in the Peruvian Andes. He and his climbing partner, Simon, reached the the summit of the remote Siula Grande in June 1995. A few days later, Simon staggered into Base Camp, exhausted and frost-bitten, with news that that Joe was dead.

You mentioned adrenaline junkie, care to expand on that a little bit.

I had an opportunity at university when I can either become a professional skier or go into advertising. Some might say stupidly I went into advertising. But now with my knees, as they are, I don’t think the ski would have lasted long. I enjoy skiing, sailing, all sports. And I find it’s so different from the world I live in, with work it’s a nice balance.

A little birdie tells me you’ve been on a sailing trip once

I did, 18 years ago. It still feels like yesterday. I did a 45,000-mile race around the world on one of eight identical yachts. And we came third. So I actually have a bronze medal.

That’s impressive. Not many people can say they’ve sailed around the world and actually, with a straight face mean it. Back onto more pressing matters. What would you say are some of the main challenges that you face in the work right now?

I think right now, in terms of, in relationship to COVID and how the marketplace has changed, it’s how we’re having to adapt as a whole. For the first time ever, this is happening to the whole world. It’s never happened before. It’s unprecedented and we’re having to adapt as an agency, as what we do, as what we offer, but also businesses and brands also having to adapt. And I think for some it’s harder than others, but on the spin of it, it’s people being able to take a step back from their business and look at it and we can definitely help with the messaging of that and support people in that journey where fundamentally we want to be problem-solvers and storytellers, and we create emotional links with brands and people.

What does a typical day look like for you? What time do you start?

It’s funny. I’m going to twist that slightly and go, I never really stop, as a designer, your brain is always going. It’s always working. It could be a walk on the beach with my three kids and an idea about the business or a client might just pop into your head. Ideas can come from anywhere, anytime, any place. I’m also not a believer that creatives, such great artists, always have ideas. I think anybody has ideas. I think it’s all about people with ideas and then able to enhance those ideas and bring them to life in a commercial way.

You can have millions of great ideas, but they’re just not feasible. They don’t make business sense. So going back to my typical day in terms of my mind is always working creatively. I’m into the office, I’m much more of an early person, so I’ll get up early and in the office, and then it’s making sure that I kind of keep refreshed, get up to date. And just doing great work, you get into a zone and you just love creating great work.

Working with people?

Working with people. Yes. I agree. I love working with people. That’s a key part and I think that the relationships that you get with your affiliates, your business partners, bouncing ideas off, constantly learning, constantly building to change, and being part of a team. Then when you can go to a client and go look at what we’ve produced for you and the client goes, that’s amazing, you’ve completely blown my expectations out of the water. And you go, actually, that’s great. And it doesn’t have to be Uber expensive. Doesn’t have to be Uber new tech. It doesn’t have to be, you know, as I go back to it, if it’s a sound idea from the get-go it’ll work really well.

BrandAsylum described themselves as an agile agency. What does that mean to you?

It means a lot to me, and it’s a fundamental belief that we don’t wanna be stuck in our ways. We’re not an old school, this is how you must do things agency, we’re willing to learn and adapt. We’re agile in the fact that we bring the right people in for the right briefs. If you’ve got a financial services brief, for example, you need content and writers who understand that industry. If you’re talking about e-commerce, you need a certain type of web designer who understands e-commerce platforms. And we bring all of those people in. So we have the best team working on the briefs that we have.

So one size doesn’t necessarily always fit all.

Yes. A hundred percent.

What would your advice be for somebody who’s younger and wants to get into a role like yours?

A hundred percent do it, don’t listen to anybody else that says no, it’s a rubbish industry. Go and do it, go and find a creative director to work under and learn from. I’ve had two or three amazing creative directors. One of which said to me, he goes, Andrew, you can’t have ideas every single day of the week, every minute of the day, 24 seven. It’s not feasible. If you don’t have an idea and you’re in the office here and you’re sitting there with a blank sheet of paper, go into an art gallery, take yourself off to a cinema, go on a walk. And as long as it’s something that you’re culturally and creatively, just go and do something completely different. The ideas will come.

Why do you do what you do and what makes it all worthwhile to you? What puts a smile on your face?

I do what I do because I’m passionate about creativity and about giving people the best experiences possible. Whether digitally, socially, or traditionally, it’s when you see a client’s face light up, when you create an amazing booklet for them an amazing bit of stock, the amazing colours and the design, and the storytelling. The emails of thanks you get, the wow factor when they land on a website and just go, God, that’s completely blown my expectations. It’s the feedback I get from that, that keeps me going. And also just to make things, things don’t have to be complicated. It’s to make things work really well in the best way possible.

Last question, It’s Friday, your week has been full of meetings, pitches, and concepts. What do you do over the weekend to unwind?

I think it’s got to be nice food, a nice glass of wine, a bit of exercise, being with the kids, getting outside or just recharging the batteries, it’s key. It’s such a hectic industry that we’re in, I think you’ve got to recharge those batteries, clear the heads. It’s a balance between all my passions – family, friends & Design (not always in that order!!)

To speak to Andrew or any of the BrandAsylum you can get in touch here = hello@brandsylum.co.uk