For our first Creative 101 series we asked Barrie Robinson and Tim Jarvis, Creative Group Heads at McCann Central, for the secrets to a successful creative partnership as well as some of their career highlights.
How long have you been in a creative partnership and how did you meet?
Think we’re on our platinum anniversary. Or round about the 20-year mark. We met a while back when we both reached for the last sausage roll at Greggs and locked eyes. Or art college. One of the two.
How did you each get into the industry?
Kind of through the servant’s entrance like many people. Art College then selling yourself for free to get a foot in the door, then selling your soul after.
What makes a good creative partnership, are there many disagreements being in a partnership?
Disagreements are what makes a good creative partnership.
We’re as different as much as we are the same. But after a while you form some kind of symbiotic relationship. Like Butch and Sundance or Shaggy and Scooby.
How do you work as a partnership? Are there specific roles that you stick to when working together or is it quite fluid?
It’s both to be honest. We start the project as just creatives talking about insights and exploring ideas or ways in. Then as it progresses, we start to go into our specialisms a little more. But we crossover all the time. We both do each other’s job well, but not as good as the other.
Are there types of creative that are more suited to you? For example, directors tend to work within a genre whether that's comedy, narrative, horror etc...as creatives do you feel more comfortable working on particular types of work / brands?
There are certainly ones that we feel more comfortable with. Comedy is definitely up there. It’s the first place our minds go to. “Wouldn’t it be funny if…” We also like longer form stuff in documentary style. In terms of stills, we tend to be drawn to really minimalist approaches.
As a partnership, how do you start the creative process?
Shooting the shit.
There’s no magic formula or set plan. It all starts with two people in a room chatting. Shooting the shit – and throwing the shit away. Some of the shit is good shit, some is bad shit. But if you know your shit, you know the difference. Then some of the good shit starts to stick. Then oh shit, you have an idea.
What are the benefits of working in a partnership? Do you feel you have more of an advantage than creatives that work on their own?
One person looking at a blank page is a lonely place. And we wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
What are your goals as a creative partnership? Is it certain awards? Does that matter?
For us it’s not about the awards, but don’t get us wrong, they’re nice too. It’s about enjoyment. We have a measurement we’ve used for years to gauge it. When we’re on a shoot that’s really fun or in a great location, we have that, “Don’t look now, but we’re in advertising” moment. If we can get three of these moments in a year, then we know we’ve had a good one.
Do you feel working remotely has caused barriers? On another note, has working in this current climate enhanced creativity and the ways we approach creative concepts? Moving forwards has it been more of a positive rather than a negative?
It’s definitely caused barriers in terms of collaborating. Working on a brief usually involves both of us talking all day long. That’s been more difficult when you have to do it over Microsoft Teams. Even harder when the schools close too. But they’re not unsurmountable obstacles. It’s more working around them and adapting. Shooting has changed without a doubt. Producers have probably found it much more difficult and we don’t envy how tricky their job has become. In terms of positives and negatives, we see both. Some clients are being more cautious with budgets, others are reluctant to shoot overseas. And some are finding new ways of talking to customers. Another positive which shouldn’t be overlooked is being able to work in our pants and we’ve fully embraced the elasticated freedom of a soft, stretchy 95% jersey.
What is the most memorable campaign you have worked on and why?
We’ve been fortunate enough to do lots. From a baby dancing to Gangnam, World Cup ads with the England team, to heartbreaking charity campaigns in Uganda or luxury shoots in Monaco. But campaigns are also memorable because of things that happen off camera too. One recent shoot in New York led to a Producer collapsing on a pavement in Little Italy, an airbnb double-booking made us think our house in New Jersey was being robbed and a client that insisted on treating us to his ‘interesting’ version of a Queen classic in a Manhattan karaoke bar.
What has been your proudest career moment?
Finally admitting we don’t play piano in a brothel.
What’s the one piece of advice you’ve been given that has stuck with you?
There’s not one. Work hard and be nice to people, don’t be an asshole sort of advice. Be generous with your talents. We like one about ‘Be a factory, not a warehouse’. Meaning, continue to create and get work out there. Don’t store it in your bottom drawer where it will never see the light of day.
What do you enjoy most about working on a TV campaign?
We always like the spontaneity of it. Seeing something in a performance, or a camera move that you can’t plan for. The ways that make your ad better that were never on the page to begin with. We love the collaboration with all different kinds of creatives, from actors, directors, animators, to composers too. And the catering. Because shoot calories don’t count.
What do you look for when you’re reviewing a director’s treatment?
Do they get it? Are they on the same page to what we’re wanting to achieve? Does their personality come through? What are they bringing to the table and how can they make it better? Are they making us think, we wish we’d thought of that?
What was a standout TV campaign for you in 2020? Either one you have created or just in general and why?
It was 2020. We had other things to think about.
What TV series are you obsessed with at the moment?
It’s an equal array of quality ‘serious’ stuff like Lovecraft Country, Warrior, I May Destroy You - and trash TV such as Emily in Paris, Below Deck and Selling Sunset, A Place in the Sun. But we still keep watching re-runs of Community, Archer, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Midnight Gospel is great too.
Who’s your favourite film director?
Ooof. You can’t ask that. Too hard. Damn. Umm. Del Toro, Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Bigelow, Kurosawa. We could honestly talk about film directors for days, so we’ll cut it short.
Ah, and Goddard.
Have you embraced any new hobbies during the lockdowns?
Not baked banana bread if that’s what you mean. Gaming has taken on a whole new level. Writing more, making prints, publishing writing, selling pints – and struggling to do homework.