Creative Conversations: Thibaut Duverneix + Croix Gagnon
In today’s edition of Creative Conversations, YGX Thibaut Duverneix exchanges ideas with YG9 Croix Gagnon. YG11 Call for Entries opens May 1.
Thibaut Duverneix: How did you get into advertising?
Croix Gagnon: Well, I studied artificial intelligence and psychology in university. I was going to get a dual degree while I was in Edinburgh, Scotland. Then I realized I didn’t like programming at all so I dropped the artificial intelligence side of it and then just graduated with a degree in psychology. One of my good friends’ Dad was one of the founders of M&C Saatchi. I hadn’t really been exposed to advertising before meeting him, but through that connection I saw that this was a career that was fun, being able to get creative and make ideas. I started researching on how to get into it. I didn’t really want to go back to school, but reluctantly signed up for more school after the end of college knowing that it payoff and I would be able to do what I wanted to do. I knew the psychology degree was not a great way to get into advertising. So I went to Miami Ad School in Hamburg. It was a year after they’d opened so it was still pretty new. I really enjoyed the program there and I interned all over the place.
The last of my internships was with Nogi Noda, a director in Tokyo. That was an amazing experience. I had always really admired her so it was interesting to see how she worked and to actually get to work with one of my role models. Then I moved back to San Francisco wanting to be back to the US because I was in Europe for about six years before that. I grew up in Seattle so I wanted to be closer to home. So then I graduated and applied at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.
Thibaut: What certainly stands out in your work is that it seems like you have a lot of freedom in the creative process. To me it’s always a struggle dealing with a client and pushing them to take a risk and to trust you. I just wonder how you deal with that.
Croix: It’s always a struggle. The work in my portfolio is by far a small minority of the
work that I produced because you don’t have that kind of freedom with most projects especially the bigger clients. I think that was one of the reasons I wanted to come to work at Wieden+Kennedy, where I am now, because it’s just a place where they have more trusting relationships with clients. Like, besides having clients that are iconic and famous, they want to make great work. So I think it’s easier to be in a place where it’s understood that the clients are at Wieden+Kennedy because they know what sort of work they are going to get. It makes it easier for us as creatives for sure. It’s a constant struggle, even among a great set of clients. There are always people who are easier to work with or some projects that are easier to work on than others. And I think Old Spice is a perfect example. That has been an amazing experience because all these people before me did a lot of work to get that account to where it is now. It was amazing working with a client where we could really show them anything and they’d consider it, and in most cases be really interested in making it. The work that’s reflected on my site is the work that I want to share with people and it’s the work where I feel my voice is still heard in the end product. We’re always struggling to keep our personal sense of humor or personal taste evident in the work, but a lot of times, especially with big clients when there’s lots of money and lots of people involved your voice can get drowned out amongst everybody else’s.
Thibaut: So how do you know when to let go?
“I constantly ask myself, what am I willing to give up to make something happen, but at the same time still want to make?”
Croix: It’s difficult. You start out wanting to be really idealistic and never compromising on anything, but as an art director within an agency setting, I think that’s a quick way to not produce much work. Especially when you’re working with Creative Directors, you’re there to support their role, everybody is working like a team and you’re solving problems ultimately. Everybody needs to help solve the problem which exists within the client’s organization.
So, I think the more you let go the more chance you have to sort of sell work, but then I think the worst case for any creative person is to be working on something which isn’t anything you want to make. Especially if you’re making something that costs a lot of money and it’s going to take months to make. It’s a painful experience if you’re no longer interested in the idea, but you still have to see it through. So I constantly ask myself, what am I willing to give up to make something happen, but at the same time still want to make? A lot of time if it’s not working I will try to see if I can suggest a completely different idea or do something that doesn’t compromise the core concept if possible.
I think everybody has their own line in the sand to how much they are willing to bend on changes and compromises. But I think a lot of times too it depends on who you are working with. For the most part there are a lot of smart people out there and just because somebody suggests something different than what you saw in your head, it’s worth considering. I’ve definitely seen people make recommendations to me and my writing partners where initially we thought they were making the idea worse, but in the end we were proved wrong. So I think there’s always something to be gained from at least considering another way to do something.
Thibaut: Sometimes you just get an idea and it’s almost finished and then the client gets cold feet. That happened to me a couple of times and it becomes very frustrating because the whole thing is gone and you have to rework it. Maybe it’s because we are in Canada, but they don’t really value the project manager’s side of it. And I think it is really really important because they’re the ones who sell your ideas to the clients and manage distribution.
Croix: Yeah that’s definitely true here. I mean I think great account people are a huge asset. They make your life so much easier and they help you avoid problems because they know the clients much better. When everybody is doing the work to the best of their abilities, a lot of times it comes together in a way that almost seems easy. If the idea is good, the client is good and the account people are good, and everybody is working as a team, it really can be easy. I think some of my favorite work has also been the easiest work to produce. And then I’ve worked on projects where it’s been a struggle and I still end up with something that I am not proud of.
Thibaut: I think that is something I am starting to learn a lot. I need to learn to be more emotionally detached from work. I come from a different background, I come from music and computer science and then I went to fine arts because I didn’t want to program anymore. I have an operation, which on one side is in installation, movies, music, photography, whatever. Then there is the advertising work and it is really hard for me to detach myself because most of the people who want to work with me in advertising want to because of my artwork.
Croix: I work with artists because of their unique style, but obviously that comes out of having complete creative freedom. If I really like somebody for a project, but I know they won’t have the freedom that they will need to have to get the end product I am looking for, then a lot of times I just won’t even approach them because they know it can be painful to be pulled in different directions. You want to stay true to your voice as well as having to meet all these requests from the clients side. It’s kind of a catch 22 because I feel like advertising is sort of this expensive set of crayons where you get to work with the best people, where you get to work with all the fanciest new toys and there’s all this support because everybody is getting paid to work on it. But you definitely give something up to get all of those resources.