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Creativity Squared: Patrick Murphy on Discovering Art in Advertising

Pat is the proud father of a boy and a girl (14 year old twins) and a 16 year old boy. He’s a mad collector of old toys, an art lover, and he loves his music – especially on vinyl. And, when he has time, he likes to paint from time to time.

For him, these interests aren’t just hobbies – they’re core elements of his being that underpin every little facet of his work philosophy.

Now working as co-creative director at Chemistry, Pat took the time to talk to LBB about his creative philosophy. He told us why the industry needs to take itself less seriously, how music and art have shaped his career, and how he works to give clients the freedom to fly with their ideas.

THE PERSON

I like to say that I’m someone who tries not to take life too seriously. My animal personality (according to Nigel Risner’s Animal Flex profiling), sees me as an ape, someone who doesn’t like much detail and needs to keep moving forward. Like a kid in a candy store, I often have a short attention span. It’s because I always seek to achieve that golden idea through spontaneity – without getting drawn into the details.

My Monkey side likes to share ideas and have lots of laughs along the way. It’s easy to get bogged down during the creative process in this industry, but we have to remember that we’re not saving lives, so why not have fun with it?

When it comes to making decisions, I’m outgoing and impulsive. Although I am perceived as easy-going by many, I can also be quite cautious in my creative process and let go of people who I perceive to have a negative attitude or lack enthusiasm.

I think creativity is innate, I believe you are born with it, but you grow forever as you go through life with all your experiences along the way.

As for my inspiration, I love immersing myself in art, theater and music, especially David Bowie, who was constantly changing with the times. Over the years, I have learned a lot from my wonderful children. They kept me young and updated on the latest trends in music, art and technology.

Routines are not for me. I’m constantly looking for ways to keep my life interesting. Whether painting outside of work or building something. If you told me I had to approach the creative process the same way every day, I’d probably jump out the office window. This is probably the very reason I was drawn to this job – no two days are alike!

As Bowie once said “I don’t know where I’m going with this but I promise it won’t be boring”.

PRODUCT

When evaluating ideas for creative work, I tend to be pretty decisive – I’m not a procrastinator. The work must be unique and original, something I have never seen before. I look at what the challenge is and decide if the idea met the brief. Will it create conversation and is it unexpected?

The campaigns I really enjoy creating are the ones that make you a little nervous about working and taking on the challenge of succeeding. For example, “How old are you really?” by Sovereign. With this campaign, we used makeup to age people without revealing what was going on – until we turned them in the mirror and confronted them with their internal health age, whether they were older or younger. The younger ones were pleasantly surprised – the older ones less so!

What frustrates me right now is that our industry is getting incredibly woke and PC, which I think is hampering creativity. All the rules about what we can and can’t say in advertising lest we offend someone are killing humor in our industry.

There also seems to be a lot of manifestos written on top of stunning images, which makes it very confusing for viewers, who don’t know exactly what the company is about and don’t remember the brand. However, I hope the pendulum will one day turn and return to where we can have more creative fun again.

There isn’t really remarkable work for me at the moment; but the ones I love are the ones that make me smile and have a simple message. With so many platforms and ever shorter attention spans due to social media, we need to be creative, smarter and unexpected.

One of the best campaigns I’ve ever worked on, which has won many awards (including a gold Clio a few years ago), would have to be “BNZ Body Parts” because of its audacity, bravery and his audacity. We would never get out of this today. At the time, BNZ wanted to attract more students to help ease the pressure of ongoing costs through a student loan. Our idea was that you don’t have to sell your members to find the money to go through Uni – there are better ways to go about it. And BNZ can help.

More recently, I loved the campaign we worked on for Jaguar. The aim was to find a way to welcome new Jaguar owners on board. We had already sent two stunning limited edition artworks from Otis Frizzell featuring Jaguar’s signature Leaper and Growler, but had to come up with a third. It became ‘Painting with light’. With the help of photographer Jeff Wood, artist Otis and none other than motor racing legend Greg Murphy, we created a work of art together that was ‘painted’ by a Jaguar I-PACE . It was then printed and sent to the owners.

It became an impressive ‘Making of’ TV commercial and video. I think it’s one of my favorites because nobody really knew how it would work, but everyone loved the idea and wanted it to work as a team.

TREAT

I like to start a campaign or a creative project with a great SMP and a lot of insight. I have always enjoyed working in a team and exchanging ideas with each other. When you work as a team, you or your partner can trigger a thought or have the seed of an idea, and together you bring it to life and make it into something special.

I tend to start with a blank sheet of paper and jot down whatever comes to mind. I then clarify my ideas. It’s a bit cliché, but I still believe that “no idea is a bad idea”.

I tend to work on the best ideas before presenting them to customer service. We will then refine the ideas together before developing something. Sometimes we can take the client on the journey and share the best ideas early, so they feel part of the creative process.

The advantage is that the client is not surprised when the ideas come to fruition; there are no “Ta Da” moments for our clients, which really helps when we get closer to that execution phase of a campaign.

While creatives are often seen as sensitive creatures who are tied to their own ideas, I try not to be overly precious about what we come up with. If someone on the team can improve the idea or make it better than you imagine, then great.

I don’t think you ever know when a job is done – there will always be something you could have done better or added to, but at some point you have to stop tinkering.

Campaigning can be a slow and painful process, as we all know, but that’s okay. Don’t forget to make sure it ends as well as possible so you can be proud of it. If you’re passionate about the idea, you’ll quickly forget the pain or frustration you went through to get there, especially when people and clients rave about it, or better yet, you win an award for the client and the agency.

When it comes to deadlines, I’d rather have less time to come up with an idea than spend days struggling with ideas because the brief isn’t quite right. Years ago, a creative director told me that if you take days to come up with an idea, nine times out of 10 the brief is wrong, so question it from the start. It’s important to get it right the first time.

HURRY

What external factors have shaped you and can make or break a creative idea?

I grew up in Palmerston North, a small rural town in New Zealand, and I still get pissed off about it. However, I actually had some wonderful times at Palmy, especially during my high school years, which I would say helped shape the person I am today. Initially, I wanted to be an architect, but I was hopeless in physics and mathematics. So I was encouraged to do art, which luckily I had a flair for.

In high school it was my art teacher Warren Smith who really encouraged me to apply and stay stuck in the advertising industry by submitting a portfolio to Wellington Polytechnic to do visual communication and advertising.

When it comes to making or breaking an idea, I believe that agencies should follow the chops. They must create a culture that encourages creativity. The best way for agencies to facilitate creativity in terms of culture and design would be to inspire them and help them continually evolve in their work. Of course, it also goes without saying, whatever you do, surround yourself with crazy gifted people.