Lessons from adland legend Keith Reinhard [Cannes Lions]

This week I have been at the Cannes Lions festival of creativity. It’s the largest global gathering of its kind and all the who’s who of advertising are here, as well as all the big tech companies. But by far the most incredible session I was honoured to attend was a presented by Keith Reinhard, Chairman Emeritus of DDB. I honestly think he is the best living godfather of advertising I have ever had the honour of meeting or listening to (and believe me, I get around).

The session was held by the Berlin School of Advertising, the best school for creative leadership in the world (if you ever can, go take a course there). During the session, Reinhard shared some lessons are leadership and advertising. Below are some highlights from the talk.

Innovation is talked about a lot nowadays — the word is synonymous with technology, but really it just means change. As Reinhard says, “change or die. That’s life, standing still is a death sentence.”

The ad world has changed a lot over the years and currently all CEOs and ad execs are having high level meetings to figure out what the future model will be like. Reinhard shared a wonderful story, pointing out how it’s all our own fault.

Some 200 year ago the first ad guy said to a client — “Hey why deal with all these newspapers, I can do it for you, just give me 15%.” It was a good deal so the client went ahead with it. Later the ad guy said “Hey listen I have read your copy and think I can improve it.” So the client said “Great how much will that cost?” The ad guy replied, “Nothing.” so the client went ahead again. Later the ad guy said “Hey these ads would be even better with pictures!” The client said “Great sounds good, how much will that cost?” and the ad guy replied “Nothing.”
Basically we trained our clients from the very beginning to pay nothing for the one thing they can’t and don’t really want to do themselves.

Reinhard also talked about the power of inspiring others, reminding us the job of a creative director is not to create great advertising but to inspire others to create great advertising. If they struggle, below are some tips you can do to try help

  1. You can plant one of your ideas in the head of one of your team, and get them to embrace it, built upon it and make it thier own. (e.g. Hi Chris, that idea you told me about the other day [insert your idea here], it was great, you should look into that more!)
  2. In the absence of the team having ideas, come up with the thread of an idea then challenge your creative team to better it.
  3. Once you have approved an idea, back it all the way.
  4. Learn the art of salesmanship. It’s essential if you want to sell great ideas.
  5. Take responsibility, but remember to give credit to all involved (especially the client)
  6. Be the creative director that everyone wants to work for, if the word gets out that your team are having the most fun and doing the best work, it will get out and you will attract the best people (This can become a wonderful vicious circle).
  7. Reinhard said the ultimate leadership question is “Why would anyone want to follow you?”

    Advertising is very complicated today, and things have changed, but the shift from atoms to bits has not changed the fundamentals. Human nature remains the same. We still burn with the drive to succeed, to survive, to love, and to take care of one’s own. “The importance of brands has not changed,” Reinhard said. Nor has the importance of ideas. The nature of leadership is also unchanged. In order to lead oneself, Reinhard says, you need to have a dream, the passion to pursue it, the persistence to see it through, and the curiosity to do it all over again. Leading others—a learned skill, not a bestowed title—depends on sharing your vision and values while helping others grow and keeping them inspired.

    Reinhard finished the session by sharing a story of the best advice he ever received. It was from Lewis Thomas, who used to head up the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre. Thomas said, “If you want a bee to make honey, you do not issue a memorandum on solar navigation or protocols on carbohydrate chemistry. You do what you can to arrange the environment around the hive, and when the air is right the science will come.”

    If you ever have the chance to listen to him talk, or meet Reinhard in person, please do yourself a favour and cancel everything to make it happen. The fact this hero of creativity and humanity in our industry isn’t spoken about more is a crime, what a true gentleman.



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