A Spark of Creativity

What does it take for advertisers to succeed in the South African market? Eoin Welsh, Chief Creative Officer, Havas Johannesburg has the answer—along with a few tips on how to spark creativity within any team.

Tell us about your background.

I’m Irish-born and South African-bred. I came to these sunny shores when I was six years old.

I have a Bachelor of Arts Degree, and I majored in English Literature and World Religions.

So, tell us about your professional journey.

I started as a blurb writer for property ads—the kind of thing you see in the Saturday Star. From there, I cut my teeth as the only copywriter in a below-the-line agency then I got my first big agency break at Y&R. Next stop was Ogilvy, then FCB, where I grew from Senior Writer to Executive Creative Director. I then took on the challenge of starting the Johannesburg arm of King James, where in four years I helped build it from just four people, including me, and one small account, to more than 25 people and several major brands, including South African fast food giant Steers, MINI, Deloitte, and South African Revenue Services. I had a short, ill-fated run at starting my own business, and then I joined the Lowe Group, spending two years at Lowe South Africa and another two years at Lowe Prague. These were followed by short stints at MetropolitanRepublic and Leo Burnett, before my current gig as Chief Creative Officer of Havas Johannesburg.

How do you inspire creativity within your team?

Be brave. Be fresh. Be sponges for every experience the world has to offer. You can’t be inspiring unless you’re inspired.

How do you inspire yourself?

Always look for magic. Always look to the future. Never stop learning.

Which characteristics make for a successful chief creative officer?

Patience. Empathy. Being able to see the bigger picture. An ability to herd cats. Above all, the ability to spot raw magic.

What makes a campaign effective?

It communicates the right message in a way that’s engaging, involving, and rewarding.

What does it take for global brands to succeed in the South African market?

A far better understanding of the diversity that makes this nation unique and special.  

What areas of opportunity do you see that remain untapped in South Africa?

Genuine insights into local culture, especially mass market. Too much of what we say still comes from generalized observations and clichés, not genuine insights.

How are you helping to foster collaboration within your team?

No team here is dedicated to one specific account. Creative directors take responsibility for the brands, while the teams work on every brand. So there is perpetual interaction between the teams—sharing work and thinking with each other to make it better and richer. I believe that is how we have built a future-fit team.

What work is your team most proud of right now?

We are proud of all our work. In fact, we created a highlight reel to put the spotlight on some of the work that we’ve done in 2017.

But some of our standout work includes: Durex “The Big O,” which encouraged South Africans to have a more open, candid conversation about safe sex and healthy choices. And a piece of creative work that we’re proud of was for Jozi Cats, South Africa’s first gay Rugby club. “Rugby That’s So Gay” is a great spot that promoted the Rugby club mission to provide a safe space for sports-loving men who happen to be gay.

What do you want everyone to know about you and your team?

There are no rock stars here. Just honest-to-goodness humans with a flair for connecting with people.

What’s the biggest tech trend making an impact on the advertising industry?

First, big data—and not in a good way. Second: artificial intelligence. I think that the jury’s still out on whether this is good or bad.

What’s the best advice you have for a young professional in his or her 20s or 30s?

Right now, invest in yourself and your work. Money will come later. Show the world what you can do, while you still have the time and freedom to do it purely.