Unplugging and Reconnecting

In our ever-expanding digital, always-on world, Darren Richardson makes it a point to unplug and reconnect with the physical world once a week. “Ideas come from experiences, not from sitting in front of a screen,” says Richardson, the new European Digital Executive Creative Director and Chief Creative Officer at Havas Düsseldorf. Here the former software programmer shares why failure leads to better results, how good creative leads know when to get out of the way, and why he’s a fan of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

Tell us about your background.

I started as a software programmer when the Internet was on dialup modems and wasn’t visually appealing, but it fascinated me—and I was hooked. Then Adobe Flash came on the market, and I started making websites, etc. I became a little bit of a name in the UK and was asked to co-write a couple of books and many articles for web magazines.

From there I worked at a couple of smaller agencies and then digital advertising agencies like R/GA and Isobar in London as Creative Tech Director. I then learned some core skills in TV and print at 180 Amsterdam and Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Toronto as ETCD and CD.

Then I came back to Europe—Germany to be specific—five years ago as an ECD and then quickly after nine months was promoted to CCO of BBDO and Proximity Worldwide Düsseldorf, running both agencies and turning them around, doubling revenue and awards in three years. In 2016, I helped BBDO Group Germany become the No. 1 advertising agency in the country.

I am now European Digital Executive Creative Director and Chief Creative Officer at Havas Düsseldorf.

Tell us about your new roles. What do you hope to accomplish? Why did this opportunity appeal to you?

I have a dual role working with [Executive Creative Director Europe] Eric Schoeffler to help increase our creative output quality and new business in the digital space.

Secondly, and a big focus for me at the moment is getting the Düsseldorf agency on the radar in Germany creatively. We have the people motivated to change, and I see buckets of potential.

The main reason I took on this challenge is because I can see the network has all the right capabilities with creativity, media and data and the talent to move the needle, creating a really unique proposition for clients, and also great opportunities for talent.

And, honestly, because I knew Eric and Thomas and really wanted to work with them and be a part of the Havas success story.

How will be the objectives in your new role differ from the past?

Honestly, I see no change from any other agency I have been at. We need to get some fresh international talent. Then get the work better. Get invited to great brand pitches. Win pitches. Win awards. Repeat. 

How do you inspire creativity amongst your team?

I simply start by forcing them to connect and talk to each other.

We all have different pasts and experiences that help us bring ideas to the table, so we have to be an open collective and share, test and learn.

I’m a massive fan of testing and learning, I believe you get better results without the fear of failure.

Also, I like to inject a massive dose of fun. We have the best job in the world, we create experiences for others enjoyment, surely fun has to be had while creating that experience.

As you can see I am a fan of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

How do you inspire yourself?

My family, my kids, and wife come up with some crazy ideas, and we like to have at least one family outing during the weekend, where I can get away from the computer and iPhone and just take in all that is around me.

Ideas come from experiences, not from sitting in front of a screen.

Which characteristics make up a successful chief creative officer?

Having a vision for the agency and the type of work you want the world to see. Getting the right talent and putting the best creative culture in place for them to work.

You need to be the energy and the engine of the agency, driven and determined to succeed. You need to be confident in your decision-making but not so arrogant that you think that you always know best.

You need to mentor and inspire, then get out of the way, and let the creatives create and be there when they need you.

What makes a campaign effective?

Campaigns that have a purpose and meaning that connect with the consumer.

I know I basically just said the Havas mission, but I also believe this. That’s why I joined the group.

Plus, being a geeky guy I like the idea of bringing innovation and media together with creative. It’s a great proposition and a different one from many other groups.

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

We have to change the way we see advertising. Advertising no longer has to be the 30-second TV spot or the billboard—though these still have a place—but what excites me is that we can advertise and also give something back.

Good examples are the Nivea Doll and the Spanish lessons from Netflix’ Narcos, both give something back and make you want to engage with the brand.

Bring a meaningful connection to consumers.

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

I think VR has suddenly become more mainstream, now shopping malls are selling VR headsets. I remember doing my first branded VR experience four years ago. I think it was too soon as nobody really knew what it was and thought it was just a gimmick. Now when I look at the latest innovative work on TheFWA.comI’m a permanent judge—it seems to all be in the VR area.

Of course, I will also say data. We have been talking about data and big data since at least 2012 where it was massive at SXSW. Now brands are really seeing the benefit and embracing the potential it gives.

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

Be silly and have fun.

Be bold and brave with your work.

Be kind and respectful to others.

Then you will be awesome to work with and you will do great work.