Interview: Brendan Donnelly – Creative Director, M&C Saatchi

Brendan Donnelly (pictured above, left, alongside work partner Guy Futcher) is a Creative Director at leading agency, M&C Saatchi. Crossing The Line took the time to put some questions into his busy schedule for our latest industry interview.

When he’s not surfing, skating, riding bikes or spending time with his two young boys, Brendan Donnelly keeps himself busy as a Creative Director at M&C Saatchi. The son of a Catholic Irish family, his first job was, naturally, at the Australian Jewish News. From there he mostly taught himself web design and followed his wife to Perth, entering the ad world at The Brand Agency Perth. Returning to Sydney after 6 years, he worked at Ja nuber of the top agencies in town, before finding a home at M&C. Brands such Tourism Australia, NRMA Insurance, McDonald’s, VW, Woolworths, Samsung, Kellogg’s and much more have felt the benefit of his creativity, with his work winning close to 100 awards at just about every major show on the advertising industry calendar.

What made you get into this industry? Is there a defining moment or memory?

Short or long story?…

At school I was into art, woodwork, photography along with surf and skate magazines and graphics. I left school with good marks but no good plans, I went along to the local university to enrol in something, anything, the place freaked me out so instead I went and enrolled at TAFE to study graphic design.

What was your first job and how did you progress to where you are now?

I spent six years as a designer/art director in the production department of a newspaper then a medical communications company. These jobs taught me to work to tight deadlines. Then I got into web design which led me to my first job in an agency.

What are some of the biggest changes you have seen in the industry since you began?

Obviously the introduction of the digital world. I started in the Bromide room when I worked for the newspaper and doing paste up art, then we started sending photos via email – that was cutting edge! Another big change is the increase in competition for everything, budgets being spread over more media channels, multi agencies working on one client.

How do you manage freedom of creativity with client demands or expectations?

You need to remind yourself we work in the field of art and commerce, so we need to push the creative but don’t forget there’s a client with a message who’s paying for this. Clients look to us for the creative layer but it’s their brand going out into the world. Building a good relationship and trust with your client allows you to push the work. This can take time.

Can you describe how the perfect creative team should work?

It’s great if you can complement each other. Have that yin/yang to balance each others skills. You need to respect and listen to each other. I’ve been working with my partner Guy for ten years, our best work has been when one of us comes in with a thought and the other helps mold it into an idea.

Brendan (above) working on serious business while shooting up in Kakadu.

What are the biggest challenges facing the industry today?

The long list of media deliverables for each campaign feels like we need to deliver more ideas in the same time and budget. The other challenge is clients using multiple agencies so there’s allot of competition rather than building one strong relationship.

What one piece of advice would you give to a soon-to-be graduate?

Listen. The real problem is not always obvious and there’s so many opinions but listen and be open to the people around you.

What is the one TV commercial you wish you had done?

Not a TV commercial but I’m jealous of Gatorade Replay, what a great story. Not only do I look at this from a work perspective but on a personal level it’s the kind of thing I’d love to be able to go back and replay a moment in life again. This is one of the early examples of branded entertainment and still one of the best.


How long should it take to write an award winning TV commercial?

Probably my most awarded spot was written in a few minutes. I don’t think there’s any rules, some work you slave over and other times something simple just clicks.


Do creative teams these days, know how to write to a budget?

Nope, have creatives ever stuck to a budget?

Do copywriters and art directors understand the technology being used today to create commercials?

If you’ve had the experience you usually do, you need to take an interest in the production process.

Where do great ideas come from?

What did that computer in Willy Wonka say? “I could tell you but that would be cheating”

We should ask that computer in Willy Wonka.

How important are awards to your life and or career?

Personally I’m not over fussed with a big chunk of expensive metal hanging around. I always wonder about other industries and if they have so many awards. I’d find it more rewarding when an idea takes the imagination of the public. But saying that awards can get you noticed which is great for your career. Two things that I like about awards is they help an agency entice good talent, then we get to use that talent with our clients, plus they create a great catalogue of the year’s best work.

Do so called scam ads have a place in our industry?

Scam no, but a proactive piece of work does. I don’t think the best ideas always come from client briefs, sometimes great ideas need to find clients.

We get so caught up on the rules in these award shows Vs just enjoying the creativity. What if we looked at advertising awards like a haute couture fashion show – you don’t expect to see those outfits walking down main street but you appreciate the impact they have on trends.

Has digital changed your world and how long ago was that?

Yes, in ‘99 it was the thing that opened the door to advertising, moving from a graphic design job to web designer for an agency. These days it feels like digital creates a whole lot of extra work, some good, some bad.

Given the changing nature of the media spread, with digital encroaching into traditional main stream media, does the same creative work across all these different platforms?

The same idea can, but not always the exact same creative. Sometimes we roll out matching luggage but a good idea should embrace the medium it’s best presented in, whether that’s digital or traditional media. Traditional and digital platforms can be used to support each other and we shouldn’t try to make each medium do everything i.e., let the long form come to life in an online film with all the information you need to deliver and use the outdoor to simply support the top line brand idea.


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