An English man walks into a Nigerian bar. This isn't a joke, it's a real life fact. The name of the man is John Pallant, he is Regional Creative Director for EMEA at Saatchi & Saatchi and his barhopping in Nigeria has a noble purpose: he is doing research for a new campaign. After 20 years in the field, John is still not tired of advertising. On the contrary, just as he told us before, he thinks these are fascinating times for the industry. Find out next what led him to this, how Nigeria was like, when and why he got into advertising, but also which are his all time favourite campaigns.
I grew up in idyllic rural Yorkshire in the North of England, running wild in the countryside, dreaming of being James Bond or The Man from Uncle (an TV show from the US about secret agents).
Adolescence was the period my family moved to Portsmouth, a city and naval port on the south coast of England, where I had to toughen up and become more streetwise.
In high school, I was the guy with the Yorkshire accent – but not for long. I got mocked for it, so I picked up a Portsmouth accent very quickly.
I wasn’t that crazy in my youth, but the craziest thing that springs to mind was turning up at a disco at a youth club on a tough housing estate, thinking I would be welcome. I wasn’t.
In college, I studied psychology. But I didn’t work as hard as I should have done. And to this day I remember, when the year came to take my final exams, I realized I hadn’t got half the notes I needed on many topics and then had to work very, very hard and very quickly to create them. I left with my degree, but I still have nightmares about it.
I feel young most of the time. And only old, when I pick up yet another new sports injury.
I got my first paycheck, working at a kiosk on the seafront, serving ice cream. I saved up and went round Europe on an Inter-Rail ticket to many of the places I travel to now.
I decided to get a job in advertising because I hadn’t been successful in finding a job related to my studies, and it sounded like fun.
My first job was in the publicity department of a company that made scientific equipment for schools, writing brochures and press releases. But my real press campaign in a real agency was for a bicycle retailer called Halfords – it got into D&AD and was came second in the retail category at a UK print festival. My first TV campaign – shortly after that - was for Fire Prevention, warning people of the dangers of falling asleep while smoking in bed and on the sofa. It won a Silver Lion. I would still put them both in my portfolio.
I have been lucky to work for several great agencies, and for lots of great clients. But the most awarded idea of all was a cinema commercial for British Airways, which won Cannes Gold, D&AD Silver, and Gold and Best of Show (Grand Prix) at the NY One Show. It was a combination of film and theatre, with an actress planted in the audience interacting with characters on the screen.
The project I really wanted to work out but didn’t, was an idea we pitched to Gucci, a contemporary opera which we proposed would tour the world, based on a lovely story about Grace Kelly and the creation of the Gucci Flora scarf. Gucci didn’t appoint any of the agencies in the pitch in the end, perhaps for financial reasons, and the work that they produced instead in-house was disappointing.
In order to better understand what our Guinness Africa client wanted, I went to Nigeria and hung out in lots of tiny back street bars and met lots of people. It really was personally, as well as professionally, inspiring. The positivity in that country is incredible. The stories that our creative teams came back with became TV scripts, and gave the campaign an authenticity that it would never have had otherwise.
The best piece of advice I received in the industry was the first: from my first Creative Director who said that hard work was more important than talent. It takes lots of ideas to get from ‘good’ to ‘great’. So I decided to put everything I could into it and didn’t take any holiday for three years.
A lesson I learnt the hard way? To be honest, everything I have learnt was learnt the hard way. This is a challenging job, even if it can be a fun job, and to try to be the best every day takes a lot of energy and persistence, with many obstacles along the way.
Everything would run a lot more smoothly in this industry if we didn’t care so much, if we didn’t want to push the boundaries, but we do.
I look at advertising juniors nowadays and I think they are starting in the business at the most exciting time, with all the new channels and opportunities, and all the technological innovation to come.
I hope to get to work as often as possible with clients who want their work to be the best it can possibly be. And as seldom as possible with clients who are rude or who do not see our relationship as a partnership and take responsibility.
What is great about our agency is the legacy of amazing work that inspires us daily to reach for the stars, and also our collaborative nature, which allows our offices to work together in an unusually fluid and harmonious way.
A Saatchi example of an international brand with a great strategy in my region is T-mobile, with "Life is for Sharing". This has given us the opportunity to produce much outstanding work over several years, and in many different markets.
It has produced award winning TV commercials like "Dance" and "Welcome Home", outdoor events like "Singalong" drawing tens of thousands of people, and some of the most shared virals like "Royal Wedding" and "Angry Birds". It has also given us some of our strongest fully-integrated campaign stories, with some great business results for our client. Even the smallest markets have created interesting local initiatives under this umbrella.
Another recent favourite of mine is the P&G Ariel Fashion Shoot from our office in Sweden, a simple product demonstration, which took the form of an innovative online game – which people queued up to play right across the Nordics - as well as an installation, so that people could experience it in the real world too. You got to virtually control a robotic gun and shoot ketchup and soy sauce at targets which were all fashionable clothes. If you hit them, we washed them, made them as good as new and sent them to you.
Also, I have to mention our two big winners from last year.
"Blood Relations" from Saatchi Israel, the Israeli/Palestinian blood donation project.
"Integration Day: from Saatchi Italy - they replaced the main actors in TV commercials with actors with Downs Syndrome just for the day.
Both were extremely effective, and also between them they won 11 Gold Lions, which made me very excited and proud.
At the weekend, I get into fights. I’ve been studying martial arts for about 15 years now, a great antidote to whatever else happens in the week.
The book I’ve read many times is "Impro" by Keith Johnstone, a drama school teacher’s guide to improvisation games and exercises, which we use in all our creative training workshops for junior teams across the region.
At the moment, I turn up the volume whenever I hear Daft Punk with Nile Rogers - surely the feelgood track of the year.
I will never grow tired of watching any Cohen Brothers’ movie, and I never miss the News.
And my browser history will reveal the relentless search for anything new and different that we can use in our work. Jean Luc Goddard said that it’s not where you take things from, it’s where you take them to!