Toby Talbot pulls open the curtain at our Sydney agency to show how great work gets done.


Building a framework for creative thinking
The great work coming out of DDB Sydney is a combination of fresh insights and innovative ideas – ones that may have seemed a bit risky for clients, but proved to strengthen their brands even further. No doubt this fresh thinking is a reflection of the changes within the agency itself. CCO Toby Talbot provides some answers on how to build an environment where creativity thrives.

DDB Sydney feels like a new agency. Where was it at when you first came on board and how do you describe it today?

The building looked tired. The people looked tired. It felt like everyone was sleepwalking through their day when we joined. I heard Lee Clow once say, “Good enough isn’t good enough”. I love that maxim. I injected instant energy and passion into the creative department by hiring four exciting young junior teams from New Zealand (the schools are better there) who joined the day I joined.  I hired technologists and integrated them into the department. I jettisoned most of the middleweight teams and created an hour-glass shaped department with Creative Partners (instead of Creative Directors because they move between clients now) at the top. I also had the offices refurbished, working closely with an eccentric set designer friend of mine who made very little money go a long way (the way set designers do). Ad agencies should look like vibrant, fun places to work. Just as importantly they should feel like it too.

You have turned around quite a few offices in your career. Are there any universal truths to getting done?

Ultimately it always comes down to the people. You can have the fanciest offices in the world and do truly terrible work. The people should be your number one investment. And yes, the world has changed immeasurably. Agencies need to prove their relevance now more than ever. I hired an amazing new Head of Integrated Content from JL in New York, Sevda Cemo. She has introduced a new content division. We have created powerful partnerships with Google, Facebook and Instagram and some of the best digital dev people in town. So now some of the best people who work for DDB Sydney don’t actually work for DDB Sydney.

You are a big believer in integrated creative departments. How do you actually define that and what does it look like in the day-to-day practice at the office?

My creative department is a fruit salad of characters, personalities and skill sets.  No one is the same. And that means the work has got way more interesting. It’s not rocket science. I have integrated more technologists and more pure social people within the team. We all sit together on one long table. Me included. We take it in turn to play our playlists. There’s more laughter. More fun. More sharing. And the work is better for it.

What are your favorite new campaigns and why?

I love the Naked Ute for the Volkswagen Amarok. A pretty ballsy campaign for a new client to run unbranded ads for a week. Especially after the global emissions crisis hit their sales so hard. The cool thing is it paid off. Sales are up 20%.  Inspired by John Lewis, we have also just done a lovely new bit of storytelling for McDonald’s, “I’ll Do Anything For Love”. And for Sydney Opera House, a cool use of a real time Instagram idea, #comeonin.

Does it come down to how people work together?  Is there a procedure for new ideas to surface outside the typical work assignment?

Over the years, I have watched how creative people work best. As a result, we have built more break-out areas. And little rooms I call ‘panic rooms’ where creative just lock themselves away from the outside world and go for it on a script. I have a big ‘Creative Lounge’ (where symbolically our CEO used to have his swanky office!).  I present to clients there all the time. It’s not a sanitized boardroom. It’s an extension of our big open plan creative department. Clients like it because they feel like they’re part of the ‘engine room’ of the agency.

If we were come visit you at the office, what would be the must-sees? And where would we all go out for drinks?

I would show you round the whole agency. It looks cool. Projectors are projecting classic movies on one wall and a reel of timeless Bernbach ads on another.  You’d meet Sevda’s content team and the creative guys on the long table. Then I would take you to Kensington Street Social, the coolest new place in town, which is only 5 minutes walk from the agency.