Craig Davis: On the Move, Constantly

By Prajjal Saha and Biprorshee Das , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | August 10, 2010
One of the most celebrated creative professionals globally, Publicis Mojo Australia's chief creative officer takes afaqs! through his career and says how travelling and working around the world has helped him be better at his work

Starting out with his own advertising agency in Australia to heading global creative teams at leading creative agencies across the world and eventually launching Brand Karma, a brand-centric social media website, this Aussie takes creativity very seriously indeed.

& #BANNER1 & #Moving around seems to be something Craig Davis, co-chairman and chief creative officer, Publicis Mojo Australia has been doing for almost forever. After deciding on various career options that "sounded fantastic", it was late in life that he chose advertising.

Finding his place

At one stage I wanted to sail all the time. Then you also go through the time when you want to be an astronaut but then you didn't have an Australian space programme. You must go to India to become one. I wanted to be a chef. Just before going to university, I also did law. Just a month before that I was going to do social work," Davis laughs.

The job assignments Davis took up to pay his way through university and doing what he calls "strange courses" had little to do with advertising. Among other things, he worked as a trainee broker in an investment company and even helped set up a finance arm for Hewlett Packard.

"I decided on HP because it was next door to the university. I could enroll full time and work full time and get away with it, which I did. I managed to finish university. HP paid me. I had a clean conscience when I left," he says.

He soon teamed up with friends who were studying fashion design to start a company that would do fashion shows. Davis was 22 then. After having done that for a few years, a major turning point arrived when he decided to take up a 12-week course in advertising and once again, he took up a job in another finance company writing financial documents and prospectuses to fund his course.

"I needed another change and thought advertising seemed interesting. While we were doing what we were (doing fashion shows), we came to the edge of advertising quite often," says Davis.

Finishing the course, he ventured out to start his own agency with a former client from the fashion industry. New business came in the form of fashion labels and also from his ex-employers.

Journey's beginning

It was good fun but it was a very meagre existence in the beginning. It was the time when I actually lived in the office because I could not afford the rent anywhere else. Then slowly things got better and I could pay other people and also pay myself. I could also afford some rent somewhere," he remembers.

Running the agency for around nine years and successfully so, Davis' next defining moment arrived when David Droga (Saatchi & Saatchi's creative head in Singapore), whom Davis met during the advertising course, suggested that he move to Singapore and work with Saatchi. Droga was leaving Singapore to move to Saatchi, London.

"I went to Singapore, had a look at Saatchi, a chat with Dave and that was it really. Things were happening fast. I got to Singapore by January-end, 1999," Davis says. Coming to Cannes after that and meeting Bob Isherwood, the then worldwide chief creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi gave Davis the opportunity to run the whole of the region for the agency, which meant moving to yet another city, Hong Kong.

"I was not sure if I was ready to move since we had just come to Singapore. Nonetheless, I went to Hong Kong with my wife. My wife liked the place and we moved in the beginning of 2000. We stayed there for four years. I loved it there," he says.

Recalling those days, Davis says, "I spent a lot of time in China, Japan and India with Saatchi. I had a wonderful time and met a lot of great people. Those were terrific years." Soon Davis decided to move on but decided not to return to Australia. He chose to live in London with his wife and children instead and he headed off to join JWT London. Davis was soon given the responsibility to run the agency's work in Europe, Middle East and Africa and further down the line was handed the global reins.

"It was great fun and a big challenge. It was an exercise in cultural engineering really. It was a combination of being very clear about what everyone at the company was supposed to do and then getting people either motivated to do that or bring people in to do that," he says of his JWT stint.

Living with change

Four years hence, Davis after having discussed with his family decided to return to Australia. The constant moving, Davis says, helped him become comfortable with change. "I like it. I really enjoyed it. One of the things I enjoyed most working out of Australia was working with people from absolutely different backgrounds and culture. I love the unfamiliarity of that," he exclaims.

Davis says that the one thing he remembers most is being given the same piece of advice at three different points in his career by three different people. Ursula Hufnagl, who ran one of the biggest photographic and model agency in Australia while Davis was running his fashion company, one of his former employers during his pre-advertising days and Alan Webber, editor of Harvard Business Review once had one common advice to give him: 'Always work with the very best people.'

"I have always been easily led. I have always been curious about new things. I think that is why I love this business because it is always changing. There is no room for getting bored. I have done this for 20 years now."

Marrying creativity with curiosity is what he considers to be one of his strongest virtues. He says, "Curiosity is a great thing. You cannot be in any way a creative person without being fundamentally a curious person. That is the raw material you work with in your brain. If you do not have that you cannot make anything."

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