Years ago, I was interviewing a young team.
I’d looked through a lot of books and theirs was one of the best.
So I got them in and went through the book again with them.
I said, “I like the work in here, it’s simple and powerful.
But you know I can’t help feeling I’ve seen it before.”
The art director went quiet.
The copywriter said, “No, you won’t have seen any of this before. It’s all spec work, it hasn’t run anywhere.”
I said, “I’m sure I’ve seen this book before.”
The art director looked at the ground.
The copywriter said, “I can assure you haven’t.”
Eventually the art director looked up and said to the copywriter, “He has seen it before. I sent it in on my own, when I heard they were looking for an art director.”
The copywriter said, “You sneaky bastard.”
I thought: I like the art director.
So we decided to give them a three-month trial.
The trouble was we’d also just seen another really good young team.
So I said to both teams, “Look, we can only afford to hire one team.
And we can’t decide which of you is the best.
So we’ll let you decide for us.
We’ll give you both a three month trial and, at the end of that period, the team with the most good work running can have the job.”
So that’s what we did.
And the two teams were really competitive.
Neither was going to let themselves be beaten.
So they both worked flat out not to be the losing team.
In fact they worked so hard that at the end of three months, they both had tons of good work running.
And, more importantly, they’d both won accounts for the agency.
Which meant we now had more money.
So we didn’t have to let either team go after all.
We were able to keep them both on.
One day, about a year later, the other art director said to me he wanted to come to the Monday morning traffic-status meetings.
I thought, that’s great, he wants to help me run the department.
But actually he was smarter than that.
When a brief for a TV campaign would be mentioned he’d quickly say, “We’ll do that.”
So he got to pick the briefs he wanted to work on before they got anywhere near the rest of the creative department.
I thought: I like that art director.
Like great sportsmen, these two art directors really enjoyed competing against each other because they respected each other.
Years later I heard a story about the way they built the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpar.
Apparently the conventional way to build it would have been to have a single large crew building both towers simultaneously.
But they didn’t do that.
They had two separate crews of American workmen.
One for each tower.
Neither crew was going to let the other crew beat them.
So it was a race to be first.
And consequently, the towers were built in record time.
Competition is great as long as it’s open and honest and there’s no politics.
It certainly didn’t do those two young art directors any harm.
Dave Waters won lots of awards, and he went on to open his own agency: Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters.
A couple of years back he sold it to Freud for a lot of money.
Dave Cook also won a of of awards, and then went New York and became creative director of Mad Dogs and Englishmen.
Without competition they’d now be just old art directors, sitting in a pub, talking about all the great work they could have done.