Interviews

Richard Miles, Creative Director, Therapy

As an active member of PrideAM, Richard Miles is on the vanguard of a new breed of creatives ensuring greater representation and cultural currency in advertising.

Izzy Ashton

Assistant Editor, BITE

Share


"Exciting, progressive and another significant step forward for the UK's ad industry". Richard Miles, Creative Director of Therapy is describing the power of Talk Talk embracing LGBT representation. Yet his words could just as easily apply to the impact of his own creative career.

As an active member of PrideAM, Miles is on the vanguard of a new breed of creatives ensuring greater representation and cultural currency in advertising. The group's annual Creative Review provides a much needed roadmap for change for the industry, with a thoughtful analysis of the brands getting it right and those missing the mark when it comes to LGBT+ representation.

The efforts come in the midst of a fundamental reappraisal of gender constructs in society, with significant implications for the industry. According to the Office of National Statistics, the UK government defines gender as “a social construction relating to behaviours and attributes based on labels of masculinity or femininity; gender identity is a personal, internal perception of oneself.” The personal nature of gender is something that is not openly or often discussed within the industry or even in society. Gender is perceived to be something affixed to you by societal norms.

Leaders have to stand up. All you have to do is something.

Richard Miles

As Miles explains people’s personal gender decisions should be respected by the organisations they work for and by the brands that serve them. And they’re not. What Miles feels is that “leaders have to stand up. All you have to do is something.”

Putting this mantra into practice he is launching a new app called The Right Pronoun, which was designed with consultation from Brand Advance agency and the trans youth charity Mermaids. As Miles outlines, it’s “like spellcheck for gender pronouns.” All an individual does is copy and paste the relevant text whether that be email, induction leaflet or press release, and the app will highlight every pronoun. It then offers you a selection to choose from a list of 44 gender neutral pronouns sourced from around the world.

Miles, who himself includes his chosen pronouns in his email signature, reveals that many people have been curious as to why he has decided to undertake such a project. His answer? “Because I can.” And this is the mantra at the heart of Therapy’s culture and approach to their employees. If there’s an idea they want to run with outside of their client and agency work, then run with it they can. Over the years, Therapy’s support of employee-founded brands has resulted in “three big brands”: Miles’ own grill mat business We Are Smoker Sons, a streetwear label Oi Boy that’s now stocked in Selfridge’s and One Sweet Pup, a successful dog brand.

“Therapy is a nourishing environment” Miles says as he talks about the change that the agency has undergone in the last few years. Miles has been at Therapy for seven and a half years and is proud to have become a Creative Director at the age of 30. His break came when, after sending out hundreds of different emails, Neale Hunt, Therapy’s founder, got back in touch. Miles lauds the nature of being in a small agency “because I think you get a richness in your career and life.”

[I hope to make] it easier for people to be who they want to be and not create a straight world that we have to bend to.

Richard Miles

Miles speaks sagely about the importance of respect when it comes to client agency relationships; it’s only then that you’ll get the best work. He says that as the agency “become[s] more daring, I think the client becomes more daring as well and they put their trust in you.” Although quick to critique his own work once made, Miles’ favourite campaigns have ranged from the recent Beauty Bay ad to an award-winning piece for Orajel shot in Romania that involved finger puppets and a fun recycling ad for the NLWA (North London Waste Authority). But for Miles, “I’m probably most proud of where we’re moving to.”

It was watching Mel Gibson pitch a Nike ad in the film What Women Want that sold the advertising industry to Miles. Having loved art at school he says he’ll always be “an art director at heart.” Miles’ artistic side has seen him set up the Cheers to Ideas creative workshop that “just gets us talking about things we don’t normally talk about and allows us to have a bit of fun around it.” The workshops invite people from across the industry and companies to gather, brainstorm and create. As he says, “my passion point is the creative industry."

Alongside building and launching an app, running creative workshops, new parenting with his husband of their young daughter Darcey and running after his French bulldog Royston, Miles is also part of the Pride AM team. The day we speak, he is busy setting up for this year’s Creative Review evening where figures from across the industry get together to discuss a selection of ads in which LGBT individuals have been represented or, in some cases, misrepresented.

Miles is pragmatic when he speaks about his app, detailing how he simply wants to make it as easy as possible for businesses, and business leaders, to behave in an inclusive a way as possible. People, Miles believes, are just worried about getting it wrong. And so, with his work at Therapy, Pride AM and now The Right Pronoun, Miles hopes to simply make “it easier for people to be who they want to be and not create a straight world that we have to bend to.”

Q: As Creative Director at Therapy, what is your primary focus?
A: To breed an internal culture that keeps us all thinking up great ideas. Our original ideas are our bread and butter, but good ideas don’t happen if you’re bored, overworked and unhappy in the workplace. What do I think builds a respectful and positive culture? Creative freedom. At Therapy we do all the stuff most agencies do; you can work in or out of the office, we finish at 4pm on Fridays. But what we do differently is that we actively push people to work on things that aren’t their day jobs during work hours. For example, I set up a cooking equipment brand that sold across America, we have one creative who set up a premium dog accessory brand that’s now in the top pages of Amazon.co.uk and another who launched a fashion brand that’s now stocked in Selfridges. Having a good work-life balance is important to having positive and passionate people you can trust to get work done and done well. So, for me, giving people the freedom to have adventures elsewhere has helped carve a far more proactive and inspired creative department and in turn kept us making creative work we can be proud of.
Q: What has been your agency's best work in the last year? ​​​​​
A: We’ve had a couple of crackers this year already. We started off the year with ‘Tin Man’ our final instalment for the North London Waste Authority. Turning something as mundane as recycling into something so memorable was a joy. Then there were the hidden camera films we recently created for Bach Flower Remedies. This had one of the tightest budgets we’ve worked on, yet the films produced record breaking results which we are still gobsmacked over, and they’re now being rolled out globally. It just shows good creative doesn’t need to cost a fortune, it just has to work.
Q: Industry wide, what work has excited you most this year?
A: For me I’m always looking forward to the next KFC press ad. Mother is doing a great job in creating relevant and funny print ads that are so popular they aren’t bound by the paper they are printed on. I imagine there’s even a vegan or two who liked them enough to share them on social media…

I’m hoping something finally clicks in the world of ad land and diversity becomes a natural and integral part to how we create our all our communications and less of an afterthought.

Richard Miles
Q: How do you see the advertising industry evolving over the next few years?
A: My own personal opinion is that we need to get a proper handle on diversity in order to evolve. The majority of people love to talk about diversity, but don’t like to do much about diversity. I’m hoping something finally clicks in the world of ad land and diversity becomes a natural and integral part to how we create our all our communications and less of an afterthought. I still speak to individuals who have been asked to take queer people out of their campaign as they ‘don’t want to make a statement’ or they don’t want to use a person of colour as it will ‘alienate their core audience’. I mean come on, how ridiculous. If I could insert an eyeroll emoji here I would.
Q: What are your ambitions for Therapy over the next few years?
A: To continue to be a place where brands can come if they want to shake things up.
Q: What piece of advice do you give to the junior members of your team?
A: You have the best job in the world, enjoy every second. Just try not to be possessive over your ideas. If people don’t like it, you can always think up a better one.

Related Tags