Interviews

Mark Hunter

Executive Creative Director of SapientNitro

Creativebrief

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Career to date:

2013 - SapientNitro (Executive Creative Director)
2010 - DeutschLA (Chief Creative Officer)
2009 - TBWA/London (Executive Creative Director)
2007 - Havas (Executive Creative Director)
2004 - Nike Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam (Creative Director)
1999 - BBH (Creative)

 

Creativebrief: As ECD at SapientNitro what is your primary focus?

Mark Hunter: In broad terms I am responsible for the creative output of the entire agency. My primary focus is on brand experience – what our clients’ brands say and what they do in the marketplace.

Creativebrief: Please share a para on your career to date – specifically talking us through the high points.

Mark Hunter: I thought you’d never ask! I came to London from Canada in 1999 and spent five years at BBH. I left there to be the CD on Nike at W+K Amsterdam. In 2007 I returned to London as the ECD, firstly at what is now called Havas and then at TBWA/London. In 2010 I moved to Los Angeles to be the CCO at DeutschLA. Late last year we returned to England and our house in Marlow and I accepted the role of ECD here at SapientNitro in January. In terms of awards highlights, well, no one likes a bragger, so I’ll simply say I’m proud to have helped make work that has won lots of prizes at every show of note in the world (including the Emmy’s) in multiple disciplines and categories. I obviously hope to continue that with SapientNitro.

Creativebrief: What’s unique about your agency / business? Why did you join SapientNitro?

Mark Hunter: I joined SapientNitro for lots of reasons; chief among them is my lifelong desire to avoid what Tracey Emin calls stuckism – the comfort and cobwebs that come from stasis. But more specifically because I think SapientNitro has as good a chance as anyone, maybe a better chance, of figuring out how and where the collision of ideas, brands, commerce, entertainment and technology will occur. That’s really what everyone’s trying to figure out. When will the future be the present, and how will it work? Traditional agencies are trying to figure it out. So are digital agencies, search firms, film studios, talent agents, media companies… even Amazon is now a content producer. Everyone is desperate to expand on their central area of expertise and nudge themselves nearer to the utopian integrated dream. SapientNitro happens to be coming at it from a technology point of view, with a deep connectivity to brands. Let’s see who figures it out first.  Maybe there will be more than one answer.

Creativebrief: What has been your agency’s best work in the last year?​​​​​

Mark Hunter: I thought the VEJA shoes/Sky Rainforest Rescue ‘Tap for Trainers’ collaboration was pretty damn cool. Same with the NatWest ‘Intention to Lend’ and ‘Auto ID’ ideas, which made it totally painless to open new bank accounts or get loans online. Super smart, super relevant tools that make your life easier. And I’m sure Nigel would undoubtedly want me to mention reinventing M+S’s online shopping experience, effectively making it an in-house Amazon. No small feat.

VEJA Shoes/Sky Rainforest Rescue ‘Tap for Trainers’ collaboration via Instagram
 

Creativebrief: Who are the people new to you who have particularly impressed you in the last twelve months?

Mark Hunter: If by new to me you mean here at SapientNitro, I’m impressed with our planner, Damian McKeown, who is one of the smartest and most articulate planners I’ve worked with. I’m impressed with Nigel Vaz, SapientNitro’s SVP and European MD. He’s just a complete dynamo who never met a problem he didn’t want to annihilate or an ambition he didn’t want to soar past. Client wise, we’ve been working with a company called Truphone and I find them a super impressive lot.  They are a diverse bunch of individuals who are single-handedly taking on the world’s telcos. Amazing. In general I’m impressed by anyone who finds ways to navigate the clutter and produce stuff that truly stands out. That’s why I’m also impressed by Eden Hazard.

“I joined SapientNitro for lots of reasons; chief among them is my lifelong desire to avoid what Tracey Emin calls stuckism – the comfort and cobwebs that come from stasis”

 

Creativebrief: Industry wide, what work has excited you most this year?

Mark Hunter: I absolutely loved Intermarche’s Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables. I love how they took a real negative and turned it into a big positive. I also really liked the DHL work where they got Fed-Ex and UPS to ship massive packages with big stickers on them saying ‘DHL is faster’. And then gave them wrong addresses so they were just carrying the packages back and forth to the truck and standing around on the street looking confused. Genius. I also really liked the BMB spot for Thompson Travel with Simon the Ogre, the Eurostar ‘Stories are Waiting’ spot, by AMVBDDO and I love Expedia’s line Travel Yourself Interesting.

 

Creativebrief: Who or what inspires you?​​​

Mark Hunter: I find the answer to this question changes all the time. When I was young it was Bobby Orr. Then in my teens it was JD Salinger. At university it was Bruce Robinson. When I started working it was Tom McElligott and John Hegarty. Recently it’s been guys like Elon Musk. It always changes, but what all those people have in common is a faith in originality. Doing things differently to how they’ve been done before. That really is the central component of creativity.

Creativebrief: How do you stay in-touch with the industry’s best work and culturally relevant news?

Mark Hunter: I’m not sure if this is the correct answer but I kind of don’t. I don’t know exactly when or why, but sometime in the past six months or so I came to the conclusion that information overload was making my life somehow worse, not better. As a result I’ve become like an information vegan, which is to say I’ve greatly restricted my personal, professional and general information intake. The result of being more selective in this area has been greater clarity, greater objectivity and most importantly, a greater reliance on and connectivity to my real feelings and intuition on things. So far, so good.

Creativebrief: What work or agency from outside the UK do you think is particularly influential?​​

Mark Hunter: I’m a pretty big Droga5 fan. Despite what I said about tuning out a bit, I will pull up their website every now and then just to see what they’re up to. They consistently say and do fresh and interesting things that are pretty much channel neutral. Whatever it takes to make the idea live. I really thought the Newcastle Brown Independence Eve stuff was brilliant, for example. Partly for the work but mostly because they just decided to invent a new holiday. Why not? I also think Mistress in LA is pretty cool for the same reasons. They just come at stuff differently.

 

Creativebrief: What do you think are going to be the main challenges for agencies in the next two years?

Mark Hunter: The same challenges agencies have faced forever; staying relevant, keeping creative standards high, winning new business, finding the best people, growing your business and having a good time. Obviously all this is now happening in the midst of a media revolution. But that will settle. And what will remain when it does is the challenge of how to be relevant and tell interesting stories.

Creativebrief: How do you see the media landscape unfolding in the next five years?

Mark Hunter: Firstly, five years is a long time. Longer now than it’s ever been. Secondly, if I knew the answer to that I would be writing books and giving TED talks. That aside, I see it unfolding like a lot of people, more screens in more places with more control in the audience’s hands with regards to when, what, where and how they watch. How brands fit into this is of greater interest to me. Probably too large a subject to tackle here, but what I will say is that I believe brands and ads operate in a creative meritocracy. They are in competition with every other form of content and message vying for people’s attention. And to get it and keep it, they will have to earn it, one way or another.

“I think we could be more confident in ourselves and our expertise. To stop thinking everyone we’re in competition with has it all figured out. They don’t”

 

Creativebrief: What’s your attitude to the ‘traditional’ pitch? Do you think there is a better/more modern way?

Mark Hunter: I’m fine with traditional pitches in the sense that they present a platform for you to demonstrate how you think and how you work. The only complaint I would have is when they drag on for excessive amounts of time. I find that unfair and unprofessional. From my point of view, once you have seen a historic reel of work, met the people, heard their philosophy and then seen their initial thoughts, you should be able to make a decision pretty quickly.

Creativebrief: What’s the best pitch you’ve been involved in?

Mark Hunter: I guess your best pitch win was your last one. In that case it would be Truphone. We had a small bit of the Truphone business and we pitched for the rest – the global ATL side of things. For the final presentation we had absolutely no set-up, we simply walked them into a large white room that was set up like an art gallery filled with work and ideas for their brand. All we did was give them red dots to mark what they wanted to buy and left them alone. It was brilliant. The previous meeting was tense. This one ended with hugs and high fives.

“Do I really want user reviews on that Irish Pub I’m approaching illuminated on my windscreen as I drive up Kilburn High Street? I’m not sure I do anymore”

 

Creativebrief: In what ways do you think the industry can change for the better?​

Mark Hunter: I think we could be more confident in ourselves and our expertise. Stop thinking everyone we’re in competition with has it all figured out. They don’t. I think we should not always think youth is the only answer. Maybe I’m just getting older but I find more often than not wisdom and experience stand more that a fighting chance against youth and eagerness. I also think we should find ways to reduce the daily landslide of inter-office emails that are burying our free thought. And I think we should eat at our desks less. And smile more.

Creativebrief: What’s the next big thing for SapientNitro?

Mark Hunter: The next big thing at SapientNitro is something called human sensory messaging, which in layman’s terms refers to images, feelings and smells being trans-morphed into your brain from smart drones that have access to your Facebook profile, likes and data and releases targeted energy waves and electrically charged spore particles. I kid you not.