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Rob Mayhew, Creative Director at Gravity Road and TikTok phenomenon on the power of developing your own, original voice
“You are not too old and you are not too late.”
Rob Mayhew is sharing his journey as a creator who found his passion through finding his own unique voice on TikTok in his forties. As he explains: “I didn’t know when I first started posting on TikTok that I would end up at Gravity Road as a Creative Director.”
Nor would he have predicted that the UK advertising industry would turn to Mayhew to promote the industry and launch its comprehensive programme of events and outreach at Cannes Lions. His Cannes-themed-skit released this week - specifically to promote UK advertising at Cannes, shines an honest, humorous lens on the typical agency execs' experience at the festival.
As a TikTok creator who regularly posts almost universally relatable insights on agency life, he represents a new wave of creators who are influencing not just how the creative industries connect, but how creatives see each other.
His award-winning, lo-fi, sketches about agency office life have gained a huge following globally, from people across the world of marketing, PR and advertising and those outside of it too - averaging 6 million views on his content every month, and 4.7 million likes. At the heart of his skits is observational clarity. The sense of ‘being seen’ drives the shareability of his content. His LinkedIn comments are flooded with agency employees who recognise themselves in his self-deprecating humour.
Mayhew’s unique talent is clear. His ability to make an industry which is so often guilty of taking itself too seriously, laugh at itself is refreshing. While his reach, reputation and relevance is a compelling reminder of the power of social media to democratise thought leadership in an industry that is so often dominated by a small number of voices.
In an era of work-life lived on social media, Mayhew is passionate about the creative power of doing. “Opportunities will come from you posting everywhere,” he explains.
In an industry which often equates youth with innovation, Mayhew’s journey towards creative fulfilment is a breath of fresh air. For a creator who has built his career on both storytelling and great jumpers, the story of his career is one the industry can learn from. For far from being a creative full stop, it was fatherhood and turning 40 which sparked a change of direction and a renewed energy in his career which fuelled his decision to join Gravity Road.
“Gravity Road is a really interesting place and it's very much an organisation that is creative first.” He knew about the agency’s work with TikTok and was clear-sighted about the benefits of working for a smaller agency. “I’m here to learn and it's a new role for me and I’m learning from the team,” he explains. Listing off brands such as Minecraft, Unilever and TikTok for business it's easy to see why he has chosen to make the move.
Time is precious and as you get older you don’t want to waste it. It has taken me 20 years to find what I love.Rob Mayhew, Creative Director at Gravity Road
Yet in an era in which creative careers are increasingly squiggly, he eschews the language of the career ladder and is honest about the journey towards success, He explains: “Time is precious and as you get older you don’t want to waste it. It has taken me 20 years to find what I love.”
Sharing how he ‘fell out of love’ with performative social media, his enthusiasm for TikTok as a platform is genuine. Mayhew wants to put the social back into social media. A step change from the comparison paralysis that all too often comes hand in hand with the proliferation of that highly-stylized highly staged Instagram lifestyle.
He explains: “TikTok is the most downloaded app in the world and its TikTok’s turn. It is still in its infancy and brands and agencies are still finding their way.” His passion for platforms is based on the promise of the new and the opportunity to create a genuine cultural moment. “All you need is an idea, and you can really reassess what you stand for through humour,” he explains.
From RyanAir, which has found a sense of humour via Twitter, to Marks & Spencer’s Romford store going viral on TikTok for dance routines the brands putting the fun back into social by reflecting culture with authenticity is gaining momentum.
Mayhew’s career journey is a compelling reminder of the power of making time for making and doing. He explains: “3 or 4 years ago my job was everything to me, but it was building up my passion project which made a difference.”
Mayhew, who has over 150,000 followers on Tik Tok and 90,000 on LinkedIn, took the time to deliver a course on social media in a comedy club. It was this experience that led him to start creating his own comedy sketches.
In making the space for work he enjoyed, he in turn opened the door to new opportunities. “It’s ok for work to be fun and make time for things you enjoy,” he adds, noting that last year LinkedIn launched a laughing emoji, a sign that emotion is still slow to enter the B2B space.
Yet, he is clear in emphasising that for creatives it is equally important to remember that that door might not open straight away. “What you might not know is that it took 6 months to get from zero to 25,000 followers. It was six months before I really got my first relatable sketch out there,” he explains.
For would-be creators, his advice is twofold: don’t give up and have the courage to start in the first place. How many brilliant ideas never see the light of day, what a colossal collective loss.
So what advice would he give to marketers wanting to build their personal brands? “Give yourself a challenge: post every day for 100 days. Experiment. It’s hard with LinkedIn when you've built up a network, but it is important to remember it is not business to business, it’s human to human,” he adds.
He also recommends not wasting a second of your precious time on the omnipresent ‘reply guys’ who lurk, linger and then look for reasons to undermine what you just posted. “Any negativity, I block. Don’t overthink it. Think about what you want to be an authority on. For me that was TikTok,” he says.
For creators struggling to find their own authentic voice, Mayhew recommends sharing other people’s articles or thoughts as a starting point. Then you can layer on your own point of view building your knowledge and expertise in the process. The key is consistency and ensuring you post every day.
While spoof accounts such as ‘The State of LinkedIn’ poke fun at the rise of the business influencer, the truth is that professional networks are not only vital, they are driving the democratisation of influence. For while industry press was once policed with the omnipresent question, ‘Is he a name?’, social networks offer the promise of a meritocracy of ideas.
This shift is not lost on Mayhew who is clear that more needs to be done to elevate diverse voices. He explains: “The challenge for younger people is that if you were new to the industry you might think there are only four people with an opinion worth sharing. Are you actually at a marketing conference if you don’t see a presentation which only includes the quotes and views of Rory Sutherland, Byron Sharp, Mark Ritson and Les Binet?” he notes.
This focus on the opinions of a few not only lacks inclusion, it is fundamentally bad for business. When you layer on the intergenerational tensions and shifts in the workplace it is clear the industry is guilty of only telling part of the story.
Get creating. TikTok is a great place to be creative. There is no excuse now.Rob Mayhew, Creative Director at Gravity Road
“There are lots of younger people, or people of any age - that have an opinion. The aim is to get into the habit of sharing and that helps you find your voice.” In essence, growth is about getting out of your own head.
“Think simple, just 15 minutes a day can move you forward. Think about what you want to be an expert in and what and who you learn from. Share those ideas with your own thoughts and then work on developing your own original voice.”
Mayhew is very clear on the importance of removing barriers; both real and imagined, that will come between your idea and the world. “My advice is simple; Get creating. TikTok is a great place to be creative. There is no excuse now.”
Sharing how he uses a green screen to record his sketches so the unpredictable weather doesn’t get in the way of posting every day is vital. Equally vital is to decide what you stand for and then stand for it all the time.
“I only post content that is true and authentic to me,” he explains. This doesn’t mean he operates in a vacuum. Notably on International Women’s Day, he used his platform to elevate the vital campaigning work of Pregnant Then Screwed. “It felt like the right time to talk about it. The best way was to just let the facts speak for themselves,” he says.
Mayhew is donating 1% of his Cannes Lions earnings to the #CannesForAll initiative, a collaboration between The Digilearning Foundation, Brixton Finishing School & Lollipop Mentoring, to bring talent from under-represented backgrounds to the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.
The #CannesForAll campaign, which launched in January 2023, aims to make the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity a more inclusive place by supporting emerging, diverse talent on the ground, by calling on senior leaders in the creative industry to take action and pledge 1% or more of their 2023 Cannes Lions activation budgets to support emerging, diverse talent.
There are lots of younger people, or people of any age - that have an opinion. The aim is to get into the habit of sharing and that helps you find your voice.Rob Mayhew, Creative Director at Gravity Road
Mayhew’s ability to reflect industry culture so well is fuelled by his own curiosity and he clearly invests his time and energy in looking outwards and learning on LinkedIn. He explains: “People are now really seeing LinkedIn as a brilliant space to learn and share.” He points to industry trailblazers Cindy Gallop and Zoe Scarman as fountains of insight and inspiration.
The key is not to become complacent. As he explains: “It is a real discipline, I treat it like a job and post every day. I will never run out of ideas having been in advertising for 20 years.”
With this in mind, he is always looking at fresh perspectives, new ideas and formats. “There is a real opportunity with video on LinkedIn where you can really connect with people on a human level,” he adds.
It’s immediacy, relatability and excellent jumpers (but will he overheat in Cannes?) that underpin Mayhew’s well-deserved success. Authenticity might be the most empty term in marketing but a red thread of honesty and integrity runs through everything Mayhew creates and shares.
While he is now one of the most recognisable industry influencers it is clear that his ideas, and the skits, still come ahead of his ego. A brilliant reminder that you may not run out of ideas, but the bigger risk is you run out of time to do the thing you love. Brilliant things can happen when you hold yourself accountable and stop worrying about what other people might think of that thing you have to say.
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