Interviews

Vicki Maguire, Chief Creative Officer, Grey London

"Right now, we need a revolution, not an evolution."

Izzy Ashton

Assistant Editor of BITE

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“There was a really interesting energy around in the mid to late 80s and there wasn’t anything you couldn’t do” says Vicki Maguire as she reflects on a career that by her own token has been “unconventional”. Now Chief Creative Officer at Grey London, Maguire confesses that she arrived at the agency 10 years ago from Wieden+Kennedy to do two weeks of freelance work and just never left.

Growing up in Leicester with her twin and two hard working parents, Maguire quickly discovered in sixth form that if she put all her free periods together, she could get Monday off. Ever the entrepreneur, she used that day to run a stall in Leicester market selling second hand clothing: “I learnt from a very early age how to make money”. She went on to study fashion design at the University of Northumberland but realised that “I could neither sew nor even draw”. It was Paul Smith, who was a mentor at the college, who told her to stop drawing and write down her ideas instead. He could have no idea what an impact that advice would have.

There was a really interesting energy around in the mid to late 80s and there wasn’t anything you couldn’t do.

Vicki Maguire

Having been fired from a myriad of design jobs - once “spectacularly” by Vivienne Westwood herself in a story that involves red mortician’s lipstick bought from her mate Julie’s dad, an undertaker, and an unfixable stain on a silk wedding dress - she realised that the boys at the young advertising agency next door, HHCL, were getting paid very well to sit and think up ideas. She was sold.

Her proudest moment to date, except “not getting fired”, has been her work for the British Heart Foundation, one year with Victoria Wood on the Angina Monologues which won a British Comedy Award, “a pinnacle”. Next came the now famous ad with Vinnie Jones, which would go on to scoop up most industry awards. She maintains she wasn’t interested in the accolades nor “the swagger surrounding it” but in the stories of the lives the ad saved. Like the art teacher who was saved in the wine aisle at Vicki’s mum’s local Tesco by a bearded man singing the Bee Gees Stayin’ Alive under his breath. As she said, “I can’t top that”.

I can’t work in an office. I don’t need quiet.

Vicki Maguire

After a brief stint in in Sydney in 2003 – “must’ve been a very early midlife crisis”– Maguire returned to London, recognising that it was the grit and tension of the city that pulled her back. Having lived in the East End for 25 years, “as soon as you step out, you’re smacked in the face with what’s going on,” Maguire missed riding the No 8 bus and writing in the early morning at Smithfield market; “I can’t work in an office. I don’t need quiet.”

Grey, for Maguire, has offered her every experience she could have wanted, “I’ve never done the same year twice”. She came for “the energy and the people and the opportunity” and “just stayed because it got interesting”.  

Creativebrief: As Chief Creative Officer at Grey London, what is your primary focus?
Vicki Maguire: To put creativity at the heart of everything we do. To create and cultivate a culture that allows creativity to grow, thrive and succeed.
Creativebrief: What has been your agency's best work in the last year?
Vicki Maguire: Wow. That’s like asking me to pick my favourite child! We started and ended the year on a real high. Last January we launched our campaign starring a very modern Captain Birdseye. It was delicious to be able to work on such a well-known brand icon. Then, last December we enlisted Sir David Attenborough to help us launch The People’s Seat at the UN, a unique opportunity to give the people of the world a seat at the table of the crucial climate change negotiations. Literally life changing.
Creativebrief: Industry wide, what work has excited you most this year?
Vicki Maguire: NIKE ‘Nothing beats a Londoner’ literally knocked me sideways. Ballsy, bold and like nothing before. A reminder of creativity in full force. But the work that made me want to cry because I didn’t do it was ‘VIVA the VULVA’ [by AMV BBDO]. It’s so good it hurts.

Right now, we need a revolution, not an evolution.

Vicki Maguire
Creativebrief: How do you see the advertising industry evolving over the next few years?
Vicki Maguire: Right now, we need a revolution, not an evolution.
Creativebrief: What are your ambitions for Grey London over the next few years?
Vicki Maguire: To be nothing other than the best agency in the world.
Creativebrief: What piece of advice do you give to the junior members of your team?
Vicki Maguire: Never drink anything you can’t spell. Enjoy the ride.

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