by Justin Gomes Charl Thom* recently wrote a piece on advertising awards that got me thinking about the role the Loerie Awards have played in my career – not only from a creative’s perspective, but from the viewpoint of someone who started an agency seven years ago. It made for some interesting reminiscing.
As a young writer in my first year of advertising, I’d heard about the fabled Loerie Awards, but didn’t know much about them. I’d heard they were held at Sun City and involved a lot of drinking. My first year at the Sun City Loeries I remember there being lots and lots of drinking. And someone’s hotel room being raided by the police. But the thing I remember most was sitting at the ceremony that night looking up at a winning Levi’s campaign on the big screen, thinking, “I want to make work like that.” It was Porky Hefer’s “New Old Jeans” Levi’s campaign and it inspired me to get into a creative environment where I might be able to do something half as good.
A few years later, I was fortunate enough to taste Loerie success with the Dulux “Any Colour You Can Think Of” campaign Andrew Whitehouse and I created while working at what was then Lowe Bull Jhb. The agency was struggling to forge its own identity after what was essentially a take-over of Lowe Lintas. The ceremony at Sun City helped unite the agency in a way no other award show could. At one point, I remember looking over and seeing the agency’s drivers, Morris Monhoe and Edwin Maselesele, dancing on stage next to our MD Gilllian Rightford. It was a beautiful thing.
Suddenly, based on that Loerie success, every creative in town wanted to work at Lowe Bull Jhb, a place I had been warned against joining because of its Lintas washing-powder heritage. Suddenly Lowe Bull Jhb could cherry-pick the country’s top creatives. Talents like Gareth Lessing, Matthew Brink and Adam Livesy soon passed through the agency’s doors and Lowe’s clients, in turn, benefited from the most creative minds in the country trying to solve their marketing challenges.
Speaking of marketing challenges, that self-same Loerie winning Dulux campaign reversed a 20 % loss into a 20% profit for the company. For every R1 they spent on advertising, they gained an extra R6.60 in sales. It was a great early lesson for Andrew and myself that creativity sells and a lesson that would later inform how our future agency operated.
Based on the Loerie success, Matthew Bull sent us to Cannes a few months later. Fortunately the campaign also did well at Cannes where we were congratulated by Chris Moerdyk, the advertising industry’s premier journalist at the time, who wrote in a subsequent piece, “Remember their names, they’re going to go far.” I still remember the exact place Chris congratulated us at two in the morning and whenever I go back to Cannes, I make sure I visit that little bar he gave us those words of encouragement.
During the next five years working overseas, I referred back to those words of encouragement a lot. I also longed for an award show like the Loeries to bring local industry folk together. To get inspired again, to be surrounded by the creative people responsible for the work on screen, the kind of work we were used to creating in South Africa.
Disillusioned with the lack of appetite to get creative work in front of decision makers, Andrew and I decided to return to South Africa to start FoxP2, an agency named after the creativity gene, founded in the belief that creative work is the best way for clients to get a competitive edge.
Our first stop after touching back down in South Africa? The Margate Loeries. I remember it being wet. I remember it being muddy. And someone threw their underpants at the mayor. But I also remember seeing the Axe “Get A Girlfriend” campaign up on the big screen and thinking, “We’d better get going. And fast.”
But how do you get an agency with no international backing off the ground when all the partners have spent the last five years overseas out of local client contact? You make the most of every creative opportunity with the few clients you do have – and enter the Loerie Awards.
Our first Loeries, we had a smattering of success with a few bronzes and a silver, but it was enough to get the name FoxP2 noticed. And luckily for us, it was noticed by a businessman named Charl Thom. He joined us shortly afterwards, and today I am proud to say he resides over the FoxP2 name and its various businesses.
Those same bronze and silver Loerie awards contributed to us winning Finweek’s Newcomer Agency Of The Year. Based on this award, the marketing department at Coronation Fund Managers invited us to pitch on their business. We won the pitch and suddenly larger clients with established brands felt more comfortable awarding us their business and set us on the path to securing the client list we have today.
The following year we cracked the Loerie Top Five and suddenly, just like at Lowe Bull Jhb five years earlier, FoxP2 became an agency where the country’s top creative talent wanted to work. If you want to see what this talent has done for our clients’ bottom line, you can refer to Charl’s article, but needless to say, our clients are richer for it.
So will there be drunken misbehaviour at the Loeries this year? No doubt. Will there be things to complain about? Most likely. Will there be someone in the crowd who feels inspired to be a better creative or eventually start their own agency one day? Just maybe.
* Thom and Gomes are owner managers of independent ad agency FoxP2. Thom serves Group MD and is a regular contributor to MarkLives.
** Justin Gomes is co-founder and ECD of FoxP2. He worked overseas at TBWA Paris and Lowe NY before founding FoxP2 in 2005.
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