by Herman Manson (@marklives) We talk to Pepe Marais and Xolisa Dyeshana, chief creative officer and executive creative director, respectively, of advertising agency Joe Public, on how they started their advertising careers, their tools of the trade and what skill sets they think a modern creative director needs to create consistently effective work (even we were surprised).

Xolisa Dyeshana & Pepe Marais
Xolisa Dyeshana & Pepe Marais

MarkLives logoHow did you get into advertising?


Pepe Marais: I come from a very poor background. My one friend came from a wealthy home and his father was a civil engineer, so naturally I aspired to become a civil engineer.

During my last day of two years’ National Defence Force service — yes, I am that old — I was waiting at the airport in Rundu, Namibia, for a flight back to South Africa. One lonely guy was waiting with me.

We got chatting and it turned out he was a graphic designer who happened to have a book full of his designs with him.

I was hooked and a few weeks later I enrolled at the Ruth Prowse School of Art in Cape Town.

Xolisa Dyeshana: I’ve always been an artistic person, from the ritual my brothers and I had of drawing at home when it rained to choosing art as one of my main subjects at school. When I completed matric I was unsure about what I wanted to do. As much as I wanted to follow my artistic passion, I didn’t want to be poor doing it. It was around that time that I found out about advertising, which for me was the perfect solution as I could indulge in my passion, get paid for it and be able to see my work up in lights!

MarkLives logoCan you share some of the process and planning you undertake for each piece of work?


PM: I am in a phase of my career where I can finally focus on the one thing that matters most in my business life: Creativity.

In my mind there’s only one process that serves great ideas and that is to generate loads of them. This is an ongoing challenge as creative people fear looking bad, which means they hold themselves back from really great thinking.

So instead of focusing on planning and process, I focus on creating an environment where people feel safe to express themselves fully and where they are empowered to share their thoughts, no matter how crazy these thoughts may be. In fact, the crazier the better.

After all, to quote that one ad we are still striving to do, “the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

XD: We are a strategically led agency, so for us any brief begins with strong direction from strategy. The next step is to find a strong insight. This can come from anywhere, creative, strat, account management, finance, you name it, just as long as it comes. That is why we place such emphasis on having a diverse agency, because in order to create insightful work, you need a diverse group of people who can give you those insights. After that, the job goes to the relevant creative team who then comes up with an idea based on the strategy and insight.

MarkLives logoWhat are the key skill sets you think a modern creative director needs to create consistently effective work?


PM: The modern creative director needs to be old school. Ideas first, scamps second. More heart, less head. Always seeking to serve others, rather than self.

XD: He/she needs to have their ear to the ground. They need to be observant. And they need to be willing to try things, even if they fail.

MarkLives logoWhat are the key tools of your trade — the equipment you prefer personally and use consistently?


PM: My mind — which is far more than just my brain. My little black book — it’s amazing what an old-school tool like this can do to your thinking. And then a dash of the iPad Mini — always good to stay in touch with the social platforms that feed my grey sponge.

XD: A good dictionary. A great sense of humour and a very thick skin.

MarkLives logoWhat is the key message you want delegates at Design Indaba to takeaway from your talk?


PM: That the road to success — whatever you may deem success to be — is paved with Purpose.

XD: Creativity is the not-so-secret ingredient that transforms logic into magic and allows us to find truly innovative solutions that can alter behaviour and even propel our country forward.

MarkLives logoBest advice you can give a youngster entering the trade?


PM: Find greater meaning to what you do. I found mine at the age of 38 and it dramatically altered my career. Imagine if you found yours at 18.

XD: You are entering one of the best industries in the world, but also one of the toughest. Be passionate, be hungry but, most of all, be hardworking. Listen more than you speak; don’t fall into the trap of arrogance; leave your ego at home. Keep your eye on the detail and don’t expect too much too quickly. When you don’t know something, ask. Practise. And most of all, have fun.

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