by MarkLives (@marklives) Instead of looking back at Net#work BBDO’s last 23-odd years, Mike Schalit, founding partner and CCO, thought it’d be more instructive to look forward and see what wisdom could be identified on what does it really take to direct creativity. The result? The Creative#Director (C#D) coffee table book, curated by Schalit and designed by Emma Strydom. Over several weeks, MarkLives is featuring the pearls of wisdom from five of the 30 participants — next up is Pepe Marais.

In order to create C#D, Schalit approached as many creatives as possible who’d passed through the agency’s doors since its birth, in May 1994, as the very first agency in the new South Africa, and posed six basic questions.

Creative#Director book

Pepe Marais
Chief creative officer, Joe Public United
Years at Net#work: 2

First and foremost, a great CD should have a deep love and understanding of concept. Concepts are the foundation of our industry. It’s what drives everything. I always say that a great idea is like a great legal argument: it leads you down a set path and closes the case with a punch second only to Mike Tyson.

Following concept, great CDs will understand strategy and know how to wrap a silver strategic bullet in a golden idea. They will also have the ability to rationalise and sell ideas at the highest level.

Thirdly, great CDs will be detail-obsessed and passionate about craft and execution. They will wake up in the middle of the night in a pool of sweat, worrying about whether a comma was in the right place, whether the leading was maybe not a few points too much on a headline.

The difference between good and great may be incremental and, if the aim is greatness, then the game is to guard the creative spark — both conceptual and executional — every step of the way. Such CDs will be willing to fall on their sword for work that truly matters.

They lead from the front line and spend days in the thick of the battle for ‘greativity’. Their bottomless obsession will drive others mad but, at the same time, inspire them to reach deeper than ever before.

Mike Schalit: Major achievements at Net#work and thereafter?
Pepe Marais: Definitely our Loerie Grand Prix for Virgin Atlantic Outdoor and also being ranked as one of the top art directors in South Africa. Thereafter, without any doubt, being the co-founder of my second child, Joe Public.

MS: Best piece(s) of work at Net#work that made you proudest?
PM: Virgin Atlantic’s “Man on Stilts” for 75% More Legroom. Nissan’s B140 “Little boy” television commercial. And then a pile of tactical press. I love proactive thinking. I find briefs reactive and immediately limiting to original thinking.

MS: Most-spectacular failure at Net#work?
PM: Without doubt, the ad that got Mike in deep trouble with Nissan. The Suicide TV commercial we shot with Mike Middleton for “Reduced Harmful Emissions”. I have never seen Mike so white upon return from the client. He told me in no uncertain terms that the ad will never ever see the light of day. You win some; you lose some; you grow.

MS: Most-significant work/achievement post Net#work?PM: Winning a Gold Apex for Clover’s Milky Way campaign. Joe Public’s growth and ability to serve the growth of our clients, our people and through One School At A Time, our country.

MS: Crazy idea that we as a C#D collective could collaborate on to make a dent in the universe?
PM: Overhaul education as a system.

MS: A final provocation?
PM: My personal inspiration is my life purpose: To bring out the best in those around me. My life spectacularly changed the day I took the step from serving myself to serving others.

See also


Mike Schalit and Emma StrydomIn order to inspire the next generation of creative leaders in South Africa, Net#work BBDO has published the Creative#Director (C#D) book — insights into the creative process by 30 of South Africa’s top creative leaders. Beautifully crafted and designed by Emma Strydom, produced by Clinton Mitri and Exhibit Print in the finest of glossy coffee-table book traditions, it’s a riot of provocation and inspiration, edited and curated by Mike Schalit, Net#work BBDO founding partner and CCO, from the responses of 30 creative directors to a few leading questions.

A finer gang of rogues you’ll be hard-pressed to find — they’ve made the Net#work journey infinitely more madcap and magical, building and reinventing brands along the way, and making a difference to bottom lines and society. Some have gone on to become CDs in their own right; some have formed their own agencies; some have simply found themselves; and some are still with the agency today. All proceeds from the special limited-edition book, which costs R995, go towards helping build a library in a disadvantaged community. Donations for the library initiative may also be pledged.

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