DDB Australia’s newly announced chief creative officer on returning to Australia after being in London, what the industry can be doing better and his learnings from Covid
Art director, creative director, executive creative officer, chief creative officer and national creative officer are all job titles that have been bestowed upon DDB Australia’s Stephen de Wolf. The man behind the titles is a creative whose work has spanned the world and in the instance of ‘Meet Graham’, was the most awarded creative work in the world at one stage.
Now that circumstances have seen Stephen move back from his adopted home of London to Australia, he’s taken up the helm of DDB Australia’s creative offering where he’s keen to push Australian creativity to the limit and make it shine on a global stage.
As he settles into his role, LBB’s Natasha Patel caught up with Stephen to hear more.
LBB> Firstly, congratulations on the new role at DDB Australia! How does it feel to be appointed as the agency's new CCO?
Stephen> Thank you. I’m absolutely humbled by the opportunity to be joining the DDB team. I wholeheartedly believe agencies are only as good as our people and clients, and when I look at the brilliant people and the incredible clients at DDB, I feel extremely lucky.
LBB> What prompted the move from the UK back to your home of Australia?
Stephen> I had to move back to Australia for family reasons. Covid has given us all so much to think about and a lot of us are really looking at what’s important. Being closer to my family and support group of wonderful friends was so important for us at this time.
LBB> Speaking of Australia, where did you grow up and how much of a role did creativity play in your childhood?
Stephen> I grew up in Perth, where creativity played a huge part in my childhood. I’m incredibly lucky in that regard. My Dad was an architect and Mum taught migrants English, so they were both amazingly creative in their jobs. On one side of the family, my Grandfather was also an architect and a painter, and my Grandma used to teach ceramics at an art school. On the other side of the family, we had a number of painters. So some of my earliest memories involve being covered in paint, clay or pencil shavings. To be honest, it’s something I should do more of today!
As far as my career goes, my family has always been super supportive. I was also very fortunate to have an art teacher in primary school and another in high school who always encouraged me and showed me where creativity could take me.
LBB> I know you began studying Fine Arts, then Graphic Design but what really took you in the direction of the creative industry?
Stephen> For me they’re all creative industries. Whether it’s fine arts, graphic design or communications, they all have an idea at their heart. I moved to graphic design because there were far more talented artists than me studying fine art. And then graphic design led me to art direction. I’ve always loved how multi-faceted it is. You get to collaborate with typographers, illustrators, coders, directors, photographers, artists of all kinds, product designers, actors, the list goes on… How many other careers allow you to do that?
I still look to the world of fine arts and design for creativity. More often than not, they’re doing it better than we are!
LBB> What were your learnings from your early roles and how much do they play a part in what you do today?
Stephen> I’m still learning. I don’t believe we ever stop - no one is that good. For me, it’s the best thing about what we do. We get to work with so many talented people, and not a day goes by that I’m not learning something new from someone.
As for what I take from my earlier roles, resilience is a big one. Ideas are fragile and there is so much to navigate as we all bring them to life.
I’ve learnt that we need to be interested in our craft, our industry, the world around us, and, most importantly, our clients. If we don’t understand our clients and their role in people’s lives, how can we expect them to trust our ideas?
And finally, I’ve learnt to listen. As an industry, we’re good at talking, but I think we can always be better at listening.
LBB> When you took on the role as CCO at BBH London, it was 'historic' as it was the first time an external team member was hired. How did this feel for you?
Stephen> To be honest, it felt a lot like being given the CCO opportunity here at DDB. I was humbled and excited, but the legacy of BBH wasn’t lost on me. That said, there are a lot of similarities between BBH, Clemenger, and DDB. They all know the power of creativity when it comes to big ideas that create powerful brands in culture.
LBB> We have to talk about Tesco’s No Naughty List Christmas campaign from last year. It was so uplifting at a time when the UK needed it the most! What inspired it?
Stephen> Just that. Last year was one of the hardest we’ve had to face, and we weren’t sure what Christmas was going to be like for us. We felt like we needed to lighten the mood a little, and find a bit of joy and humour among the toughness. There aren’t many brands that could have done it, but Tesco, given its role in our day-to-day lives, definitely could.
LBB> Where does your creative inspiration come from?
Stephen> No one place. I find it in the talented people I work with, the arts, on screen, in culture, walking around and chatting to people in our day-to-day lives. I think in our jobs we always need to be ‘interested’, and stay ‘interesting’. Covid has made our worlds smaller, but as soon as I can, I can’t wait to get out there and see, feel, experience, and listen to as much as I can again.
LBB> It's hard not to look at all of the incredible accolades you've collected over the years, how much do awards mean to you?
Stephen> I don’t think anyone would say they don’t like their work being recognised by their peers. That said, for me, awards have always been a by-product of trying to do the best, most effective work we can for our clients.
LBB> What are your hopes as national CCO of DDB Australia?
Stephen> To continue the creative journey DDB Australia is already on and have fun doing it - it’s going to be so important as we emerge out of this time.
As DDB Australia, and also as an industry as a whole, I’d like us to be creating ideas that make the world sit up and take notice again. We’ve not done it here for some time. Nothing makes me prouder and gives me more energy than when our industry is doing amazing things. The creative bar isn’t that high anywhere in the world at the moment, the perfect conditions for Australian creativity to stand out!
LBB> Who is your creative hero and why?
Stephen> For the past 18 months, my creative hero has been humanity and all of the creative ways we have survived this Covid world. Every day, all around us, people have used creativity to entertain themselves and each other, to say thank you, to say I love you… it’s been endless. It’s transcended cultures and borders. It really has shown us the power of creativity.
LBB> Outside of work what do you do to relax and unwind?
Stephen> I suspect what a lot of us are doing right now. I like to walk when I can, spend time with family, read, stream TV shows and movies (probably too much these days) and swim. In more normal times, I love getting into galleries, theatres, and cinemas. Hopefully we can all do those things again soon.