Russ Lidstone is Group CEO of The Creative Engagement Group (TCEG) and was recently hailed as Creative Leader of the Year in the Creativepool Annual Awards 2021. He is also Chair of Trustees for Creative Mentor Network and Chair of the advisory board for isla.
CG: You began your career at Coca Cola then moved into advertising as a brand strategist. How has our understanding of the word ‘creativity’ changed in the communications industry over the last 30 years?
RL: The definition of creativity still remains true to the Arthur Koestler quote that Gerry Moira made me aware of: ‘Creativity is the defeat of habit by originality’.
I think it’s as relevant today as when I first came into the industry. The reason why I joined advertising was because I loved ads like the Tango slap (Orange Man) – executional creativity that was idea-based. Because of the way the world works now, and because of technology, the way that you can be creative has changed.
How you position part of an experience or get an organisation to learn something means that you’re applying creative thought and innovation – but you might not have termed it ‘creativity’ those 30 years ago.
CG: I read that your ambition is to ‘create experiences that inspire lasting change for our clients’. How?
RL: Because of the nature of The Creative Engagement Group, our service lines are quite multifaceted and unusual in combination. We’ve grown our own behavioural science capability because all the things that we do impact on how someone thinks feels and behaves: we’re directly engaging with people in ways that many others don’t. Our approach to digital has a very strong immersive capability using virtual reality and augmented reality, which is a good way to create a more compelling and impactful learning experience, particularly in industrial, technical, engineering, or scientific sectors. Rather than show a healthcare professional a film around a mode of action, we can take them into the body instead and demonstrate how a drug might work in relation to a specific therapy area.
We won awards for our work with Global where we trained DJs to use virtual reality and be more adept at using the technology in the studio; studio time is expensive and you don’t want to take one out of action to train people. We created lasting change and return on investment because there were 30% fewer mistakes made on air as a result of that activity.
We’ve also used augmented reality to help bring scientific experiences to life in exhibitions. We’ve trained submariners before they got on nuclear submarines, which had a massive ROI impact for the client. We’ve also created events that helped London to re-imagine a car free city.
CG: Any predictions for the future of creativity and the ways in which we can experience it?
RL: Creative thinking is becoming more compelling to areas of business that hadn’t previously considered themselves creative.
The reason why we acquired a digital learning business (Logicearth), acquired our capability division (Cormis) to develop the skills of people in pharma, have grown a very successful employee engagement agency (Forty1) and have a scientific training and engagement division (Axiom) is because they wanted to be part of something unusual, where they’d have the ability to deploy their thinking across a fantastic client base and benefit from a combination of services that gives them something different relative to their competitors. A key part of this difference is creativity.
The clue’s in the name ‘The Creative Engagement Group’: we try to creatively engage audiences through the deployment of thinking and ideas through our brilliant creatives, designers and service lines.
We’re often able to apply creative thinking in categories that can be conservative – such as employee engagement or training.
CG: Define what creativity means to you.
RL: I’ll have to come back to my tried and trusted adage about defeating habit! What I love about the business I’m in is that, because we’ve some really diverse capabilities together in one business in a way that no other business has, I’m inevitably exposed to new ways of thinking within our different disciplines. The challenge of habit comes from the combination of all the areas that I’ve mentioned.
For me, the magic is in the mortar: the bits between the bricks of The Creative Engagement Group. I think creativity and the defeat of habit will come from that wonderful serendipity that comes from a combination of different types of thinking.
Do check out my previous interviews with people leading the way in their fields about what creativity means to them – see my blog page.
Written by Caroline Gibson, freelance copywriter, London.
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