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Moving to Malta was a key milestone in life. My Mum passed away six months earlier and 2017 marked my 20th year in the creative industry. Subconsciously I was looking for change. I wanted to escape London life and had been talking to my wife for some time about what the next 20 years of our careers, and lives, could look like.

People talk about certain special moments in their career when they felt like they are at the top of their game. I like to think that I had helped JKR win more creative awards than we ever imagined, and our industry profile was the best it had ever been. So when the opportunity came to relocate to Malta and work for a gambling company, I took a leap of faith.

There are days I miss London and the UK – my friends, my family, but I’d never wanted to be one of those people who dies with unfulfilled dreams. I will never be one of those people who says, “I wish I did…” I will always be the person who laughs and says, remember the time I tried to…”.

When I moved to Malta, the job I came to do was very different to the job I ended up doing. I joined as Head of Publicity and was very lucky to work on a very successful promotional campaign surrounding the much-hyped Mayweather v McGregor fight – arguably the second biggest boxing match in history.

Following a company restructure a few months later, I was one of the fortunate few to really benefit from the changes that resulted. I was offered the opportunity to head up Brand and Creative. The role was perfect for me, given my agency background.

Overnight I inherited 19 designers, from numerous different backgrounds and nationalities. As a group they had never directly worked together. They used to work on different brands in different teams, which meant each of them had their own ways of working.

When you find yourself in these sorts of situations it’s important, you’re firstly grateful for the challenge you’ve been given, but it’s equally important that you quickly establish control. As a leader, people look up to you for guidance and direction.

One thing I’ve noticed about working client-side compared to working for an agency is people are very quick to judge you. In an agency you are drilled very early on in your career that you never leave a colleague behind. When there’s a problem, you all come together to solve it, regardless of your title or role.

Client-side is a little different. Accountability is drilled into you very early on and you will discover a lot of people who focus first on who’s fault it is, rather than help solve the problem. You’ve got to watch your back.

In business, just as in life, you can’t wait for things to fall into place. You’ve got to grab life by the balls and hit the ground running. Overnight I became responsible for the wellbeing and careers of 19 people. I relished that challenge as I had an opportunity to make a difference to their lives. I believed I could offer them something they hadn’t perhaps experienced before, a perspective from a creative agency. I knew they were talented designers as I had seen some of their work, but I also knew they could do so much more. No one had yet unlocked their full potential.

We were a company of close to a thousand people, split over multiple floors and locations. It was important to find a space that could sit us all together. The one thing I’ve learned from working in numerous creative environments is that when you sit creative people amongst creative people, all of a sudden everyone in the room becomes more creative. It creates an energy and excitement that drives positivity and encourages interaction. This encourages diversity of thought which is great for problem solving. It helps people think differently and consider new possibilities.

The word team is used a lot. Too often if you ask me. Too many people think the key to success is THE team and ‘teamwork’. I don’t disagree, but don’t bang on about it. “There’s no ‘I’ in team”. How many times have you heard that? There is, you just can’t see it. You see the ‘I’ in team stands for individual. And that’s what a team is, a collective of individuals who each have their own experience, skills, talents and capabilities. Every individual is unique and offers something special. So, treat them so. The key to success is to surround yourself with experts at what they do, not what you do. It’s the collective efforts and accountability of those individuals who determine your success.

Understanding professionals as people helps gain their trust and respect. What became very apparent about the team I inherited is they each lacked purpose. They had never been given one. They all came to work to do a job. Because that’s what they were asked to do – their job. It wasn’t a career to them. They did a job, relatively well, and got paid at the end of the month. They didn’t do it because they loved what they do. No one ever asked them what they loved or wanted to do. The design work they were doing wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great either. They were never expected to produce great work. They had a list of ‘design tasks’ to complete. Once they completed their tasks, they had done their job. We were not offering these guys a career; we were giving them a job. One is for robots, the other is for people.

As a leader, your responsibility is the people who work for you. Always put your people first. I hear many organisations say they ‘love’ their employees. Love? That’s a big word. You could ask a million people what the word love means, and you will get a million different answers. The description of love I prefer to use is ‘to love someone means you want the very best for them’. That’s a big gesture. I keep drilling this into my direct reports, who each manage their own teams of people. Their sole purpose is to come into work every day and inspire and motivate the people who work for them. That’s all I ever expect.

The purpose I gave our department was to build a portfolio of world class gambling brands and help save the company money by delivering marketing efficiencies. How we were going to do that was by building an in-house creative agency and being less reliant on external agency partners. What we did or do, really depends on what the markets wanted us to achieve or required.

It would be very easy to call our in-house creative agency a design studio. But if I did that it would mean the creative solutions, we provide our brands and markets would always be rooted in design. That’s not how you think creatively to tackle a problem. Tell me what you want to achieve, not what you think you need. We’ll provide the creative solution.

One of the first things I did when I stepped into my new role was to give everyone a job description and change everyone’s job title from Designer to Creative. Designers design. They are service providers. The service they provide is design. Creatives, create. They solve problems by thinking creatively.

Working for a business that is 100% digital, it is very easy for Creatives to hide behind a computer screen all day. To be creative you need to get away from your screen. You need to get in a room with your colleagues and talk. It forces you to think bigger, regardless of the brief, challenge or budget.

To encourage this spirit of change we turned an area of our office space into what we called a creative hub. It’s a large break out room where briefs are openly discussed, brainstormed and creative work is presented. Work is not presented off big screens, its printed out and put up on the wall so that you can take a step back and look at it from a distance. Job titles and egos are left at the door. We problem solved collectively. It was great and really changed the dynamic of the place.

Build an army. Find a home. Discover the ‘I’ in your team. Have a purpose. Create a hub. Banish average. Establish good, aim for great. Hire character, train skill. Experiment.

Copyright © Matthew Parkes 2020

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