We at D.A.D first became aware of Dan back in 2010, as the then faceless blogger and man on the inside of the advertising industry, AdLand Suit. Now in 2017, we catch up with him as one of the founders of Ad agency Creature of London and proud Dad. Covering all bases from the terrifying lack of step-free access on the tube, to the effects of world events on Adland.
D.A.D: For those who don’t know, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
DS: My name’s Dan, and I’m the CEO (and one of the founders) of a creative agency called Creature of London. I’m a suit by trade, having spent time at various different top notch agencies, digital, ATL, and otherwise, woefully underpreparing myself for the the business of, well, running a business. We seem to be getting away with it, though: Creature’s been going for coming up to six years now, and has made a bunch of award-winning stuff for a whole load of different clients, from Carling to Ryvita, Anchor to BAFTA, and Gatwick to the Green Party. We’ve also made a bunch of stuff for ourselves, including fashion films, music videos, and a couple of pieces of immersive theatre, one of which (Alice’s Adventures Underground) got nominated for an Olivier.
D.A.D: You have a Son, tell us about him?
DS: His name’s Stan, he’s just turned 18 months old, and he’s a massive slab of toddler, and a glorious idiot, in the best possible way. Unfortunately for me and Abby, his mum, he seems to have inherited my occasional tendency to lead with my head (figuratively and literally), but he also appears to be relatively resilient. He’s also sodding hilarious.
D.A.D: Has having a child influenced or affected the type of work that you do or the type of clients you work with?
DS: Not really: we’ve always been pretty focused on being (as we slightly wankily put it) a Good agency, as well as a great one, if that makes sense. Stan’s definitely put a sharper edge on that, but we were already pretty morally-conscious (or self-righteous, depending on your point of view) – no gambling brands here. (He’s definitely made me more aware of the insanity of the housing market in London, though, and the terrifying lack of step-free access on the tube. Does that count?)
“Green Park is amazing early on a Sunday morning before the tourists arrive; nothing to do but run around, but sometimes doing nothing but running around (and trying to teach Stan to sidestep) is awesome.”
D.A.D:Yep that counts. Once you have found safe, step free passage off the tube, do you have any ‘go to’ places or activities you take Stan to that you would recommend?
DS: It varies, to be honest: we’re lucky to have a few parks around us in South East London, so we don’t actually need to venture onto the tube that often: that said, the City Zoo near Vauxhall is pretty special (Stan is a BIG fan of pointing at ducks and shouting ‘COCK!’, which we’re fairly confident means ‘quack’), and, odd as it may sound, Green Park is amazing early on a Sunday morning before the tourists arrive; nothing to do but run around, but sometimes doing nothing but running around (and trying to teach him to sidestep) is awesome.
D.A.D: What was the draw of starting your own agency?
DS: The ability to make loads of stuff, in loads of different places; the ability to build a gang around us; and the joy that comes from knowing any successes and fuck-ups are ours, and ours alone. Also, it turns out I’m much better at (and happier) being my own boss than I am being bossed. Sorry, previous bosses.
D.A.D: Do you miss being an anonymous blogger?
DS: Nah, not really. Adland Suit was a massive thing for me (it’s terrifying how big a difference ‘knowing a bit about the internet’ has made to my career), and it’s fair to say my life would have taken a VERY different path had I not logged into ‘blogger’ that day; but it was then, and I wouldn’t swap where I am now for anything. A lack of anonymity hasn’t really stopped me speaking my mind, either: I’m still getting used to the fact that people listen nowadays, mind.
D.A.D: What is the landscape of ‘Adland’ these days, has world and political events had an impact on the industry?
DS: Oof, there’s a question. Overall, I think the industry’s a little bit nervous, and a little bit sluggish at the moment: it’s tough out there, and that means the risks involved in trying to be great are bigger than they’ve ever been. From that point of view, though, and putting the commercial stress that comes with setting up a business hot on the heels of a massive financial crash, there’s never been a better time to be small: the people who are happy to hitch their wagon to an independent start-up in Shoreditch tend to be the sort of people who get quite excited about taking risks, which works for us. Overall, well, yeah; the world’s a bit of a fucking mess at the moment: we’re lucky that we get the chance, as a business, to try to make it a bit better.
“I’m insanely privileged, in that I, along with Ben, one of my business partners, who has two young girls, get to set the tone for how Creature treats parents; and then live that example (because the rules we set don’t mean a lot if we don’t live by them).”
D.A.D: We have noticed that ‘Creative type’ dads embrace the modern attitudes of fatherhood and the ‘work/life’ balance far easier than those not in the industry. Is this something you have noticed?
DS: I think it varies: I like to think we’re a pretty ‘woke’ industry, as they say. That said, we’re also far too often a ‘if you’re not at your desk, you’re not working’ industry, which is terrifyingly fucking archaic. I’m insanely privileged, in that I, along with Ben, one of my business partners, who has two young girls, get to set the tone for how Creature treats parents; and then live that example (because the rules we set don’t mean a lot if we don’t live by them). This question has, I think, a lot more faith in our industry than I do on that front: but we’re doing our best to change it.
D.A.D: What is your favourite children’s book and why?
DS: ‘The Worst Princess’, by Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie. Funny, unexpected, beautifully illustrated, and plenty of scope for silly voices, accents, and trumpet impressions, all of which make me very happy.
D.A.D: What is your favourite thing that Stan owns?
DS: His Brio stuff. Or a little comforter that he wouldn’t leave home without for his first couple of weeks at nursery: it’s something that will always remind us of how fragile the little brute can be.
D.A.D: Do you harbour any ill feelings towards a children’s character or programme? If so tell us more…
DS: I’ve seen more episodes of Peppa Pig than is healthy, but, fortunately, they’re really good, so I can’t complain that much. (Although Daddy Pig’s attitude to the colour pink is distressingly regressive. MEN WHO WEAR PINK ARE COOL.) ‘Thomas And Friends’ freaks me out a little bit, I’ll confess: THEY CAN’T TURN THEIR HEADS, THEY HAVE NO HANDS, AND THEY CAN ONLY GO WHERE THE TRACK LETS THEM. “I’VE DERAILED A-FUCKING-GAIN AND NOW I JUST HAVE TO LIE HERE IN THE FUCKING SNOW UNTIL SOMEONE COMES ALONG WITH A CRANE AND SORTS ME OUT.” JUST IMAGINE HOW AWFUL THAT MUST BE.
D.A.D: Agreed. We also struggle with a certain figurehead of the postal service and his ability to do his job he’s been doing for 30 years. We’re guessing despite your love of trains, you never wanted to be Thomas (the Tank Engine) as a kid?
DS: Fuck no. I genuinely think there’s something incredibly disturbing about those characters: it’s Locked-In Syndrome repurposed to entertain children. That said, Stan sodding loves it, so, you know. What do I know?
D.A.D: Are there any Brands, services or Ad’s out there that you feel are pitched perfectly at you and your current point in life?
DS: The LostMyName crew are smashing it. Gloriously and multilingually so.
D.A.D: Lastly, As Adland Suit you were a little sweary, how are the profanity levels these days?
DS: Moderate. And appropriately managed. More or fucking less.