John Cherry_Atomic_indievsnetwork.jpg

Networks vs indies: John Cherry on process, people and proactivity

Atomic's new ECD on how the culture and creative process differs at independent and network agencies

By Creative Salon

John Cherry joined Atomic London as joint executive creative director in January to work alongside Katy Sumption who runs its social and activation capabilities.

He has worked on both sides of the independent/network agency fence with stints at Wieden & Kennedy, Mother, Fallon, JWT and VCCP. His work includes the Stella Artois 'Smooth originals' campaign, which won a Cannes Gold Lion in 2009.

We caught up and found out how these different environments impact creative output, which Cherry prefers and why he believes in Atomic's potential and leadership team.

He also talks about the importance of embedding play into the creative process and being reactively spontaneous as a way of allowing the best work to emerge.

Does the creative process and output differ in an independent agency compared to a network one?

I’m not saying anything new here, but when it comes to developing and making work, the smaller size of independents beats network agencies hands down. There are business processes at networks built to log every minute and bill clients for as much as possible.

But those processes tend to encroach on ideas, slow things down, get in the way of people using their initiative, and suck momentum and energy out of a project. Too many people are required to say ‘yes’ to the simplest of ideas to allow the job to get going. In contrast, at independents, there’s more responsibility and onus on getting an idea done.

Do you prefer it, and if so why?

Some people work best at network agencies, and some work best at independents. It’s down to what structure gets the best out of people.

In my experience, I find independents provide more freedom for creative thinking.

Great independent agencies care about their people and culture and, as a result, are more fun but even they aren’t invulnerable to talent leaving behind agency life altogether – something proven in today’s great talent exodus.

We’re in a creative industry where everyone is doing more work, but only creating ideas sporadically. The days when a team would make nine to ten campaigns a year seem unbelievably distant.

Lockdown has exasperated the fun of working in advertising. The work will always seem harder when a detailed, locked process halts the ideas you’re excited about rather than add to them. Elongating the time it takes to make something means taking longer to sign something off, which eventually means it will be less likely that the work gets made. That’s considerably under stress at networks.

I’m a great believer that the enjoyment, energy and fun people have in developing the work seeps into it (and I include clients in that creative development process).

What work that you've created from both sides are you most proud of - and how (if at all) do those differences manifest themselves within them?

I’ve been lucky enough to work at some of the best agencies and had the best times with really talented people. What stands out is how fun, fulfilling and rewarding collaborating was.

The best work is always effortless and enjoyable, hard but fulfilling. Relaunching Stella Artois at Mother was tough, we were expected to create new great work inspired by what had been previously done. Despite the obstacles we encountered, it all came together when we focused the visuals on the 1960s European jet-set. We had some of the world’s best directors, photographers and illustrators itching to contribute - the likes of Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola who approached us to say they’d be up for doing something for the brand. Of course, that motivated us to write the script immediately.

My favourite piece of work was an immersive experience we wrote with PunchDrunk called the Night Chauffeur. Pub customers rode in chauffeur-driven Citroens, starting and ending their night at their local watering holes as part of a film noir-inspired evening. People loved it and Stella Artois actually commissioned this activation for their Christmas party. Stood outside the pub hearing that people were truly excited by your work, that was special.

What attracted you to Atomic and its hybrid model of brand and performance?

What attracted me to Atomic was the agency’s potential and the leadership team; their desire to make distinctive work, where nothing is left as an afterthought. We’re also committed to making work differently and putting the fun back into advertising, while encouraging independence and action from people. We want them to share ideas freely and to develop an enjoyable internal culture for everyone who comes through the door.

What are you most looking forward to getting stuck into at Atomic?

Side hustles are where people invest their energy and focus today, where they get most fulfilment – and previously, this used to be gained from working in-agency. It’s not just young people who operate like this, more experienced people have similar ambitions to turn their side hustles into something big enough to quit the day job. In the space of a decade, we’ve gone from advertising being a career that was considered as cool and bags of fun to a ‘day job’ that people dream of one day quitting.

I’m hopeful that we can proactively re-instil the desire and drive in ad people to make ideas happen rather than have to wait for someone’s permission to create something or to go through a lengthy hierarchical process defined by people who no longer make the work.

I relish meeting and chatting with our clients. Visits to agencies are the best part of a client’s day - and rightly so, it’s where we share and shape great ideas and encourage joy around exciting initiatives.

The John Cherry Files

We take a look back at some of Cherry's favourite former campaigns and he explains why he's selected this creative trio:

EasyJet, 'Imagine'

Today we take flying for granted, but it's actually amazing… it really is. You can wake up in your bed in London, book a flight on your phone and be having lunch in Rome, or Athens, or Seville, then as you wait for the bill book a flight to Berlin, Marrakech or Dublin for dinner all for less that the price of lunch (especially if it's in Rome). And we’re just used to this possibility, even the act of flying is amazing - you’re sitting in a chair in the sky. It’s unreal, it’s wow. And that’s what we aimed to do, have easyJet put the wow back into flying. Get people excited and enthusiastic about the possibilities to go… well… just imagine.

Stella Artois, 'Le Apartomatic'

Luckily the heritage of Stella ads and the brand world we created let us work with the world’s best creative minds two of which were Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola, who actually approached the agency after seeing social films we made.

Ribena, 'Ribenary'

Ribena wanted to reposition itself to young adults and away from their traditional “mum” target. Supermarket sales were falling and they knew cartoon berries didn’t get their new targets attention. Ribena is unique, especially its taste, its full of nostalgia for most adults. We wanted work to be as unique as Ribena’s taste itself, but also give young adults of the Snapchat/Insta/meme generation something to be nostalgic about in the future. The answer was to go a bit bonkers. It worked. Sales and awareness grew hugely with the younger target, but also with the “mum” group as well. They came close to running out of the ready-to-drink bottles at the end of summer. The rebrand campaign was voted one of the top ten campaigns of 2015 by the Guardian.


LinkedIn iconx

Your Privacy

We use cookies to give you the best online experience. Please let us know if you agree to all of these cookies.