new wave creatives
Fearing average, feeling confident and fighting imposter syndrome: Decoding Franki Goodwin
The Saatchi & Saatchi CCO on the importance of normalising creativity, working collaboratively with clients and prioritising clear communication
23 February 2023
Franki Goodwin takes a holistic and level-headed approach to creativity, looking for solutions and not limited by formats.
Since joining Saatchi & Saatchi a decade ago, she has been behind much of the company’s most notable work for clients including Direct Line and Deutsche Telekom (see below).
So it's no wonder that she was promoted last year to the Chief Creative Officer role. But her creative endeavours expand beyond being an award-winning creative for Saatchi, she's also a filmmaker and Executive Producer at Western Edge Pictures, the multi award-winning independent production company she co-founded in 2010 - with productions as far reaching as the BBC Gazza documentary, the feature documentary Pistorious and Rare Beastsdirected by Billie Piper.
With her varied career experiences and artistic education, she has trained herself to think laterally and proved herself to be a true modern creator. We find out what she thinks of her creative approach and leadership style.
Creative Salon: What does creativity mean to you?
Franki Goodwin: For me, creativity is about solving problems laterally. You could argue that artists are ultimately, the most creative people and aren't solving problems, but I think their problems burn inside their souls rather than ones they've been presented with.
While I'm quite happy to be called Chief Creative Officer, I don't own the title of creativity. Everybody can be creative – whether that’s creatively figuring out how to distribute vaccines across the country or resolving the logistics of getting tiny things in bottles. We tend to define creativity as a visual or cultural interest. As creative leaders, we need to make sure that creativity is allowed to come from anywhere and that it's not put on a pedestal. There are so many ways to solve something and that lateral nature of thinking is the most important part of creativity.
I find it weird that I ended up with in this job. I drew at school and was labelled as being good at art which put me on the trajectory for a creative path. I went to art school and studied design, which opened up doors to the advertising industry but I don’t really use the drawing as much these days.
CS: What role did creativity play in your childhood?
FG: My mum was an art student when I was younger and she made a lot of weird shit. But her creative force – which she rediscovered when she went to art school while I was a teenager - was undeniably influential on my thinking. It was also an active reminder not to leave creativity behind.
There was an element of art culture growing up in Scotland, with the four best art schools in the UK there. I went to Manchester to do a foundational course and returned to Glasgow School of Art feeling into how influential it felt. Trainspotting was made on my street and filmed in my city, and everybody knew somebody in a band – being creative felt like a route into something scalable.
CS: Were there any particularly inspirational people who helped shape your path or way of thinking?
FG: I had pretty good art teachers, but it was the gang of misfits and weirdos at school that provided a real sense of belong. My art tutor Steve Rigley, who I'm still friends with, inspired me immensely. As did the core gang of us in my final year at art school; we were invested in each other's work as much as our own. That approach prepared us for the outside world of juggling multiple projects and there was a real sense of generosity around openly discussing our work. I was very lucky to leave with a huge amount of confidence, which was quite rightly knocked out of me.
CS: What was it that you wanted to bring to the creative industries?
FG: I didn’t know what was possible when I first started out at art school. When I left I got a job in design. Confidence is a crazy thing; just when you think you’re a big fish in a small pond, you come to London, and realise how massive everything is and it’s all about survival. And then after surviving a bit, you question what happened to that girl and her original confidence because I needed her back.
I was just lucky that things happened at the right time; I've never really had a plan. I’ve always wanted to do things for a reason, which is why I ended up in a more logical, design oriented and problem-solving space. I was never interested in trends; I'm more interested in making purposeful decisions.
CS: Were there any challenges that you'd identified early on in the industry?
FG: I had this fear of average. It's probably always lurked - the fear of doing something that was just all right. I had an early realisation that sometimes some people will just not get my work and you have to learn to be OK with that. I learned to hold the line on the things that really matter to me.
CS: Do you require any conditions for igniting your creativity?
FG: Those have gone out the window along with my diary. I could say I go to art galleries but for me, it’s not so much about creating the conditions but making sure the people around me are fucking excellent. And then the opposite of curating idyllic conditions is being able to do the work despite all of the other shit that inevitably comes along with being a creative leader. It is an absolute privilege managing people and talking to them about their careers, rather than just thinking about yourself all the time. The job is a lot bigger than just solving the problems in front of you.
CS: How do you commit to yourself creatively?
FG: I rarely draw but I rediscovered drawing when I last travelled during a work break. At the moment, I'm into consuming language as a way of schooling my creativity. I'm listening to a lot of audiobooks and learning French again. When I was first promoted, I decided to take it up again as a way of putting time aside for myself. It teaches me to use a completely different part of my brain and I feel refreshed.
I don't consider myself an artist; I’m more of a problem solver and galvanizer of people, being able to point other very creative people in the right direction. I definitely lead from the front. I believe creative clarity and headspace make things clearer, not more confusing.
CS: How would you describe your approach to creative problem solving?
FG: I try to make sure that the problem is well articulated, so that we can actually work on solving the right problem - and then to make sure it's actually solvable. I have a great relationship with the planning guys. It's so important, especially as a leader, to have conversations about problems before trying to find the solution. I’m passionate about being the bridge to that logic and the brief; that's a big part of the job as you mature.
CS: Looking back on your career so far, do you have favourite piece of work that you that you’ve worked on?
FG: I don't. I could choose Hotel, which is the first website built on location. It was incredible living on a film set for six weeks, surrounded by talented famous people. It also literally opened up the door to everything I did afterwards.
We also built a website for Kenneth Branner when he was making a film opera of The Magic Flute. On-set, we were given a lot of access to the production team and built the site off every single bar of the opera. We even created games that you could play from your keyboard. It was a project that we went in really deep into for a while.
CS: What is it about the advertising industry excites you today?
FG: I think there's more of a tech shift coming. When I first started out, nobody knew what to do with all the tech but they wanted to make money from it. There’s currently a lot of figuring out of what’s real in tech. The biggest difference between me now and then is in terms of the influence I can wield. When I was younger, I never thought about the technology, I just dove straight in and made things in joyful naivety. I'd like to revisit that more combined with the experience I’ve acquired. I've never been worried about mediums changing; it’s not about where ideas live. They can exist in different places. I'm excited about what that tech shift becomes. We have to embrace change and try to be a positive force; in spite of tough times, we have to be useful to our clients and do the work we want to make. I want to be perceived as a creative partner to my clients and do better, sharper, smarter work with less waste. There's an opportunity to do less but really well; to embrace inevitable change - like media being more expensive. Let's treat those mediums with the value they deserve. We can help clients be more reactive and anticipate how they can be relevant as we buckle up to face what’s coming.
Brands play different roles in people's minds. There's a huge role for them to step into entertainment. Netflix’s venture into advertising brings opportunity for a reset to make advertising more reverential with people and think about how we're interrupting their experience. Hopefully, these platform changes and behavioural shifts will force us to be more entertaining. We really screwed it up with the Internet and the amount of advertising, legals and cookies that consumers are served – and we’ve given ourselves a bad name. Any opportunity for a reset is exciting.
CS: What do you think the industry can do to raise its creative standards?
FG: We have to be more rigorous around how we measure; we rely so much on measuring clicks and eyeballs, but it doesn’t really matter. It dukes the system as a way of getting numbers up, rather than providing meaningful engagement. Thinking of meaningful ways to measure engagement will force us as an industry to make more meaningful things.
You can test so much; and of course, marketers tend to listen to the tests that give the best news. So, there's a bit of honesty required. I talk about making an enemy of average; testing that is born out of averages has lost valuable information along the way. You lose the detail when you take an average - which is where the interesting anomalies and exceptions lie.
CS: What are the biggest challenges you're facing around creative leadership?
FG: Platform challenges and the changing media landscape is one part of it, but it’s also about navigating our clients to leverage doing better work. As a creative leader, there's challenges around talent – recruiting, cultivating and nurturing it. I genuinely think a lot about how to nurture young, emerging talent in a hybrid working world. How do you learn If you're not in a room with people and sitting next to a designer to show you how to use the software? I’m holding live sessions with juniors so that they can learn basic stuff. But the osmosis within an agency is crucial when you're young. And we still haven’t worked out how to share inspiration digitally - no one wants a WhatsApp group, Teams or Slack, or email. Despite all the progress around platforms, there’s a real challenge with hybrid inspiration sharing and upskilling that is directly exacerbated by being in and out of the office when everybody's working on separate things. I do worry about young talent not having the support they need.
CS: Imagine the advertising industry is banned next year. What would you do with the rest of your life?
FG: I’d make films. I’d probably park myself outside of Western Edge Pictures’ offices and say, you've got me full time now.