Q&A with Christie Cooper, creative director at DDB Aotearoa, who is representing New Zealand on the Ad Stars 2021 jury.
Cooper joined DDB Aotearoa in 2003 and has been there ever since (not counting a short stint at Colenso BBDO in 2012). Over the past 18 years at DDB, she has created award-winning campaigns for brands like BMW, Steinlager and Sky TV, often collaborating with her long-time creative partner James Conner. In 2016, they were both appointed creative directors, and since then, they’ve extended their talents to mentoring and guiding younger talent.
Cooper will soon represent New Zealand on the Final Jury at the Ad Stars 2021 Awards alongside 40 of the world’s top creative leaders.
Ad Stars: You first joined DDB in 2003. What do you enjoy most about the agency’s culture, and what keeps you there?
CC: It’s not hard to have a great workplace culture when you work with awesome people. Over the years I’ve worked at DDB, I’ve been lucky enough to work with many inspiring, talented, and supportive people.
It’s also a great family agency, I had kids when I was a junior creative and they’ve always been very understanding of the fact that work can’t always come first.
Ad Stars: DDB is known as DDB Aotearoa (‘New Zealand’ in Maori): How diverse are NZ’s creative industries, and how does this impact the work?
CC: New Zealand has a very ethnically diverse population, yet most of the NZ ad industry doesn’t reflect that well enough. However, it is something I know we are all looking to change. Creating a more diverse workforce is a top priority for DDB right now and there are many initiatives in place to ensure we achieve it. Kiwi ad agencies have already made huge strides with gender diversity over the past few years and most of the biggest Kiwi agencies here now have female CEOs (including DDB).
Ad Stars: Some of your best-loved ads are beautifully made and funny too. Who (or what) makes you laugh?
CC: New Zealand has quite a self-deprecating style of humour and I’m definitely not short of material when it comes to making fun of myself. I’ve never considered myself to be a very funny person but I do love to have a laugh and there are plenty of much funnier people in our agency that I can draw inspiration from, or rope in to help me make things funnier.
Ad Stars: Did you grow up around stories/advertising/creativity?
CC: I’ve always been into art, music, film, and reading. My dad’s a carver and my mum is a teacher and they really nurtured our creative sides when we were kids. I often spent math lessons hiding in the art class or the photography darkroom at school.
Ad Stars: You’ve spent a decade as a ‘work couple’ with James Conner, currently as joint CDs. Is there a secret to a long-lasting work partnership? Does he have any work habits you secretly find annoying?
CC: We’re so lucky that we get to work in a team. I love working with James. He’s one of my best friends and one of the most talented Art Directors I know. When you first meet us, you’d probably think we’re completely different, but we’re really similar in many ways. Working so closely together for so long means we do argue like siblings, but we agree on the important things and have our creative process down to a fine art. There are probably many more things that James finds annoying about me than things that I find annoying about him. But thankfully he continues to put up with me.
Ad Stars: What do you enjoy most about mentoring others?
CC: I’ve had many people help me out, teach me and mentor me over the years and I love being able to pass that on. To be able to help our teams, not just with their day-to-day work but also with their careers and goals is definitely one of my favourite responsibilities as a CD. I love watching our junior teams become more confident in their abilities and figure out they can actually do it. And there are many things I learn from them. It’s a bit of a cliché to say this but I really do get as much out of it as (I hope) they do.
Ad Stars: Do you think the pandemic will change our industry in any positive ways?
CC: Like many other countries around the world, the biggest thing the lockdowns proved is that we don’t need to be in the office to get our work done. Many New Zealand agencies and most of our clients now have a lot more flexibility in where and how they work. The downside of this is that it looks like Zoom meetings are here to stay.
Ad Stars: Can you reflect on the rise of ‘creativity for a cause’: when is it most powerful?
CC: James and I have always had a passion for cause-based creativity. Both with the charities we work with but also with a lot of the bigger corporates who are getting more and more interested in the good they can do for the world. We believe it’s our responsibility to use creativity for good and that applying creative thinking to social and environmental issues is something all advertising agencies should do as much of as they can. We take the charity work we do very seriously as we know the results could actually change lives.
Ad Stars: You’re joining the Final Jury at Ad Stars overseeing the Design and Print categories. What are you most looking forward to?
CC: I’m looking forward to being inspired by some of the best campaigns in the world, then having some good debates about which pieces of work fit that description the best.
Cooper will judge the Design and Print categories at Ad Stars 2021 – winners will be announced on 27th August.