My Brilliant Career: Harnessing imaginations to brand-building vehicles

Steph van Niekerk is the creative director on the Savanna account at Grey/WPP Liquid

14 March 2021 - 00:15 By MARGARET HARRIS

What does being creative director involve?Being a creative director means that, along with the brand team, you are the custodian of the brand within the agency. Your job is to partner with the clients to understand their business needs and their objectives, and to realise these through strategic and creative work.Most of my time is spent with the creative teams, ensuring that the work we produce is aligned with clients' needs and that it is on brand. We're in the business of building brands and that means wearing many hats. I'm part strategist, project manager, chief worrier, coach, cheerleader and mentor. I need to ensure that my teams are inspired to deliver world-class work, and that they have everything they need to grow and develop their talents, ultimately ensuring the agency achieves its creative ambitions.What drew you to this type of work?I actually stumbled into advertising out of sheer rebellion. As one of SA's top matriculants, I was accepted to the University of Cape Town on a full bursary to study business science. My dad wanted me to be an actuary. But when you are young, you always know better, and after a few months I dropped out and went to Red & Yellow School of Advertising to pursue a career in copywriting. I never thought of myself as creative, and in those days you were either maths and science "clever", or creative. Advertising turned out to be a field that combined logic and critical thinking with the magic of creativity.How did you end up doing what you do today?It's been 21 years since I left college and started my internship at Ogilvy Cape Town. I've always been lucky, in the sense that I've been able to work at the country's best agencies alongside some of the best minds in the industry. I am where I am because of the people who took the time to nurture, mentor and coach me.How did lockdown change the way you work and your company as a whole?Covid has changed the industry in fundamental ways. Not only in the type of work we do, but also the way in which we work. Remote working has pros and cons, and we've had to adapt quickly. The creative process thrives on intimacy, creative rapport and connection. We are all stuck behind a screen, buried in an avalanche of Teams and Zoom meetings, and I'm starting to see and feel its effects on our creatives.Having said that, a lot of positives have come from this new reality. We've realised that remote working is possible, and I think this has helped us to work even closer with our global counterparts in the Grey network. Virtual meetings have become a norm, and the borderless idea-sharing and collaboration that came about as a result of it is terribly exciting and beneficial.What are your takeaways from the lockdowns?I don't think we can underestimate the emotional and mental strain of it all. It's made me realise that resilience is as important as talent.

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