In conversation with John O’Keeffe, World Creative Director for WPP

O’Keeffe discusses the big challenges in creative education today and why WPP is supporting the New Blood Academy

What is special about New Blood Academy and why is WPP supporting it?

John O’Keeffe: Firstly the NBA (I don’t think you can have that acronym) comes under the auspices of D&AD. That immediately puts it ahead of all others, because D&AD is the most respected name in this field. Thus the best will be attracted to the best. The best students, the best scheme. So it makes eminent sense for WPP to keep as close to this endeavour as we can. It is not too apocalyptic to say that, without New Blood, there is no future for our industry.

Photography from the New Blood Academy

What do you think is the biggest challenge in creative education right now?

JO: My view for some time has been that we have over indexed on new technology and under indexed on creativity. This has led to something of a key skills shortage – a bland phrase that doesn’t necessarily do justice to the issue. I suppose an equivalent would be if the atomic industry had a really pukka I.T. department but couldn’t find any nuclear physicists.

We need to understand and accept that, for millennials, digital platforms, memes, gifs, apps et al are ‘hygiene factors’. An ability to deliver a brilliant creative solution is not and never will be, and we need to get back to that core understanding and educate as such.

New Blood Academy in Numbers. Illustration by Ingūna Ziemele

Risk-taking and mistakes are a fundamental part of great creative work. What’s one mistake that you learnt the most from?

JO: Not everything you do will be ground-breaking or award-winning or both. BUT it should at least be something you’d be prepared to stand by and defend. There have been occasions when, for lack of time or enough effort, I have either done a piece of work, or allowed something to go ahead that I’ve known wasn’t really good enough, but was nonetheless likely to get through the client.

The reward for such a casual approach is twofold. Firstly, you will have to see the thing through, which can take months if, for example, it’s a film. But more importantly, it will exist in perpetuity as an example of what you are capable of delivering against a certain type of brief. Better to leave it, get a good night’s sleep, and go again the next day rather than settle for less than your best.

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