Finding an Enlightend Path Through Adland

THE HALLWAY’s Creative Director Simon Lee shares his journey with Macleay College’s advertising students.

It was relatively early on a Monday morning (10am is still early for advertising Creatives right?) when Macleay College’s advertising class was welcomed into THE HALLWAY’s conference room for a presentation by the executive creative director and joint owner Simon Lee.

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It was my first time in an ad agency, and if things go well with my advertising studies, it certainly won’t be my last. It was immediately apparent that this was a cool place, filled with cool people. The open plan design, workroom walls of transparent plastic, and fleet of bikes make THE HALLWAY feel like a cross between a warehouse apartment, funky corporate office and a mod boutique. Simon and his business partner had gone to great effort to create an awesome work-space, and my intrigue about what he had to say was stirred, before he entered the room.

Simon’s Presentation “Following Siddhartha’s Lead – Finding an enlightened path through Adland” told of his own rich and varied journey into, out of, and returning to advertising, and drew comparisons to “Siddhartha”, Herman Hesse’s novel written in 1922, about an Indian man, who decides to leave behind his home in the hopes of gaining spiritual illumination.

Siddhartha’s story starts in a Palace, as does Simon’s. His first position was at Chateau Mccann, the French HQ of McCann Erickson. In Siddhartha’s story the palace was filled with opulence and dancing girls. Simon’s castle featured supermodels, exotic lunches and whacky characters including a roller skating producer.

At this point in his career Simon’s definition of advertising was: “Express yourself creatively, and write yourself into the most exotic locations possible”. As a junior copywriter he penned the lines for one of his first  TV commercials; “We open on a white sand, palm fringed beach…” and before he knew it, he found himself in Cuba filming the commercial on the very white sand beach he had described. Simon described that his motivation at that point was about the cool world that advertising could create.

After 18 months at Mccann Erickson in Paris he suspected that there might be more to life. Just as Siddhartha left the palace to connect with the aesthetics of nature, Simon left Chateau McCann and moved to Chamonix in the French Alps to make snowboarder films. But after 12 months of “sameness” he realized that Advertising still presented him with some exciting and challenging career options.

On his return, Simon carried with him the thought that “satisfaction would come from seeing his creative work have an impact, commercially and socially”.

The next part of Siddhartha’s story saw him become a merchant. He focuses on fulfilling his earthly dreams, he meets a woman and works toward building a fulfilling life. Simon’s story mirrors this.

He moved to Australia and though his initial intention was to work at Mccann Erickson Australia, he took a position at Lavender, to develop a deep understanding of hard data and the science of advertising.

At that time, Simon’s definition of advertising evolved to: “Driving results for clients”. Simon tells us, however, that when single-mindedly focusing on results there is a danger of starving the work of creativity.

After the next few years in Australia and having created a number of award winning campaigns, Simon travelled to South America to make a feature documentary. At this point in Siddhartha’s story he leaves the fast-paced bustle of the city and returns to the river.

On completion of the doco, Simon again returned to the advertising world, but had now found a middle ground between two paths, his passion projects and his commercial career. Simon started his own agency defined his new approach to advertising as being “the business of Affective ideas; Ideas that move the way people feel, think, and behave for the commercial benefits of our clients.”

Simon’s fourth and final definition of Advertising that brings all of his life experience together, is thus best summarized asMoving people, both literally and metaphorically.

Simon finished Siddhartha’s story by describing his final station in life working as a ferryman, helping others’ cross a large river. Siddhartha reflects that the river is a strong metaphor for life, where the source and the estuary exist simultaneously, and his own role is to help other transverse it. Simon too has become a ferryman, helping others move between creativity and implementation, problems and solutions and passion and existentialism.

And Simon’s answer to the question “In 2015, would Siddhartha still be a simple man looking for enlightenment? Simon and I both hope the answer is yes.

By advertising student Bryan Sainsbury-Hore.

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