Andy Law of St. Luke’s and thelawfirm: A Creative Interview

I recently read Creative Company: How St. Luke’s Became “the Ad Agency to End All Ad Agencies” and was inspired enough by the book to reach out to the author, Andy Law. To my surprise, he actually responded and agreed to an interview for my blog. The full interview is below, but first a little background about Andy Law:

Andy studied Latin, Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Bristol and worked briefly in commodities trading before beginning his advertising career in 1978. He joined the graduate trainee program at Wasey-Campbell Ewald and eventually became the youngest board director at Collet Dickenson Pearce in 1988 working on famous brands like Hamlet Cigars and Range Rover. He joined Chiat/Day in 1990 as Senior Vice President for business development and chaired the Chiat/Day “think tank” which was formed to make recommendations on how Chiat/Day should change to take advantage of future developments such as the Internet. He became CEO in 1993. Andy co- founded the radical communications company St. Luke’s in 1995 and two years later the agency was voted Agency of the Year. In 1999 came the Business Ethics Magazine’s Millennium Ethics Award and numerous other plaudits and prizes followed. By 1996 Andy had instilled a zero carbon footprint at St. Luke’s as well as a “performance-related” social welfare programme in India. In 2002 Andy was voted Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year. Andy has been invited to join a number of UK Government “think tanks” including The Knowledge Economy Advisory Group, chaired by Lord Sainsbury, “Healthy Teachers, Healthy Schools “ for the Departments of Health and Education and the DTI’s Digital Economy Policy Group. Andy is one of only a very few Admen invited to participate in, and chair working parties at, The World Economic Forum at Davos and is regularly invied to speak worldwide on Creativity, Business and Human Capital. Andy has written two best selling business books. Open Minds (published 1998), voted The Daily Telegraph’s Business Book of the Year, and Experiment At Work (published 2003), voted WHSmiths’ Business Book of the month. Open Minds was published as Creative Company in the US. A profile of Andy was written up in Harvard Business Review of October 2000. He was also profiled in Charles Handy’s book The New Alchemists, alongside Richard Branson, Trevor Bayliss and Bob Ayling of BA. Andy has founded the global communications company The Law Firm to help clients worldwide meet the communications challenges of the 21st Century consumer age and fuel global awareness of the need for social and environmental change. He is based in London. The Law Firm now operates in over 80 countries worldwide.

KL: And how you ended up with the idea of creating the transformative agency, St. Luke’s in London over a decade ago.

AL: St. Luke’s was a team effort although David Abraham and I spearheaded the ideas and ideals behind the company. David and I were fascinated by how companies were struggling to retain their control and command techniques, due to the emerging internet, legislation and the growth of whistle blowers. We developed a concept called TRS (Total Role in Society) whereby a company could measure its total social, environmental, ethical and commercial effects. It was ambitious, but I look at what’s happening now, 15 years later, and I realize that we were genuinely way ahead of our time. Key to making TRS work, we felt, was instilling “Human Rights in the Workplace”. Since our business was people-intensive we wanted to invest and nurture Human Capital.

KL: At what point did you decide to write a book (Creative Agency)? How did that process work for you, being a busy agency owner/executive?

AL: I was approached by Martin Liu of Orion Business Press who was on the lookout for an innovative UK business story. The UK is generally not a place to find experimental ideas in the workplace. The US has always pioneered cool workspace and innovative working practices. Martin said we had a great story and it would make a great book. I said “fine, who’s writing it?”. “You”, he said.” Its got to be a personal story”. I wrote it between 9.00pm and 2.00 am every night for 6 months. We had our second baby and I utilized the time when the baby needed attention! Yes, you can think and change diapers at the same time…..almost.

KL: Why did you decide to write the second book, Experiment at Work? How would you describe the differences between the two books for those that haven’t read it?

AL: After the amazing success of Open Minds/Creative Company, Martin approached me again. I had been asked to speak around the world at conferences which my fellow Admen had no idea even existed. I was taking about Human Capital and Creativity. I found myself on podiums with the likes Mikael Gorbachev, Buzz Aldrin and Bill Clinton. Agencies around the world were knocking on the door to join The St. Luke’s Story. Experiment At Work ended up being a flawed book in my opinion, though with more “out-there” ideas than Creative Company. I was writing about a global dream and people at St. Luke’s were telling me St. Luke’s was never going to be the agency to deliver it. However, it has its moments and Chapters 3 and 4 are special.

KL: You have another book, Open Minds, which focuses on the business lessons from innovations at St. Luke’s. Can you tell us about that?

AL: No! Its just the UK version of Creative Company! I did tell Amazon, but the two still appears as a joint promotion sometimes. I just hope no one has bought both.

KL: When you first started St. Luke’s, just about every aspect of the organizational structure and creative process was altered from the traditional ad agency model. Since then, many agencies around the world have mimicked a variety of your concepts. How does that make you feel?

AL: I always saw St. Luke’s as pioneering and experimental. So the fact that so many have cherry-picked ideas is fantastic. Our business is full of fabulous people, but I felt they were working in a way that did not bring the best out. If agencies have re-thought some of their processes because of Creative Company then I’m a happy man.

KL: More than a decade has passed since the inception of St. Luke’s…what do you see as its most lasting legacy?

AL: We showed that Ad Agencies can innovative and change with the times. Importantly we showed that we could be creative businesses not just creative suppliers.

KL: What of your original concepts implemented at St. Luke’s have you taken with you to your latest agency, thelawfirm?

AL: The issue of ownership has been expanded and greatly developed onto a worldwide stage into what you might call Liberation Management. The Law Firm started with nothing, literally a blank sheet of paper, yet Liberation Management has created a global company in under two years. I have also developed the brand room idea into client management and created a concept of account handlers as “generalists” who work for the client more than they work for the agency.

KL: Which, if any, concepts you’ve tested over the years at various agencies, would you recommend a small boutique agency consider testing?

AL: Involve the client at every stage of development and they will become your best friend. Make your agency a Destination Agency. What I mean is, make it buzz with creativity so much that even the paper boy gets what you’re trying to say.

KL: What of your concepts would you prefer people forgot about?

AL: Equal shares for all. It was a red herring. In fact it ended up rewarding long service not talent. At the end of the day, you must never devalue yourself.

KL: One of my favorite ideas from your book, is the family day, where parents visit the office to get a better feeling for what their children do for a living. We plan on implementing the idea at our search engine marketing agency, Anvil. Do you still do that at thelawfirm?

AL: Yes! It was a simple but fab idea and I recommend it to everyone! The Law Firm has just returned from its annual birthday think-a-thon (July 4th…of course!) and we have some even more crazy plans to unveil. We now encourage friends and faily to come into the workplace whenever they wish and use our facilities.

KL: If you had to distill your ad agency experiences into three rules, tips or immutable laws, what would they be?

  1. You can liberate people and lead them, but you Can’t Make People Do Want They Don’t Want To Do.
  2. As George Lois said, “Creativity is the defeat of habit by originality”. If you’re doing today what you did yesterday you are being boring.
  3. Companies based on a strong idea grow with no idea where they’re going (That’s innovation, that’s adventure!). But companies based on no idea need to be told where to go and how to grow (that’s lawyers, that’s accountants, that’s consultants….. that’s not creative!)

KL: Thanks for your time.