a believer in creativity for good
ADCE newly appointed president, Alexander Schill, is Global Chief Creative Officer of Europe’s largest independent agency network, Serviceplan Group, and since 2006 he has been at the centre of the group’s innovative influence. In just five years, Schill brought Serviceplan to the front row in national and international creative rankings. He was awarded and recognized across the globe and supported the network’s worldwide growth, which today counts more than 24 offices in 17 countries. He envisions global award-winning creativity for some of the world’s leading brands and brings to life ideas for, amongst others, the visually impaired, the voice of refugees or the perception of environmental problems.
Transitioning to a creative culture that utilizes the ingeniousness of individuals has been one of his interests for almost three decades. He believes that creativity will make the future gaugeable differences for markets and humankind. As president of the Art Directors Club of Europe (ADCE) and member of the global WARC council, jury president in numerous creative festivals around the world such as Cannes Lions, CLIO, NYF, D&AD, Eurobest and as a regular keynote speaker at the international award circuit he has become a strong voice for a limitless creativity and a measurable impact it can deliver to humankind.
Alex studied at the Berlin University of the Arts (UdK) and has won more than 80 Cannes Lions to date. In 2021 he was named third most awarded CCO worldwide by the DRUM world creative rankings. We have interviewed him to get some insights on his trajectory, his vision for the club and the way he sees creativity, the motor of ADCE.
You are very well-known in the industry but just as a more up-and-close introduction, could you share some projects you’ve been involved with that you would highlight as defining in your career?
I wouldn’t define my career simply on the work I did myself, but I felt from very early on that my patch is more in preparing the ground for good work to happen in a surrounding with others. So it was important for me to define a way of leadership, more than being judged on the final piece and earn credits for it. For me leadership today is enabling, putting diverse teams together and being a mentor for ideas.
But if I had to nail it down to projects I have been involved in, I would probably refer more to the later projects that actually had the power to change the world than to the pure advertising pieces. Such pieces would be the cooperation with DOT Incorp. from Korea in bringing helpful devices for the visual impaired to life, or lately a project called Meltdown Flags that visualises the dramatic data in climate change of the melting glaciers around the world.
For me, it is not so much about some milestone projects but more about a long-term commitment to creativity as such. As the most effective and powerful tool to bring change and create real value.
What fascinates you most in becoming President of the ADCE?
The ADCE with its non-profit orientation represents a true value in the industry. It purely focuses on creation and is – also because it does not pursue any economic interests – exactly the right partner for agencies that are currently operating in an economically tense environment. I do not believe in the business model of creating award shows in the purpose of making profit. Creativity is a higher good with an amazing power to leave a mark in society. It shouldn’t be itself an object of interest amongst businessmen. That’s why I like to engage myself for the ADCE as one of the few strong non-profit creative operations in the world.
Besides the non-profit orientation I am a great fan of the European idea in general which of course is the basis of the ADCE. As Chief Creative Officer of the largest owner-managed agency group in Europe, the understanding of Europe as one diverse creative unit is enormously important to me. This common understanding goes perfectly along with Serviceplan’s mantra of ÜberCreativity, which we define as “a higher form of innovation which happens when diverse disciplines, cultures, talents, technologies and media collaborate and interplay”.
What do you want to achieve during your presidency?
Creativity is a super-power to make problems visible for all of us and across man-made borders. For me, visibility is key. We can only change the things we can see and understand. My main intention will be to focus exactly on this message: Let’s use creativity to push topics – for social good or for brands – into the forehead of society and consumers by making them visible in the first step.
The ADCE is Europe’s gallery of creative visibility. It is my goal to show the uniqueness of the Club and to push further the European idea of diversity. I want to give the ADCE as an entity a stronger voice.
We live in a visually overwhelming world, how do you make things really visible amongst so many images and messages? How do you make things stand out from the crowd?
Today design is the entrance door to be recognized. Amongst all those thousands of messages that surround us every day we have to stand out visually first. Obviously – not telling anything new here – next big thing is the right insight. An insight that people can connect to, makes them get involved. And involvement is the key to create a conversation, which is the most important thing to stick to people’s minds.
No one-answer-fits all, but to create a conversation, the design and a deep understanding of what the problem is that we want to address, make things stand out today and in the future.
Which aspects need creative visibility the most and why?
If I would have to pick one, I would choose the truth. We are facing a world, where we can not trust anything anymore. Which makes people doubt the most obvious messages. Even when it comes down to pure product information. So no matter if for a good cause or the simplest form of advertising, the truth is the most crucial thing we have to fight for.
Creativity is often related automatically to the notion of embellishment rather than to the capacity to create change. You are a great believer in creativity for good, do you think the appreciation of creativity’s power to make a difference is finally taking over?
Yes. That is totally what I believe.
What are some examples that evidence this outdated notion is changing?
Just read the news or ask yourself. People are yearning for authenticity and honesty. From politicians as well as from brands. No more advertising that creates false worlds and which is totally disconnected to the brand. But true messages. And don’t get me wrong. A true message can be fun and make people laugh. A true message must not be heavy and always world changing. Maybe the world especially needs to get easy and positive messages again these days. It is pretty simple: if you want to change the world, then change the world and really do it. If you want to make people laugh, then tell a joke. But don’t make up things just because you think that you know what people want to hear. Tell them what you think and start a conversation.
Is the New European Bauhaus project an opportunity to show creativity’s capacity to drive change? ADCE is now a partner of the project, what do you expect from this collaboration?
The initiative of the New European Bauhaus is a combination of Serviceplan’s mantra of Übercreativity and the European idea. So of course: I love it! Its core is to bring together different cultures and creative disciplines to discuss and solve problems outside the commercial world. Which brings in the third aspect – which is again one of my main personal columns – the power of creativity to change things for the good. Whereas I hope that this is not only an initiative that is created on paper but a serious start and long-term commitment to combine Europe’s creative talent with the challenges we face now and in the future.
A little exercise of creativity to finish this interview and kick off your presidency. ADCE stands for Art Directors Club of Europe, but it could also stand for…
Audacity – to go where no one went before
Dedication – because without dedication, everything is nothing
Creativity – is key to solve the biggest challenges on earth
Empathy – there is no understanding without empathy
Thank you, Alex, we look forward to working with you and making our voice – the voice of European Creativity – more strong, truthful and meaningful together.
A big cheers to the next two years!