You Need Something Amazing To Set Standards When The Rest Of The Industry Is Average: Reg Bryson

You Need Something Amazing To Set Standards When The Rest Of The Industry Is Average: Reg Bryson

The Campaign Palace is a legend in its own right, renowned for its peak creative genius before shutting up shop in 2012. But its legacy lives on, and speaking to B&T, former CEO Reg Bryson feels the industry suffers without a Palace-equivalent to set the standards. Bryson appears in our latest issue of B&T alongside other legendary industry veterans.

Hannah Edensor
Posted by Hannah Edensor

“It was an amazing agency for three decades,” Bryson lamented. “We were Australia’s first world class agency and we stayed that way for decades.”

“I ended up being one of the people who started up the Sydney Campaign Palace. There were four of us on staff then, Jack Vaughn, Bob Isherwood, Chris Martin-Murphy and myself, and two freelance people. That’s where it all started.

“We were seen as almost recklessly creative and too risky for clients. We broke rules and we had a philosophy we really stuck to and we believed that ideas could change the world. We didn’t give clients what they wanted, we gave them what they needed, and that was just a whole different ball game.

“We had a policy of no juniors. We let the big, multi-national agencies be the training agencies. We would only hire the senior people, and we would only hire world-class people. Just about all the legends worked for The Palace. And most of the start-ups came from people spinning off The Palace.

“We didn’t believe that advertising was just about selling. That’s why we continued to have battles with people like John Singleton and his agency because his was an agency that flogged products without being sold. We actually believed it was more important to get people to want to buy.

“If you could win their heart, then they would buy it again and again and again. We wanted to get people to love the product, just like Apple became a loved product.

We made the Palace a really special place. It’s a pity that a Palace doesn’t exist now in Australia, because you always need something that’s setting a standard that’s just awesome when all the industry is just average.

Bryson told B&T The Palace was a creative and philosophy-led agency, that had wild ideas but also a strong planning strategy to back it up.

“We were determined to say great creative work does work and works better than the boring shit every other agency is doing. And that’s where great planning and great thinking and great creative came together. And we proved that over time. Not only did we win awards around the world, we dominated in Australia,” Bryson said.

“In the early days, because we were so dominant and so strongly defined as being creative, clients would put us on their shortlist just for entertainment value. They’d go and see all the serious agencies and they’d put us on the list as the crazy ones to see what we would do.

“But we actually won a lot of business that way because we convinced them that we weren’t just crazy.

“One of the things we never tried to do was do a creative presentation. So when every other agency was presenting creatively, we were doing the exact opposite. We actually tried to ban doing creative presentations for clients. We did totally strategic presentations.

“So if a client came in and briefed us and said ‘I need to sell more milk’, traditionally the agencies would run around and brief the creative departments and come back with three or four ideas on how to sell more milk.

“We would do the exact opposite. We would immerse ourselves in the market and the consumer, we would look at the issues around milk, what do they think about milk, what are their beliefs and attitudes around it, how do they use it, what opportunities are there?

“And that was a really radical way of doing business. But what’s the point in doing creative work if you don’t know what you’re doing it for?

“One of our sayings was ‘shape the game you play, don’t play the game you find’. And advertising was such a powerful tool in those days, unlike today where it’s just one of many tools, it’s sort of blunted.

“In advertising then, on a Sunday night, you could roadblock three movies and you could talk to 84 per cent of Australia and have them talking at the train station or bus stop the next day about what you did.

“Now, your average kid is looking at six screens at once and it’s harder for ideas to get through. But having said that, you look at what’s on TV and the ideas that are out there now and not a lot excites you. It’s not pure or clever. We always worshipped cleverness. The idea was great, and people would look at it and say yeah, that’s cool, and so then the client was cool.

One of the sayings was, ‘always remember an advertiser is a guest in the mind as well as the home’. So we never had that philosophy of irritating to sell or overstepping the mark.

“The industry now I’m sure is still full of great creative people, but you don’t see the product, you don’t see the effect as clearly and as strongly, or the focus on great ideas or great creativity like we used to.

But Bryson is an optimist at heart, and firmly believes that Adland is still the most exciting place to be.

“There’s never a dull moment, it’s always interesting,” Bryson told us.

“It’s still a great industry to be in, and if I came back again – doctor, dentist, solicitor – there’s no way in the world I’d do any of that. I’d look straight for another job in advertising, that’s for sure.

“What other industry have you got that balance between the art and creative and business and strategy and thinking? You can have such an impact on the world. You really can change things.”

B&T’s latest issue is right now floating through the postal system, ready to drop onto your desks and into your letterboxes any day now, where you can read more from Reg and his inspiring, wisdom-filled peers in our Industry Elders feature.