We recently got the pleasure of having a Q&A with Cillian Kieran, CEO of full-service digital agency CKSK.
Headquartered in Dublin and with an office in Amsterdam, CKSK has opened its first U.S office in New York with new business wins Pernod Ricard and Heineken USA as clients.
Give it a read. He really took the time to hash out some great answers to our questions.
1. What’s your goal with the new CKSK New York office?
Our primary goal is to accelerate the trajectory of tremendous growth that CKSK has already experienced internationally. We believe the USA is instrumental in that growth plan.
2. You seem to like starting your own companies. What advice would you give to anyone out there with a good idea to get them off their ass and start a company of their own?
Don’t Just Do It:
First, consider what it is you're trying to create and what you would like it to look like in three, five and 10 years’ time. This roadmap will inevitably evolve dramatically, but many companies, particularly tech startups, collapse due to a lack of clear planning.
Ignore The Doubters:
When launching CKSK, we were initially approached by the nay-sayers who didn’t believe in what we strived to accomplish in Ireland and beyond. Fast forward several years and CKSK has achieved unprecedented global success as an Irish-founded agency.
Set aside your ego. Even if it's costly, surround yourself with people more talented than you will ever be. The result will be a group of smart and dedicated minds, working together to achieve the best results for your clients.
3. What does a creative just getting started in this business need to do to catch your attention?
I love this question. First off, please don't send me a resume or a portfolio. I value work experience over educational background. For instance, my technical skillset and creative perspective come from my working days on personal and professional projects. Candidates that are able to succinctly demonstrate their talents and have a style and repertoire all on their own are the ones that stand out to me. It’s important that candidates can easily demonstrate their ability through the practical application of your work rather than printed books arranged through consultation with a tutor.
Also, while I know everyone wants to come up with the next smart recruitment idea to get the attention of top agencies, be realistic. Instead, do consistently great design and develop a style and repertoire all of your own. Those people bubble to the top because they're creating, not for commercial gain, but for passion of their craft, and will inevitably get hired at great agencies.
On a tactical level, I recognize those who can be creatively smart with retargeting ads, location aware ad serving systems, and even just intelligently targeting LinkedIn Ads.
4. What do you look for in a new hire, after they’ve been hired?
CKSK is a Willy Wonka's Factory for digital experimentation. We wholeheartedly believe that true passion just pours out of people who care, and that’s the most important thing in the world. But only a certain mindset wants to work like that. So we look for people who thrive on proactively creating new work with passion. We have great management and direction, but the people who excel at CKSK are those that end up needing the minimum of this because they're already so passionately fired up to do great work. That doesn't make them 'yes' people; in fact, they probably question briefs and client objectives more than anyone - purely to make the work better.
5. What do you do, outside of work that you’re proud of?
I write and keep a catalogue of personal thoughts which are just that – thoughts on life, as a journey that has evolved over the last 10 years. I’m sure this comes largely from observing my father, an artist in France who has meticulously written in his journals throughout my entire life. I’ve also been writing a series of children’s stories for nearly five years now. There’s no commercial intent behind this as it’s purely a personal passion so that I don’t lose touch with the things that I believe make me truly creative.
Additionally, I illustrate quite often, which can vary from a face I’ve seen during the day on the street, to an imaginary character, to simply line art. Again, this is simply another way to completely disconnect from work. It’s something that I do for myself and only share with my father.
I am also particularly excited about restoring a vintage Norton motorcycle, a 1944 16H, with my brother this winter. Working on engines is something I love to do, and cylinders and gaskets are a complete detachment from pixels and microprocessors.
6. Have you ever thought you’ve had an awesome idea, only to have it fail completely?
All the time! I've had several other businesses fail, and I still believe the ideas were great. I think it may have been that the timing, execution or planning was off but the ideas were, and still are, solid. My ‘failures’ taught me that focusing on a single endeavor until it's truly self-sufficient (and they rarely are) is vital.
7. You’ve worked in Europe, Eastern Europe, and now New York. How do you like it here so far?
I have completely fallen in love with New York. The energy, creativity and visceral nature of the city motivates me every morning. There is truly nowhere that I've visited on the planet that can match New York in its ability to spark your creative energy and will to build something.
8. Having worked in all of the above listed places, what have you learned about fostering creativity in each of them? Or, is fostering creativity pretty universal?
Although there are considerable cultural nuances tied to living and working in any city, I believe the essence of fostering creativity remains the same. For instance, at CKSK, we create an environment that pushes boundaries and encourages people to challenge the status quo through making it an environment conducive and safe enough to share ideas, question thoughts and push each other. It’s all about creating an attitude towards freedom of creative thinking that allows ideas to breed freely.
Building a strong team that works towards the same goal of developing the best creative for its clients stems from a shared point of view which is built over time and requires people bonding, with trust and care for each other’s roles. In addition, by understanding one another’s roles, we have a better understanding of the challenges we each face and can better motivate, support and create together. This approach allows for a strong sense of trust where everyone feels comfortable enough to freely share their deepest thoughts or concerns to get the best results.
9. Who’s your dream client, and why?
For me, there isn't a single brand that represents a dream client. There are, however, two answers to this for me. A dream client in the strictest sense is one who's willing to work alongside its agency as a partner and trust that it will unerringly attempt to do the right thing for you. Often, that level of trust isn't there.
On the other hand, my dream client would be a brand that operates in the youth or CPG space that isn't number one but wants to be. Many brands talk about their wish to emulate true challenger brands, but few are willing to actually take the risks to do so. We're suited to supporting the brands that want to take risks, create something special and carve out a new position for them. Our dream clients are the brightest and most adaptable. Simply put, Darwinism applied to advertising.
If I look at our current work for Coors Light, we developed an insight around the need for constant entertainment that had a genuine, physical reward. From this, we conceived a gaming platform that unlocked prizes at the point of purchase – something that hadn’t been previously pursued by the brand. It listened to our passionate belief and the data points that could justify the creative thinking and went with it. To date, that Coors Light platform is the most successful mobile campaign we’ve ever conducted with a game being played every seven seconds with more than one million total games plays during the course of the campaign. Taking that risk has completely changed Coors Light’s internal and external perception as to the art of what is truly possible for a brand.
10. Please, feel free to give our readers any parting words of wisdom.
At CKSK, we have Friday sessions where talented creatives from all over the world speak to our team about their passion, whether that's what they do professionally or personally. We've had some amazing people within our walls, including the founders of Hyper Island in Sweden, award winning Australian director James Cooper, the Offsett Conference founders, illustrator Steve Simpson and renowned skate photographer Richard Gilligan. A diverse collective of some of the best young creative talent in the world.
I actually spoke a few weeks ago as we realized, with the pace of growth, some of the new team members hadn't been fully briefed on our view of creativity. As such, I spoke about my personal passions, writing, drawing and the power to imagine anything.
These sessions may sound somewhat idealistic, but the single greatest differentiator in the most successful people I've met is passion. Whether you meet a young accountant or a senior creative, you connect most deeply with those that have the power to move people to their cause with unwavering passion.
People say it's working hard and long but, if you actually look at the people achieving this, working hard is a byproduct of their passion. It’s a given because they care so deeply with their passion as a driving factor. It’s a pure belief in your vision that never wavers. If you've got passion, you'll go so much further than those too busy trying to look creative or sound talented. Passion is the most infectious quality you can have.