'The best ideas are built on real-life insights' - talking creativity with Fever's Jo Chappel

In our latest interview with a leading UK PR creative, PRCA Creative Group chair Nick Woods grills Jo Chappel, creative director at Fever PR.

'I try to see the world through my son's eyes, in which even the mundane can be magical,' says Jo Chappel
'I try to see the world through my son's eyes, in which even the mundane can be magical,' says Jo Chappel

One of the things I’ve noticed as I’ve interviewed CDs for this series and through the birth of the recently launched Creative Mentoring Project is how few of our leading CDs fit either of the laziest stereotypes of Don Draper masculine-intensity or ‘wacky’.

Check out our previous Talking Creativity interviews with Joe Sinclair, Mark Perkins, Peter Mountstevens and Lotte Jones

Jo Chappel is another who busts the myth.

In fact, she doesn’t just bust the myth, she blows it to smithereens. This is a woman who, with no female creative role model to look up to or learn from in PR, has made it her role anyway. For whom motherhood is a beneficial addition to her ability and who seems determined to effectively nudge, cajole and persuade more women that being a creative is a path they could happily whistle their way along.

She is kind, thoughtful and self-deprecating, but also quick to laugh, quietly driven and not afraid to call things as she sees them. She is someone people instinctively warm to.

We’ve worked together for a few months on the Creative Mentoring Project and caught up on Saturday morning to talk more widely than we have done previously on a range of subjects in and around creative in PR.

Do you think PR should have more women in creative roles than we do?

100%. It’s obviously quite a new role, but it is now an accepted one and therefore we need to push for greater diversity in creative roles or risk coming up with the same types of ideas based on a pretty limited view of the world. Yes, a man can apply empathy and put himself in, say, a mum’s shoes but I believe the best ideas and campaigns are built on the real-life insights, the nuances and subtleties you get from having lived through an experience.

Do you think becoming a mum has changed your role and abilities for the better?

It’s different. I need to work slightly different hours, for instance, and I may not be going to every new pop-up experience or launch in the evenings. But equally, a huge part of my role is to be plugged into culture so I’ve carved room into my routines for new ways to access culture (podcasts are a lifeline) and I try and see the world through my son’s eyes, in which even the mundane can be magical. It’s also helped shift my perspective, sometimes we can get so wrapped up in the intensity of our work and being a mum, I feel a bit lighter about it all. No less passionate or ambitious, I just carry it more easily.

Why would you encourage women to enter the Creative Mentoring Project?

Because being a CD is a slightly unusual path, but particularly for women in PR. So if you’re a woman thinking, "I really enjoy, and am quite good at, the creative side", more than general account management, then why not learn from others who’ve taken that path before you? The macho, lone-wolf stereotype is literally from the last century; today we need men and women, all ethnicities, all educational backgrounds, introverts and extroverts… success lies in a much greater mix of people.

You began in account management and then gradually moved in to a specialist role – why?

Yeah, I was at Red and Frank from AE up to associate in general account management roles before becoming more specialist at Fever, firstly under two strong, visionary women as co-MD (Frankie Oliver and Lucy Mayo, now Watson) and then more recently with Bruce McLachlan, who’s been a huge advocate of my role. As to why, I think when I began I liked the variety and jack-of-all-trades side of our job, but then began to feel like I needed a craft to really hone, a specialism of some description and creativity was my strongest skill and the one I felt most passionate about.

So are you ‘the ideas woman’ in the agency.

I think it’s part of the job, but it’s not all I do by any stretch. I want everyone here to feel they can offer ideas and that means creating a culture and an environment in which people feel safe, where they can have fun, where risk-taking is possible and where they can lower their inhibitions and be open. It’s a set of principles based on a psychological concept called ‘burstiness’ that Adam Grant reveals as one of the secrets behind The Daily Show’s creative success in his brilliant podcast WorkLife, and makes sure that everyone is involved in coming up with ideas.

Lastly, what do you think when you hear someone say "PR creative directors are the industry’s new rockstars"?

Ha! I think it’s a bit of a clichéd view that puts creative directors up on a pedestal on their own and reinforces one of the stereotypes of us as peacocks with huge egos. I prefer to think of creative directors as part of the band and without the rest of the band it will all fall apart. That said, I wouldn’t mind having even a tiny bit of Stevie Nicks’ or Beyonce’s creative magic. Creatives come in all sorts of shapes and sizes – including female, who knew?

If you're 'bored of diversity' in the creative industries, you're bored of what fuels brilliant work

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