'I’ve worked on some bonkers briefs' – Creative Q&A, Ogilvy PR's Charlie Coney

PRWeek grills creative comms figures on how they got where they are, their career highlight, solving creative writer's block, and more. Today we speak to Charlie Coney, creative strategy officer, UK and EMEA, at Ogilvy PR.

'I’ve worked on some bonkers briefs' – Creative Q&A, Ogilvy PR's Charlie Coney

How did you get where you are now?

Back when people found jobs in The Guardian’s Media supplement, I spotted an ad for “people interested in travel and PR”. I loved travel, had no idea what PR was, but they still hired me.

I then joined the Red Consultancy, where – like many folks in agencies across London today – I learned what real PR was all about. After an in-house eBay stint, I joined Golin and had an amazing decade working alongside Matt Neale, Jon Hughes and Bibi Hilton. I was so bad at managing client budgets I was ‘promoted’ to creative director and never looked back.

In 2016, Matt asked me to go to LA to set up a creative department. I originally said no but asked for time to think about it – then I overheard my sister-in-law say we’d never have the guts to move, and the decision was made for us.

We moved back in August and I now straddle creative and strategy at Ogilvy, where I’ve never learned so much in such a short period of time.

What's been your creative career highlight?

I’ve worked on some bonkers briefs. I closed Piccadilly Circus for the flaming-red-hot-carpet opening of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, a cross between Mad Max and Made in Chelsea, where celebrities rubbed shoulders with Lizard Man, contortionists, sword swallowers and Dennis Avner, a man who believed he was a cat. We got him out of airport quarantine the night before and bought a pound of uncooked burger meat from Garfunkels for him to eat.

Worst. Rider. Ever.

I also persuaded Unilever to make a new Surf variant to announce its TOWIE sponsorship. We made, branded and sold 900,000 bottles of ‘Surf Summer D’Reem’ – Unilever’s fastest-selling product at the time. It generated £3m in revenue and made me acutely aware of PR’s commercial impact.

…and lowlight?

Neither Matt Neale nor Jon Hughes let me forget the time I turned the laptop off halfway through our global Nokia pitch. I meant to play our big creative video and it took 15 minutes for the machine to reboot. Sorry boys.

What's your favourite campaign of the past three months (not one that you or your organisation were involved in), and why?

I love ideas that nudge up against laws and regulations to create impact, like the Tampon Book, Legal-Ade and the Black Supermarket – standout Cannes winners. The latest is from Distance, the Paris running store, which recruited runners to break the newly lowered city-wide speed limit, with stunning content captured on speed cameras.

How do you solve creative writer's block?

Insert standard Steve Jobs quote about creativity being just "connecting dots". Have lots of dots. Get outside. Ride a bike. Go for a swim. Don’t concentrate too hard on the problem and trust your subconscious to make connections for you – and write the random stuff down.

There’s quality in quantity, hopefully.

How should PR grow its creative prowess?

A very smart woman once told me to keep product front and centre. Great creative can, and should, drive business results. Shift product and you shift perceptions. Thanks, Bibi.

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