Daniele Fiandaca and Mark Chalmers, founders of Creative Social: “It’s better to be wrong and interesting than right and boring”

Creative Social, founded in 2004 by Daniele Fiandaca and Mark Chalmers, is a collective of the world’s most pioneering, interactive creative directors and business owners (the Socials)—a group of people who recognise that collaborating in this digital landscape is how they’ll advance the industry and enjoy the journey.

Twice a year the Socials meet up face to face, creating a perfect tribe and catalyst for movement. The collective have so far staged CS Global events in Amsterdam, Antwerp, Barcelona, Beirut, Berlin, Hamburg, Las Vegas, London, New York, Paris, San Francisco, Sao Paolo, Shanghai, Stockholm and Tokyo.

Ahead of the next meet-up in London, which is taking place at Shoreditch Studios, EC2A 3HH, October the 2nd, 9:30am – 1:00pm, we’ve talked with Daniele and Mark to learn what makes Creative Social tick.

Photo: Daniele Fiandaca and Mark Chalmers, the founders of Creative Social
Photo: Daniele Fiandaca and Mark Chalmers, the founders of Creative Social

What’s the story behind Creative Social?

—D.F.: Creative Social came off the back of something I was already running in the UK, which consisted of some of the most interested business owners and creatives from the early throes of digital advertising. This included the likes of Mark Cridge at Glue London, John Owen at Starcom, Flo Heiss at Dare, Charlotte Neser at Abel & Baker and Tom, Sam and Dave at Lean Mean Fighting Machine. One of the first things we did was found Creative Showcase and, after winning one of the first Creative Showcase’s for a brilliant piece of work for ASICS, Mark Chalmers became a judge which is how I met him. I later happened to invite him to dinner and at the end of it he said, “what a brilliant collection of people. Can’t believe you have managed to get so many competitors working together for the collective good of the industry. Have you ever considered doing it at a European level?” Five months later the first Creative Social happened in Amsterdam and the rest is history.

—Why did you set it up?

—D.F.: The reason we set it up was simply because we realised that although digital was redefining history,  we were pushing against an advertising institution which did not really want digital to succeed. In the UK we knew of some brilliant independent agencies and we discovered that by working together, we were best placed to drive the movement forward. The ethos grew from there and our aim for Creative Social is to act as a platform for progression for creatives and the creative industry. Worth noting that while the focus initially was on digital agencies, we now embrace any creative from any discipline.

—Who does what in the partnership?

—D.F.: Mark and I work well together simply because we are complementary in our skills. Initially it worked well in that Mark was the creative and I was the businessman in the partnership. However, as it has evolved the nice thing is that we have become far more flexible and have taken on responsibilities depending on our own workloads (we both have high pressured, full-time jobs and can only commit time at weekends and in some evenings). For example, I self-published, co-edited and co-authored our first book, Mark led the curation of our first Global Inspiration Day and will also be doing the next one later this year. It is worth noting that we now have the amazing Elle on board who effectively runs Creative Social. She makes our job really easy and is doing fantastically. We also have the support of all the Socials, many of whom are as much of Creative Social as we are. From those who have housed Elle since she joined us – Dare, LMFM, Rehab Studios and StartJG – to all our Presidents who help organise our local events, this includes the likes of Bo Hellberg, Becky Power, PJ Pereira and Fernanda Romano.

—Every duo has a good cop/bad cop mechanic. Who’s good cop, and who’s bad cop in your twosome?

—D.F.: As we are a collective and have so many people who are willing to help us out, it would be counterproductive to have a good cop and a bad cop. The fact is that we do this as a hobby and the minute one of us has to take the bad cop role, it would probably stop being fun. Saying that I think we both have equal capability to play the bad cop if it was ever needed, although I suppose only Elle can tell you who she thinks would be the baddest cop!

—Who is your role model and why?

—D.F.: It is corny I know but I cannot go further than my mum and dad. I was lucky to have parents who worked hard to give my brother and I such an amazing upbringing and there is no doubt that they gave me the platform to get to where I am today.

If however, you asked who my mentor was, it would have to be Patrick Collister. I am extremely indebted to Patrick and think he is a fantastic motivator of talent.

—If you could change one thing in advertising, what would you change?

—D.F.: If I was going to change one thing it would be the way pitches are carried out. At the moment there is a lot of wasted energy and the process itself can take a lot out of the competing agencies. This doesn’t mean I would want pitches to vanish completely (all the awards won by my agencies have come out of pitches, a fact itself which also questions the process once a client is won), but there is definitely a better way to do it. After I left Profero I tried to address the issue head on and helped run a pitch for Converse using Creative Social as a platform. The feedback from both the client and the participating agencies was excellent and I would like to see clients and intermediaries experimenting a bit more with the process.

Name one of your proudest creative achievements to date.

—D.F.: Given that at Cheil we are still a relatively new management team, I cannot go far beyond the We Are David Bailey campaign – we picked up a Gold and two Bronzes at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. However, I equally love the Converse work we entered for the Hack-A-Chuck competition at Cannes simply because for me it was a great example of something we have coined at Cheil – ‘Lifeshare’. Basically we think brands now have a real opportunity to add value to people’s lives through their marketing, rather than taking time away aware from people’s lives by clamouring for a share of their minds.

What’s your creative mantra?

—D.F.: I will leave this one to the creative in our partnership.

—M.C: Happily, and it’s pretty brief: ‘An idea is only an idea if it’s in a sentence.’

Seriously, we all too often underrate simplicity and it’s an approach we’ve brought into Creative Social.

One of the more compelling sessions in Creative Social International Events involves each of us taking turns to stand up for two minutes and share our latest piece of work (often work in progress). Typically we’re a group of 35 people from 15 different countries which means you get an instant global snapshot of now. Each Social is the creative chief or owner of their company. It’s a simple format that’s pretty mind blowing.

Equally we have lots of guest speakers at our events. The mantra for curating these speakers is again simple – you just have to be very good at your thing. So that wide and simple remit has included Pixar, Gary Wang—acclaimed for bringing hip-hop to China, Germany’s top concierge Peter Zahn, Craig of Craig’s List and pro ping pong player Darius Knight. They are simply great at ‘their thing’ and that’s inspiring.

Looking ahead we have our London Global Inspiration Day and we have pioneers such as the artist Pure Evil, Herdmeister Mark Earls, Cycling brand Rapha and Chris Richmond director of DroneStrike —the Rhode Island film festival Grand Jury Winner. Good people, good at their thing.

—If you had one piece of advice for a budding creative, what would it be?

—M.C.: I’d like to offer three pieces of advice, taken from our latest book:

—How important is social media for creatives?

—D.F.: It’s amazing how many people who work in digital think that because they work in digital, they understood social. This is simply not the case. It’s the reason social media is so exciting! It’s about understanding people and the interaction between people. In 2008 I led the social media charge at Profero and it was in fact the creatives that were the slowest to respond and actually get involved. A lot has changed since then and there are a lot of creatives that understand how powerful social media can be for brands. However, I also think there are a lot of creatives who sit in social agencies that simply do not understand ‘brand’. There is a huge difference between understanding a tactic that will create engagement with an audience to delivering an idea that truly engages the audience and helps build a brand.

—What your last line for this feature?

—D.F.: If you want to get involved, come and say hello at an event or reach out to us on Twitter. Our only rule for entry is NO EGOS. For so long we have been hearing that people think we are this exclusive club. Yet no-one ever approaches us! We certainly would not turn people away, provided they have a good heart and are interesting. Anna Morley from DigitasLBi now plays a huge part in Creative Social and she started by helping us by putting some chairs in a corner for an event. We truly want to help the industry and if anyone has any suggestions, please do feed them through to Elle.

—So what’s next for Creative Social?

—D.F.: Our next instalment of CS Sessions on October 2 in London brings together another exciting group of speakers from the media world and beyond who will examine the modern relationship between society and technology and how brands play a part in this value system.

Albert Einstein once said, “I fear the day that technology will surpass human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.” Is that fear becoming a reality?