Fran Luckin, the chief creative officer at ad agency Grey Africa. Picture: SUPPLIED
Fran Luckin, the chief creative officer at ad agency Grey Africa. Picture: SUPPLIED

The presidency isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, says Fran Luckin. The 2017 president of the print and publishing jury at this year’s Cannes Lions — the world’s biggest festival of advertising and creativity — has no personal jet, no cheering crowds, no nuclear button and definitely no executive veto barring entries from countries she doesn’t like.

What she does have is familiarity with the task ahead and realisation that, despite her apparently all-powerful title, she is one of a team.

Luckin, chief creative officer at Johannesburg-based advertising agency Grey Africa, has served on Cannes juries three times in the past seven years. As someone whose own work has previously won Cannes gold, she knows the importance attached to the awards, and their effect on agency reputations and individual careers.

Few South Africans get to head Cannes juries. Most internationally acclaimed local creatives have made their names after leaving the country. Luckin’s reputation is securely home-based.

During the five years that she had been executive creative director of Ogilvy & Mather (O&M) Johannesburg, the agency won SA’s first Cannes film and TV gold in 11 years and took frequent top spots in local creative and effective advertising awards rankings. She was also appointed to the creative council of the global O&M group.

From 2013 to 2015, she was executive creative director of Quirk Johannesburg, a digital-based agency keen to break through into mainstream advertising. She was approached to join Grey at the start of 2016. The decision was not taken lightly.

Grey SA, once one of the country’s advertising giants, collapsed in 2013. The next year, the US parent group bought Volcano, a solid but below-the-radar local agency and renamed it Grey Africa.

When Luckin joined, Grey Africa had just been ranked 44th most creative agency in the global Grey network. A year later and it’s in 10th place, elevating Luckin to membership of the group’s creative council, which is limited to the top 10.

It’s an important step. Global advertising groups have historically considered SA a creative hot-spot. But its reputation has ebbed in recent years. The local industry is still considered a leader in radio advertising but for film, outdoor, print and the rest, it’s one of the crowd.

Among the Grey campaigns to gain attention in 2016 was one for the SPCA. A series of adverts appeared at major intersections promoting pitbull dog fights. Only after an eruption of public outrage was it revealed that this was the intention.

The advertised fights weren’t real. But so vehement was the public reaction to the ads that dozens of fighting dogs were rescued and more than a dozen people prosecuted.

Luckin says her Quirk experience has helped develop her creative skills. "I had to learn digital communications from the bottom up. When you make a television commercial, you don’t have to know how TV works. But in digital, you have to understand the whole ecosystem," she says.

"How does the technology work? How will you track campaign effectiveness? How do you want people to
react? Everything must fit seamlessly and support all the other elements."

There is just no room for hit-and-hope, she says. No longer can agencies develop, say, a TV ad and work out later how to branch it out to social media, mobile phones and other digital media. "You have to think from the inside out."

The same applies to integrated advertising, which harnesses radio, TV, print, digital, billboards, activation and other communications elements into a single package. Grey recently put together a promotion for glass producer Consol, involving the early-morning delivery of bottled milk to homes. "We had to consider things we could never have imagined," says Luckin. "This is SA, so if someone knocks on your door at 6am holding a bottle of milk, will you shoot him? And what if the milk is sour and someone has an upset stomach? You have to plan for everything."

At many agencies, digital is still a foreign language to traditional creative people. But it is an integral part of advertising.

"You can’t compartmentalise digital," says Luckin. "You can’t leave it to others."

SA, she says, has been slow to harness the change. "Digital transformation hit us hard. We should be better than we are."

If digital is the future, what of print, for which Luckin and her Cannes jury will be the arbiters of excellence in coming weeks (the festival runs from June 17-24)? In an era when newspaper and magazine print editions are bleeding readership to online, is there a future for print advertising?

Actually, says Luckin, this is an exciting time for print. The fact that it’s under threat, means it needs innovation more than ever. "Our duty as a jury will be to curate an inspiring portfolio of work, because it showcases a range of innovative possibilities for the future of print and publishing," she says.

Tablets and mobile phones offer reading convenience but not the print experience. She says: "Look at some of the fashion glossies, like Vanity Fair. Ads are an integral part of the engagement.

"The magazines are actually beautiful to look at and hold. You don’t get that online. The whole of print must work harder to offer something special."

Please sign in or register to comment.