“Stop listening and you stop learning – wisdom is a fancy way of dressing up complacency” –  Phil Teer

Death is Coming Like a Freight Train in The Night

Interview: Phil Teer is joint MD of St Luke’s Communications, a leading London creative agency. Founded on principles of openness, honesty and co-operation, St Luke’s has pioneered new ways of building and maintaining client relationships by championing multi-disciplinary thinking. Winner of many awards – including ‘Agency of the Year’ in its second year of operation – the agency made its name with Ikea in the 1990s. It has since reshaped the images of clients such as Clarks and BT.

Key Facts on St Luke’s
* Founded 1995
* Working brief: ‘To move products you have to move people’

Q: Why do you think TIME TO THINK is a good theme for the conference?

Phil Teer: It reflects a life-stage many people reach in their 30s, 40s or 50s, where they start to ask themselves who they are now and question the usefulness of the ideas they acquired in their youth. They are looking for time to think because they are trying to work out the answer to the big question: what does it mean to be true to myself?

Q: How do you work with trends at St. Luke’s?

Phil Teer: We work constantly with trends. Our agency ethos is Love Your Audience and our role is to develop creative ideas built out of genuine audience insight. This demands that we are constantly ahead of the game in understanding what is going on in people’s lives.

It means getting deeper than the focus group and conventional market research – we want to know what really makes people tick now and, most importantly, what changes they are dealing with. This is because change creates new needs and brands become resonant when they tap into a need which is widespread but unrecognised.

Q: Have you always worked in this way?

Phil Teer: There has always been an interest in sociology and anthropology in the agency – not just amongst the planners, which is to be expected – but also in the creative department. Our creative teams have also recognised research as an aide to good writing rather than as a hurdle to be overcome.

Q: How do you personally get new ideas and refresh your thinking?

Phil Teer: By never standing still.  It’s important to always be asking ‘what is happening now?’ I read a lot, go to galleries – I like the JG Ballard quote that art is the future’s early warning system. And, critically, listen to people. Stop listening and you stop learning – wisdom is a fancy way of dressing up complacency.

Q: What lifestyle changes do you think will be most important in years to come?

Phil Teer: I’m watching how we re-orientate ourselves around the threat of terrorism – the background hum of wariness and unease is very apparent now and I don’t think it will go away.

Also, how we live our lives with meaning. The desire among people to fill their adult life with experiences and activities, to try lots of new things and to define themselves as an interesting person based upon the interesting things they do, is a powerful lifestyle trend – less watching, more doing.

Q: What does it take to keep being a ‘true creative’?

Phil Teer: Enjoying being creative. ‘To keep being’ is an issue in my industry, where the percentage of the workforce in advertising aged over 40 is astonishingly low. Creativity is not synonymous with youth – look at Don DeLillo, John Updike or Saul Bellow.

Q: What are the most successful campaigns St. Luke’s have launched?

Phil Teer: We are very proud of the work we have done with Clarks over the years. It worked because we got the pace right and avoided the temptation to run before we could walk. We identified an audience and created a relationship. Then we elevated the product and then we talked about the everyday nature of fashion. So now we can say Be Your Own Label.  Every campaign has been more successful than the previous one.

Also the work we did for IKEA during the second half of the ‘90s helped take them from number 4 to number one because, I think, it defined the times – or at least a small but significant part of the times. The brand work for BT changed people’s perceptions of that company from a stale old telco to a dynamic brand in the broadband age. The best point was we shifted media debate from mostly negative to mostly positive.

Q: Can I get a speed conclusion?

Phil Teer: Never stand still. It’s important to always ask yourself “What is happening now?”

Interview: Questions by Kjaer Global for the Time to Think Conference, December 2005

1. St. Luke’s front gate
2. Phil Teer


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