Briton to top Gee creative

When Gee, Jeffery & Partners Advertising started shopping around for a new creative director, the agency decided to check out the offerings to be found outside of Canada....

When Gee, Jeffery & Partners Advertising started shopping around for a new creative director, the agency decided to check out the offerings to be found outside of Canada.

They came home with a British import. James Spence, director of art with London, U.K.-based Howell, Henry, Chaldecott, Lury (HHCL) has been hired to fill the post at Gee, Jeffery that was vacated when Robin Heisey departed in August.

Since his appointment early in the fall, Spence has been in London, fulfilling contractual obligations at HHCL. He’ll be moving to Toronto to take up his new position in November.

It may be a little unusual for a British creative who’s interested in furthering his career to move to Canada rather than the U.S. But according to Spence, that’s simply the result of ignorance about the calibre of creative being produced in the Canadian marketplace.

‘We’re very aware of what happens in America, but [not] of what Canada produces,’ he says. ‘There’s some fantastic work being produced in Canada. I think it’s only a very short time before Canada starts to challenge the traditional creative hotbeds in the States and U.K.’

Alan Gee, chairman and executive creative director of Gee, Jeffery, says the agency did find two excellent Canadian candidates to replace Heisey, who is now at Harrod & Mirlin/FCB. But in the end, it was Spence who demonstrated the attitude, personality and approach to advertising that they were looking for.

While it’s not exactly standard practice these days for a Canadian shop to look abroad for a creative director, Gee says his agency wants to be able to compete for business in other countries, and saw no reason to limit the search to Canada.

‘This hire sends out a signal,’ he says. ‘It says we’re committed to doing the best work. And it’s a reflection of the fact that we have been doing good work that we can attract someone of James’ calibre.’

Spence is a 12-year veteran of the ad business. At HHCL (the agency currently handling the Molson Export account), he has worked on such accounts as Guinness, Ambrosia Foods and Sure antiperspirant. Before that, at Partners BBDH, he worked on Mercedes-Benz, British Telecom, Co-Operative Bank, Motorola and Emirates Airlines.

What attracted him to Gee, Jeffery, he says, was the strength of the agency’s work and the intelligence of founders Alan Gee and Peter Jeffery. Spence also relished the prospect of joining a relatively small agency such as GJP, which has a staff of about 60.

‘When you’re smaller, you have much closer relationships with clients,’ he says.

When it comes to the role of creatives, Spence says it’s important for them to be working hands-on with clients as early as possible in the process.

‘I try to work with clients even before a creative brief has been written, to understand what they want their advertising to do,’ he says. ‘It’s about understanding the client’s needs first and foremost, rather than what the agency would like to do.’

As for the philosophy he will bring to the role of creative director at Gee, Jeffery, Spence says the most important thing is to remember what the game is all about.

‘Advertising should be really good fun,’ he says, ‘but a lot of people get really unhappy doing it. It’s my mission in life to enjoy it; otherwise, I might as well be in insurance or a tax inspector.’