Design Assembly recently got the opportunity to chat with Rupert de Paula, Creative Partner at Strategy Creative to learn more about his ‘falling-in’ to the creative industires, creating positive change through design, transitioning from UK agencies to being ‘fresh-off-the-boat’ in the Christchurch design scene.
Can you tell us a little bit about who you are, what your background is, and how you first got started in the industry?
I’m the Creative Partner of Strategy Creative’s Christchurch studio, which is both an honour and privilege. Originally, I’m from the UK where I was working as an art director in various agencies across London, from big networks like McCann to little indie hot shops. This was more on the advertising side of things than design, but I don’t see a huge difference. A brief is a brief, whether it’s a TV ad or a logo. A good creative should be able to think in all spaces.
I kind of fell into the creative industries. I was at university/art school doing a TV production degree and got put forward for a ‘speed dating’ event at Ogilvy with various other students from across all the other courses — graphic, motion, interactive and product design etc… I had no idea who or what Ogilvy was, so went in with a short film script I’d written about a heroin addict vampire called Veinspotting (I think I’ve still got it kicking around on an old hard drive if anyone’s interested). Everyone else had their portfolios with them — I felt pretty stupid and underprepared. After I read my script out, the ECD looked at me for a long time before saying: “You should be a creative.” He gave me a gig and here I am 10 years later.
What does your typical working day involve?
This is going to sound really obvious, but no day is the same. The one constant is a studio WIP, where we go through the previous day’s developments and try and catch any red flags we can see fluttering on the horizon.
After that it’s a mix of reviews, meetings, going on shoots etc… If I’m lucky I get to do some actual creative thinking. I’m used to being pretty hands on from an idea perspective —it’s the most fun bit. As a Partner, I’m also heavily involved in running the business, which has been a real eye opener.
What project, personal or professional, are you most proud of and why?
By far and away the project I’m most proud of was for Stonewall — the UK’s most prominent LGBT+ rights charity. Reports of LGBT hate crime had skyrocketed by about 70% since 2013 and Stonewall needed something to get all their ‘silent allies’ talking. So I created a campaign called ‘Come Out For LGBT’. It pretty much broke the internet on launch day.
More importantly, about 6 months later I was having a beer in Soho when a group of lads came walking past in our t-shirts. I thought: “I’ve actually done something real people care about, not just people in marketing. My work has affected people’s lives in a positive way.” That was worth more than anything.
I once made a spot about a man with a fetish for fingering pies, which was a highlight, too.
What have you been working on recently?
I’ve just done some exciting work for Rātā Foundation. They had a really awesome story to tell, so that was a joy. We collaborated with our Tokyo office on the film, which was a first for the Strategy Group. We also helped launch a new innovation hub here in Christchurch called Te Ōhaka with some cool creative, and created the branding for a hemp produce start up, Brothers Green. Other irons in the fire include documentary for the Canterbury Medical Research Fund, developing the brand for a cannabis cultural centre here in Christchurch, the event branding and ad campaign for TedX Christchurch’s 10th anniversary and ongoing work for clients like Christchurch NZ, the CRFU, Meadow Mushrooms and TransDiesel — plus a few other things I’m not allowed to talk about yet / don’t want to jinx.
Where you do you draw inspiration from?
Life, the universe and everything.
What do you hope for the future of design in New Zealand?
As a still fairly fresh-off-the-boat, outsider looking in (I only came here in August 2018), New Zealand has always punched above its weight creatively. I can certainly see some design trends on Instagram that are super-hot back in London and will probably filter themselves over here in due course. Such is the way of things. What I’m most personally excited about is how to draw on NZ’s culture and heritage while infusing it with modernity.
We worked in partnership with Matapopore recently, and one of our client here is Ngāi Tahu Property — so I’m right on the frontline of this. It’s crazily exciting but extremely challenging. You don’t want to be seen as the cliché creative, but it has to be interesting conceptually to get cut through.
Outside of work hours what creative projects and/or hobbies are you involved with?
I’ve got three young kids — so my days off are way harder work than my day job. The kids take up most of my non-Strategy bandwidth (they’ll only be young once, after all). But I do have some nascent ideas for children’s books on the go. They’re all kind of surreal, but I’ve got a perfect captive audience on whom to hone my material, and they seem to like them. If there are any interested illustrators out there who want to collaborate, hit me up.
And finally, where to next for you? What areas of your work or personal development are you hoping to explore further?
I only started in January — so Strategy is my sole aim. Christchurch is a really exciting place to be right now. Everyone knows it took a beating in the quakes and has a reputation as a bit of an old fashioned place, but suddenly there’s a new sense of purpose to the city. It’s like an old train set: all the elements were there but it needed some fresh enthusiasm. The opportunity to be part of its renaissance was one of the main reasons I decided to stay here rather than move up to Auckland.
Also, to be given a key creative leadership position within the wider Strategy Group was an offer I just couldn’t refuse. Some of the work coming out of our studios is world class. One of the Strategy Group’s core focuses going forward is realigning our model for the ever-shifting landscape of the modern creative industries — the increasing prevalence of the gig economy and how big data, AI and machine learning will impact us, for example. It’s about thinking ahead of the game. All the pieces for Strategy are in place, now it’s up to us to bring it home. As an old CD/mentor of mine, the venerable Jim Thornton, would regularly say to me: “Just don’t fuck it up.” Exciting times.