World's most creative partnerships: John Lewis & Adam & Eve/DDB

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By eschewing research for pure emotion, this dynamic team has held England, and now the world, in thrall every Christmas

To commemorate the 2016 Cannes Lions, Campaign is taking a look at the world's most vital creative partnerships between chief marketing officers and chief creative officers. Check back all week for more entries. 

In the seven years since Craig Inglis took a leap into the unknown by appointing a start-up to handle the John Lewis advertising account, its ads have become part of British culture.

Many of the things the retailer is lauded for — including its partnership model — were already in place. But it is the way in which Adam & Eve/DDB has told that story that has solidified its place in consumers’ hearts. The John Lewis Christmas ads are now a feature of the festive season. People might dispute which is the best — whether it’s the one that started it all, "The Long Wait," from 2011, or 2014’s "Monty the Penguin" — but few are immune to the tug of the annual campaign.

Inglis says he wasn’t being "philanthropic" when he hired Adam & Eve (as the agency was known prior to its £60 million sale to Omnicom in 2012); instead, he knew the shop would be more dedicated than other agencies — it needed it more. Since then, he and Adam & Eve/DDB’s chief creative officer, Ben Priest, have followed the ideas, with no "research bollocks" Priest says. "If research worked, all ads would be brilliant," he quips.

In fact, Inglis jokes that while the public might expect them to have nailed down the details well in advance, things come down to the wire. The music for last year’s Christmas ad was agreed only the week before the campaign broke, after he initially thought the track was "flat." Such details are decided through arguments "verging on fisticuffs."

Inglis says the levels to which members of the team take their honesty "can be brutal." Yet, because they all know everyone is trying to do the best work possible, they can move on quickly.

Inglis and Priest describe their relationship as "dysfunctional," but if that’s the case, it’s certainly been productive dysfunction. It has also served both men well, with Inglis now on the John Lewis board as customer director, and Priest and the other Adam & Eve/DDB founders working toward their reputedly uncapped bonus from the Omnicom sale. Long may the fights continue.

Craig Inglis 

Customer director, John Lewis

For a man who counts Jack Whitehall as a close friend, and is referred to by the comedian as "the high priestess" of advertising, Ben Priest is a surprisingly humble soul.

He is passionate about the work, a brilliant storyteller and wears his heart on his sleeve — all characteristics you might expect to see in a creative director, but it’s his humility that defines who he is. What really matters to Ben is his respect for talented people, authenticity and building relationships with trust at their heart.

Trust is what he has built with his partners at Adam & Eve, with his brilliant team and hugely talented directors like Dougal Wilson and Kim Gehrig.

And it’s right at the heart of the relationship he has with me. Achieving that level of trust relies on one vital ingredient: honesty — often breathtakingly brutal honesty.

It’s what has defined our relationship with Adam & Eve since appointing them seven years ago. They’ve never packaged up their thoughts or, frankly, really given a huge amount of thought to how they present ideas to us — indeed, their presentations are often pretty shambolic. Rather than see that as weak or unprofessional, it gives me great comfort that the relationship is still firing on all cylinders. It means that what we are really focused on is the work itself, and it’s at its brilliant best when open warfare breaks out in front of me between Ben and the other members of the agency team.

You might think that a bit odd, but it works for us. It allows us to produce great work. And we do it by being happily dysfunctional.

Ben Priest 

Founding partner and chief creative officer, Adam & Eve/DDB 

I think most people presume our working relationship with John Lewis is a polite, well-mannered affair — a bit like a garden party at Buckingham Palace.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The process is raw, instinctive and not for the faint-hearted. Creative presentations are very low on showbiz and all about the ideas.

People speak openly and freely, and sometimes you need to shout to make yourself heard.Clients get the work they deserve and Craig deserves the very best.

He has fostered a relationship with his agency where he’s right in the kitchen with us, worrying, suggesting and endlessly questing for the best ideas.

His bravery was evident from the start. In 2009 he was part of the decision to appoint Adam & Eve, a little-known agency of 18 people, based in a ramshackle office in Covent Garden.

In the years that have followed, the campaigns he’s bought have become the most eagerly awaited in the country. The John Lewis Christmas ad is now a part of our national holiday.

In all that time, he’s never researched a single word of the work we’ve written for him. Craig’s point of view is a simple one: if we don’t know our brand, our customers and our own minds, then what on earth are we being paid for?

For once, I am not going to argue with him.

This article first appeared on


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