The 'rock star' question is finally closed. We need leaders

Jeremy Lee
Jeremy Lee

Plus, school-day memories of Dominic Raab.

If there’s one positive thing we can grab hold of, at least the recent debate over whether creative directors should be "rock stars" has been consigned to its place on the list of advertising’s silliest moments.

In fact, rock stars don’t even count as rock stars any more in the midst of a health crisis and a national emergency, when we have seen underpaid people who would normally be overlooked – cleaners, delivery drivers, shelf- stackers etc – risking their lives on a daily basis, let alone commercial artists. These people, and our health workers, go beyond rock star status – let’s hope their efforts are never forgotten.

That’s not to say that some agencies and individuals haven’t done what they can to help by dedicating their creative talents – pent-up creativity and a desire to help communicate the importance of staying at home or thank key workers have produced some memorable pro-bono work. Take a bow, St Luke’s, in particular.

Outdoor media owners have given over space to provide messages of moral support to those people who actually need to be out of home, while TV stations have changed their schedules to provide relevant, informative or educational content. Commercially, we have seen imaginative attempts by the likes of ITV to keep brands spending and supporting the economy. More are likely to follow. And some brands have changed their manufacturing processes to make items more useful to a society in crisis.

Despite being unable to provide much practical support beyond morale, the industry has equipped itself well despite it also having to wonder about its own future. A large percentage of agency chiefs seem to have decamped to their Cotswolds funk holes, hopefully to try to figure how to use the enforced break to reconfigure their businesses for a post-Covid-19 world – in between baking sourdough, if social media feeds are anything to go by.

And talking of leaders – on a separate note, I was at school with our de facto leader, foreign secretary Dominic Raab, who has taken charge while Boris Johnson is incapacitated. Although a year younger than me, I remember him well – he left an impression as quite an intense and maybe slightly menacing young man, with a penchant for extreme running (or cross-country, as I think it was called). A coiled spring; not the unsurprisingly anguished face that was on show on Monday – but a potential leader nonetheless.

Politically, I expect most of the industry dislikes him for his Brexit-supporting views, even though (or maybe because) he is the child of an immigrant. But Brexit now barely matters. He is now the most famous alumnus from my old state school, usurping an Islamist convert who was accused (but found not guilty) of an attempt to detonate a bomb on a plane.

The school motto was Ad astra per aspera ("Through hardships to the skies"). This Old Challoner, for one, hopes that Raab, who would never have claimed to have been a rock star either then or now, is successful in living up to this motto in these hard times for the country.

Jeremy Lee is consulting editor at Campaign

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