A recent addition to the Epica Awards jury, Tim Nudd talked to us about his journey from a student newspaper editor to now Creativity Editor at Ad Age, and everything in between. He also shared some thoughts on the advertising industry, his role in evaluating creative works, memorable advertising campaigns, and some career advice. Read on.
What inspired you to become a journalist and how did you get into the profession?
I went to school for English literature, but got totally obsessed with the student newspaper while I was there. I began spending all my time in the newspaper offices. I was lucky enough, during my last year at school, to become editor in chief of the paper. We had a blast. We even got to cover a presidential debate when it was hosted at the university. It was surreal being in that auditorium. When I left, I headed straight for NYC and the journalism scene there.
What’s your role at Ad Age - and what are the latest developments there?
I’m the Creativity editor, leading all of our creative coverage editorially. I also manage judging for our annual Creativity Awards. It’s my first year at Ad Age, so I’m still getting acclimated in some ways, but it’s a very strong team and I’m thrilled to be part of it.
You've written about advertising for many years now. What do you enjoy about this industry specifically?
It has a ton of talented people doing interesting things that are typically undercovered or generally not treated seriously by other media. It’s a joy to give context to that kind of work—to explain how it came to be.
How does your journalistic perspective influence your role as a jury member?
I review ads every day, trying to explain what I like (or don’t like) about the strategy, the concept, the execution. I’m essentially judging work all the time. Being an award-show judge is a natural extension of that.
What are the most memorable campaigns or creative projects you've covered and what made them stand out for you?
I hosted a podcast called Tagline for several years where I dug into many of my favorite campaigns over the years—by speaking with the people who made them. There’s no big secret to it. I tend to like what most people like—brilliant ideas paid off with top-notch execution. I often point to the Johnnie Walker/Robert Carlyle film as a kind of perfect storm of advertising craft—great idea, great writing, great filmmaking, taking a subject people usually feel is boring (brand history) and making it irresistible. But there are dozens of other examples.
The United States, especially Madison Avenue, is often considered the "home" of advertising. How is American creativity holding up compared to work from elsewhere around the world?
You’re always going to get most of the biggest-budget campaigns coming out of the U.S. That’s not always a great thing, since the best creativity often comes from constraints, from markets that don’t have big budgets—where the work needs to gain attention on its merits, not because it has a ton of media weight behind it. That said, the sheer amount of talent in the U.S. means there’s always interesting things happening. I’m always interested in creatives from outside the U.S., too, though, for the reasons mentioned above.
You worked at Adweek before switching to Ad Age. What's the difference between the two titles in terms of how they approach the industry?
I worked at Clio in between for about five years, so I can’t really speak to Adweek’s strategies lately. I was there for a long time, though, and had a great experience. I will say it’s good for the industry to have healthy competition among the trades. It makes it fun, and it challenges everyone to constantly be doing better. I’m rooting for everyone at all the ad trades to keep doing interesting things.
What’s the biggest challenge facing the creative industry today—and how might it be addressed?
One major challenge is constantly having to prove the value of creativity in an industry that increasingly values performance marketing over brand building. The problem can really only be addressed by doing more great brand work—and showing CMOs how that will always make a real difference in their business. The other big challenge is diversifying the talent pool in the business. It remains embarrassing how white and male the industry is at its highest levels. For an industry that claims to understand the power of culture, it continues to do a poor job of reflecting that culture in its ranks.
I will say it’s good for the industry to have healthy competition among the trades. It makes it fun, and it challenges everyone to constantly be doing better.
The other big challenge is diversifying the talent pool in the business. It remains embarrassing how white and male the industry is at its highest levels.
What role do you see journalism playing in promoting and advocating for diversity and inclusion within the creative industry?
As mentioned above, it’s critical. Journalists have a platform that speaks to the entire industry. We can celebrate the real commitments and call out the bullshit. It’s our job to keep the industry accountable—no more so than in this area. It’s something we talk about every day.
Who are your role models or mentors in journalism and the creative world? And what’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
As a writer, I’m inspired more by fiction writers and even playwrights than journalists. At various times in my life, I’ve been obsessed with folks like Richard Ford, Caryl Churchill, Tom Perotta, Haruki Murakami, Lorrie Moore, Sam Shepard, Harold Pinter. The list goes on.
In terms of advertising creativity, I admire the people and agencies who regularly manage to produce work that feels real and alive, not manufactured. More often than not, this comes from the smaller agencies—but it’s great when a holding company agency does something special, too.
When it comes to career advice, one great tidbit I heard once—which I think applies to all creative endeavors—is that you have to put yourself in your work. If you try to follow a formula, then your work will be formulaic. If you embrace what’s unique about you, and bring that to bear in your work, then the work will be unique as well. People’s natural instinct not to trust themselves, or like what’s unique about them, often gets in the way. Breaking through that fear, as with anything in life, can unlock great things.