Client Stories, News, People January 26 2023
Weapon of Mass Engagement: Defusing Green Rock Media’s Lead Creative, Ed Cotterill.
Radical Optimism, the lost art of storytelling, why the word content has lost all meaning, Sardine Festivals, Abraham Lincoln’s AI and why anyone creative in London should be going Dutch. We caught up with one of Green Rock Media’s Creatives Ed Cotterill in the Amsterdam office to talk shop
From the pavements of Hackney to the cobbled streets of The Jordaan in Amsterdam, Ed Cotterill is representative of the new wave of creatives, whose storytelling skill sets go way beyond that of a traditional advertising agency. From producing global entertainment hits for Netflix, creating hiphop videos for a string of famous US rappers, to launching the biggest incentive prize in history with Elon Musk, Ed’s seen it from all angles… and has the stories and scars to prove it.
It’s no surprise that as a lead creative and storyteller at Green Rock, he’s working on diversifying the content shops offering, blending work across web3.0, the metaverse, next generation social video and defining the future of audience engagement.
With the agency’s expansion into northern Europe and a desire to stay plugged into the cultural zeitgeist that only Amsterdam can now offer, we caught up with Ed over some virtual sardines and a coffee, to find out what kind of creative leader Ed really is.
What does Amsterdam provide creatively that London can’t?
EC: London’s great. It’s a city with everything but I relocated to Amsterdam six months ago as my partner was moving for work and it felt like a really great opportunity to spread our wings, for Green Rock and also for me personally. From a creative point of view it’s a lot quieter than London. There’s a lot more space to think, a lot of my ideas come from walking around. I can bimble around and suddenly be out of the city and into the countryside in an hour.
It feels quite an exciting time to be here, I don’t want to get too political, but after Brexit, it feels like Britain’s isolated itself. There’s a bit of a buzz in Amsterdam. There’s a lot of companies that have moved here or are in the midst of moving here. The people I meet here are all working in some form of creative industry.
There’s a connection with Europe. You’re not just siloed like Britain can be, there’s more of an open dialogue with the rest of Europe, the rest of the world. Amsterdam is a hub for business, but also creativity is something that’s really exciting at the minute.
So just taking you back to the start. What role did creativity play in your childhood?
EC: Growing up, it wasn’t the most creative of households, but my two older sisters were really great at what’s considered kind of creative. As a kid drawing, painting… I was pretty terrible at them all. I was in love with the world of arts and always had real admiration for it. I loved music, film and really loved television. I was a real consumer of television and as a kid but I think, I never really took it seriously. Especially not as a career path.
Was there a particular inspiration that shaped your path?
EC: I went to the Sensation Exhibition of the YBAs at the time at the Royal Academy. Damien Hirst, Tracy Emin, Sarah Lucas, Martin Creed. Going to see that really just blew my mind as a teenager, it just kind of blew up everything I knew, tore up everything I thought I knew about art about being creative about how you go about things and it just made me realise that there’s no line between creativity and living, or creativity and material, or creativity and ideas. It just made me realise everything is completely connected, and it doesn’t matter.
That was properly a pivotal moment.
You mentioned a couple of names, were there any particular inspirational people who helped shape your path, either just from a distance or from working with along the way?
EC: Yeah, I was thinking, I had a tutor at art school. I was up in Sheffield which, you know, was a great place to be, but it could…it could be quite local arts. I had a tutor that opened up the world to her class and definitely to me. She really showed us the idea that, you know, you have art design, cinema, literature and high culture, low culture, all kind of melding together and everything is permitted. That reinforced the idea of the limitless possibilities of things. And I think yeah, she was particularly inspirational and really shaped my way of thinking. She also introduced me to a group of writers based in France, in Paris called the Oulipo.
They were just this bunch of oddballs who put real constraints on their writing practices. The thinking was that the more constraints you have the more you’re forced to think differently and be creative. There was a certain playfulness there. You should look them up but there’s a definite playfulness within their literature and a real inspiration. If it doesn’t feel playful and fun, then something’s missing.
Working with constraints is always a factor. How do you deal with constraints? Are you more creative the more constraints exist?
EC: I think it’s hard to say because some constraints can be really mind-bogglingly boring and can really put a hold on lots of things. Within the creative industries I’ve worked in, whether it’s branded, entertainment, social media, documentaries, television and ad agency work the thing that makes these industries really interesting is that you do have lots of constraints. There’s never ‘no constraints’. No one says here’s an unlimited amount of money and you’ve got the entire resource to do whatever you want and you can say whatever you want, I think that would be a bit dull or maybe a bit daunting.
I suppose constraints isn’t the right word but when working with a client they have an end point, you know “we want to tell the world about this” and it’s kind of like, okay, that’s the big constraint. We need to get to that end point. The whole process of working back, how to tell the story, how to make it interesting, how to make it cut through is fascinating. It’s like working your way through a maze, you know, the centre is there and it’s kind of like which turns do you take to get there?
What is that one thing you wanted to bring into the creative industries?
EC: That’s a tough one. I think I’ve always had a preoccupation that I want to create and on a really personal level, I think if I’m not feeling like I’m creating anything, I’m not sure what the point of anything is. So what do I want to bring to the creative industry? It’s more like I need the creative industry to not go absolutely insane. What I can bring is myself, I’ve not had a really standard trajectory into the into this world but have always been immersed within different aspects of it and I feel that I can bring a bit of a different way of thinking and a bit of a different way of approaching a brief, approaching, an idea, approaching a client.
What advantages does that give you versus more traditional creatives, who might have come from just a pure advertising background?
EC: I mean, what I’ve learned over the years is that, I never learned the rules and I’m still not sure if there are any rules in advertising or marketing, or the world we inhabit. So I think without having learned the kind of norms and, you know, ways of doing things, I’m not really bound by them. I feel that’s really important because in this industry we’re always trying to push things forward, do things differently and I think if you’re constantly having to unteach yourself something it can be quite hard. Because I never learned that in the first place, I feel I have a bit more freedom. Someone else can tell me if I’m wrong.
What are the particular conditions that enable you to be creative?
EC: I think as I mentioned before, time and space are really important things. Allow time to think and allow your mind not to be directly thinking about it. We always underplay or underestimate our subconscious and how it informs us. I’ve been doing it for long enough to know that you can’t force these things and have confidence that your brain will still be working, it will still be figuring things out, but you just have to kind of let it go through that process and not try and push it.
We all work to deadlines and we’re only as good as the last thing we put out so there’s a lot of anguish and self-doubt constantly questioning: “What, the f*** is going on?” you know. But it’s, it’s having confidence, that you will work it out and not get too consumed with that, with that kind of doubt.
Anguish and doubt are part of it. I don’t think anything good is created easily.
If you could have limitless space or limit limitless time. What would you have?
EC: I don’t know. I think if you had all… okay, I’m a real human, believer that nothing is in isolation. I think every piece of work that I finish, and work on, you know, I move on from that and I don’t see it as a full stop, but I think within a grand scheme. So from my point of view I do have a lot of space and time because I don’t see anything siloed into this is this or that project. Everything has a dialogue which is moving forwards.
We are at the halfway point. What we usually do as part of this interview format is choose something off the menu. I’m currently doing this interview from Friends of Ham in Ilkley in Yorkshire. You get to choose one of three dishes, which I get to have for lunch after this. Sound good?
EC: Got It.
GR: We’ll start with their famous classic grilled cheese. Simple grilled Cheddar cheese on sourdough. That’s the first choice. Next up are the Boquerones, anchovies with lemon, oil and chimichurri as a salad…or the famous Nduja spreadable Calabrian salami on toast with cornichons. What’s your choice and why?
EC: Baquerones would have to be the answer. You might have wanted something different but I travelled to Portugal last year for the Sardine Festival just to eat grilled sardines in the street so yeah. If there’s fish then yeah, it has to be the anchovies..
GR: Fantastic. We’ll get that ordered and I’ll give feedback after the questions.
Edward Cotterill: Thanks.
How would you describe your approach to problem-solving?
EC: When it comes to problem-solving, there’s, maybe not an infinite, but there’s lots and lots, and lots of different ways of solving a problem. It comes down to how you approach it. It’s about having conviction in your idea and your direction of how you’re going to solve this problem.
When you’re working in a team you need to have conviction in your direction because the problem will get solved quicker if everyone’s on board. It’s having conviction and others understanding that, you know, you’ve got this. It gives everyone clarity and allows them to follow.
It’s really important to be supportive of the person who’s leading. It might be completely against where you think it should be going but unless you’re working with the complete idiot (and we’ve all been there!), it’s about understanding that they’ve got their own way and you are there to support them. Being able to back other people up as well is a skill.
You’re known amongst your peers as someone who embraces innovation and technology as your work at Green Rock has demonstrated. Should we be scared of artificial intelligence and its impact on creativity?
EC: Oh Boy! It’s such a big topic, I’m not sure we have time!!
Within creativity I think at the minute the tools out there for generative AI are exploding. You know it’s almost like we think of a tool that AI can do and someone’s already gone and made it. If in doubt check out https://theresanaiforthat.com/. (Small plug for a great resource!)
The fact I can go and ask Abraham Lincoln what he thinks of you know, the fall of Bitcoin and get an answer I don’t think we should be scared. I mean it’s a tool, we should see it as a tool to help us.
Obviously, there are considerations. It is going to be taking people’s work, people’s livelihoods but in our industry it’s really important for us all to kind of keep abreast of what’s going on and not get left behind. So I think AI in itself, it feels exciting. I think what’s more scary is the thing that’s always been scary and that’s humans. We need to keep a check on this technology, we need to understand who is programming it, and what their background is because ultimately AI is not yet at that point where it’s developing itself. What’s important is to understand who those people are, and holding them to account and making sure it’s inclusive.
Currently it’s not a terrible thing, I suppose that’s a kind of a utopian view of it.
Do you have a particular favourite campaign or activation you’ve worked on recently?
EC: I don’t have favourites as such. It can be a Web3 activation, a VR/AR build, a social campaign or documentary, as long as it’s going to impact an audience I’m happy. That said, XPRIZE Foundation was a standout for me. Their radical optimism for the future benefit of humanity is inspiring… it feels more worthwhile than selling loo roll, although working with a sustainable brand like WhoGivesACrap, would be ace!
We’ve done work for sustainable fashion brands and sustainable technology businesses. Give me a creative problem from that realm, something that fuels the soul you’ll get results.
Recently, we’ve done a couple of campaigns with another agency helping them get better at social first content on TikTok and Instagram Reels. We worked with them on a LEGO project where we created the launch assets in conjunction with Harry Potter for a new Hogwarts Express model. We commandeered a steam railway in Yorkshire for a day and we got to play with steam trains and LEGO all day, a dream!.
It was great to be working with two brands that bring a lot of joy and it meant it was quite a joyful thing to be working on. The response that the content got and the high engagement was a testament to the work.
I recently worked with Foot Locker Europe. It was good to be working with a brand that understood who they were and how they connected to their audience. They knew exactly where the content was going to be going, they had a very clear understanding of how they’re marketing worked. So we were able to really create content that felt fresh and on brand and it kind of didn’t at no point did it feel it was derivative. It was fresh. Apparently our strategy director thought it was a Nike spot when he saw it and didn’t believe we’d produced it, especially given the time or the budget! I think that was a compliment?!
With our Brand Content Studio model at Green Rock, aimed at exactly that, social first video, we are able to turn around projects at the speed consumers dictate and budgets that brands can afford. There’s no skimping on creativity, we just know how to make these things happen, better and quicker than anyone else.
How important is it and what do you look forward to in a good brief?
EC: I think a great brief is where there’s complete clarity in where the content is landing and what it needs to do. So many briefs come through where people aren’t sure and you’re expected to make something out of the cutlery draw of chaos!
The worst is “Let’s make it for social” and it’s really infuriating. I find having to explain the basics of why something that works in LinkedIn won’t work in TikTok! I worked as an artist. I’ve worked in TV and on documentaries and you need to know the answer to the same question: where’s this going? What channel is it going on? Where is going to be shown, what time of day, and if you don’t know that, then you don’t know what the tone of voice is. You don’t know what’s expected.
You need to know your audience. Look at artists. Throughout the ages, they knew their audience. If you don’t know who your audience is, it’s impossible to make something that’s gonna Inspire or entertain.
What’s exciting about the industry right now?
EC: What is exciting? What excites me is the real push for a more thoughtful message. You know, that has some kind social or environmental focus behind it. As I was saying those words, it sounded really worthy and really boring, I think that’s how that kind of marketing, that kind of advertising has generally been approached. It doesn’t need to feel like you’re watching some kind of charity ad from the mid 00’s. Ask yourself what would Ryan Renoylds do…and then don’t imitate it!
As for the industry I think there’s a definite thirst for something a bit more radical, something a bit more disruptive that’s still talking into the issues that are happening in the world but with the joy and playfulness to enrich audiences. There is too much “brand fill” that litters social media and fogs impressionable minds. Where’s Pepsi giving away (or not) harrier jump jets when you need it? I grew up with those kind of bombastic, late 80s, 90s adverts I would consume them and be like, these are amazing. They’re fun. There was a bit of a gung-ho attitude.
I’m excited as I get to work with some really progressive brands, who are embryos of their own new categories. I’m working with the team at Supermetahumanfutures in California on a business thats set to transform the world of sport, one sport at a time. Now that to me is exciting. Working with a company that has developed cotton that uses 79% less resource to grow, that’s exciting.
What’s exciting about Green Rock right now?
EC: I think there are two parts to this answer and I think we’ve touched on both of them. Firstly, for the past few years Green Rock Media has had sustainability at its core so it is well positioned within the industry as leaders in that field. I can’t mention the latest developments but watch this space, it’s only going to get better.
The second point is the technology around Green Rock. That blend of tech and creativity working in harmony is often sought but rarely found. For a number of years it was developing cloud editing technology which is now Edit Cloud, a wholly separate business, trailblazing the category and powering some of the world’s biggest broadcasters remote and hybrid working models. Green Rock has got a dedicated innovation funnel so technological advance is always at the forefront. During and after the pandemic we were able to make that switch to virtual working or hybrid working really simply.
Everyone who works here is really switched onto what’s happening in tech, everyone’s really responsive and into the creative side of what we do.You might not have the most creative job title but there is a creative dialogue from the ground up. Everyone has a creative role within Green Rock, which I think makes us a real strong prospect.
If the word content and all channels were banned tomorrow, what would you do with the rest of your life?
EC: That’s a tricky one because everything is content. It’s an odd word but I think it’s creative output, you know, it’s entertainment, it’s you know, poetry, art, music, film. It would be like living in Plato’s Republic.
I’d have to be creating something, so it would have to be something that has a use value so it’s not content. It’s something else. So I think I’d probably bake bread, relocate to the Provence area and set up a little bakery and just bimble around on a bike and bake some bread.
EC: Content is a real catch-all and it makes me cringe slightly when it gets mentioned. But I think it’s where we are at the moment. How do you differentiate between entertainment? Before, things experienced on the computer were ‘content’ and things on the television were ‘TV’ and you had things in cinemas, which were ‘films’, but it’s all it’s all content now which is great, but maybe we just need a different word for it.
About Green Rock Media
Ed Cotterill is a lead creative at Green Rock Media and has worked with clients including Relativity Space, FootLocker Europe, Lego, Wasserman, XPRIZE Foundation, Supermetahumanfutures and SimWin Sports. Green Rock Media are a specialist creative content shop on a mission to help brands create iconic, culture-defining ideas that drive business growth and positively impact communities and the planet. With clients in London, Los Angeles and Amsterdam our team of strategists, creatives and curious individuals might just be able to solve your brief.