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[Design Forum] Advertising guru cites open-mindedness as first condition for creativity

Alex Schill, the global chief creative officer and a partner of Serviceplan Group, loves to challenge his juniors. Whenever his younger associates succeed in a project that he did not approve of in the beginning, he grants them a bonus.

“That happens quite often and I do lose a lot of money,” Schill said in an interview with The Korea Herald on Monday.

Schill, who holds 50 Cannes Lions, including two Grand Prix in 2012 and 2013, believes admitting to his failures has helped him become more creative, and moreover, successful.

“Those who are creative are those who know how to look at things from different perspectives. They understand that what they think is right might not always be right and want to learn more about alternatives,” he said. 
Alex Schill, global chief creative officer and partner of Serviceplan Group, poses before an interview with The Korea Herald on Monday. (Serviceplan Korea)
Alex Schill, global chief creative officer and partner of Serviceplan Group, poses before an interview with The Korea Herald on Monday. (Serviceplan Korea)

“People often think that being creative has something to do with coming up with brilliant ideas all of a sudden. But once you really get there, you understand it is about moderating so many different needs and demands from different persons. It only becomes possible when you are truly open-minded,” he said.

Schill will give a lecture on “Responsible Design for Sustainability” at the Herald Design Forum at Dongdaemun Design Plaza on Wednesday. He will introduce his know-how in designing advertisements and his questioning approach to everything he encounters.

Before the forum, he shared some of his thoughts with The Korea Herald.

Korea Herald: How did you first become interested in the industry?

Alex Schill: In 1989 I had the chance to start studying at the High School of Fine Arts in Berlin. Besides the good reputation of the school, it was the craziest thing that ever happened in Germany when the wall came down in those days. And Berlin was the hottest place to be.

That was most likely the reason for me to go to Berlin and start studying advertising. I spent four years in Berlin and lived in the middle of a breathtaking change of the country.

In 1994 I was offered (a chance) to work for Mercedes-Benz at Springer&Jacoby, formerly the most creative agency around in Germany. As I like cars a lot, I agreed and then just one step followed the other. I became CCO after 10 years and after 12 years I moved on to Serviceplan.

KH: What is your favorite idea that you have produced in your career? What is the reason behind that?

AS: I think it is a work that we did a couple of years ago for the Lead Awards in Germany. It was an installation called Pro&Contra, which was placed right in the middle of an art exhibition at the Deichtorhallen, one of the most famous museums in Germany.

It was hundreds of balls hanging from the ceiling in an apparently chaotic order. But if you stood on the right position in the room, the balls formed the word “pro.” After changing the position to another marked spot on the floor, you could read the word “contra.”

We asked people to discuss the pieces of art they saw in the exhibition by using a piece of art itself.

KH: In your opinion, what are the most important elements in sustainable design?

AS: Is it relevant? Is it involving? Is it different?

KH: You have worked with many clients including BMW, Google, Lufthansa and Lego. Who were your favorite clients (if any)? Or the most memorable?
AS: The most memorable one is definitely Mercedes-Benz. It was the first client I ever worked for and I was deeply involved for 12 years. I think I still can quote the first copy I ever wrote in my career.

KH: Can you give any advice to the many aspiring students who wish to work in the advertising and marketing industry?

AS: As I said, if you want to succeed, you have to be yourself. Never try to anticipate what your client likes. Even if you may know it, that would not be relevant. He pays you a lot of money for your opinion. Not for repeating his own. The decision is on his side. The advice is on yours.

By Bae Ji-sook (
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Korea Herald daum