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Effectiveness Hall of Fame - Neil Dawson

The IPA Effectiveness Hall of Fame honours Neil Dawson, Chief Strategy Officer at Sapient-Nitro Europe, for his contribution as Convenor of Judges at the 2008 IPA Effectiveness Awards, and his editorship of "Advertising Works 17".

Q: Describe the high points and low points of your career in the communications industry to date?

The High:

The Prince’s Rainforest Campaign featuring Harrison Ford, Robin Williams, the Dalai Lama and members of the Royal Family including HRH Prince Charles and, erm, an animated frog. It reached millions of people around the world without a single penny of paid-for media, driving many thousands of signatures to an online petition and significant engagement. The campaign helped create an agenda for protecting the world’s rainforests at the G8 Copenhagen Summit.

The Low:

Where to start? Probably something involving an animatic of a TV ad, a quantitative pre-test, some spurious action standards and category benchmarks followed by a long evening train journey back from Leamington Spa. Alan Hedges’ ‘Testing to Destruction’ never seemed more poignant.

Q: Who has had the biggest influence on your communications thinking and practice - and why?

Jean-Marie Dru at TBWA. His Disruption theory stands as one of the most powerful manifestos for creativity from our industry. His first book elegantly describes Disruption as “a method, a way of thinking and a state of mind”.

While highly applicable to communications thinking, it extends far beyond this to brand, product and business strategy. I’m constantly amazed at how far Disruption has permeated the collective consciousness of the business – its terms, tools and thought processes seem to be ever more present.

What are the opportunities for Disruption? What are the dominant conventions in the market? How can this brand achieve a greater share of the future?

The answers to these questions are the foundations of the strategic thinking on which effective campaigns are built.
Disruption is not an answer in itself, but it’s a great place to start.

Q: What knowledge or skill do you have today that you wish you had possessed when you started out?

All businesses have to live in the short and long term. Where campaigns are concerned, short-term effects are critical and unless they are observed there are (almost) never any long-term effects. However, short-term tactics are pointless if they do not contribute to long-term aims.

Our responsibility as agencies is to help brands address this perpetual conundrum and never to neglect one at the expense of the other. Brand and Response cannot be separate siloes of endeavour.

While short-term impacts have never been more measureable and observable due to digital innovation in particular, the “longer and broader” effects have suffered much neglect in recent times.

We must not fall into the trap of forgetting these valuable longer-term effects in the increasingly fast-paced agency environment demanded by modern campaigns and clients who are (as always) under increasing pressure to deliver in the here and now.

Q: What is the single, most important change you have seen in the industry since you started? Has it been a change for the better or worse?

The internet and subsequent rise of connectivity through digital technology have fundamentally disrupted the way consumers interact with brands. This has brought huge challenges to many sectors including retail, media and music.

Overall, it has a been force for significant good - it has enabled the creation of value through products, services and experiences which are rich and deeply engaging, from Facebook and Twitter to Nike+ and Spotify.

It has empowered users and helped people to make more informed choices. Social Media has connected individuals and allowed us to join conversations and debates. Authenticity is no longer limited to what a brand says but is driven by our experiences.

From a measurement perspective, we are still in the foothills. Many of the digital metrics are misguided. There is an over-reliance on short-term, intermediate effects. But the prospect of more strategies built on what people actually do rather than what they claim to do should inspire us all. 


Having studied Politics and Philosophy at Bristol University, Neil Dawson joined NOP Market Research and worked in various research agencies between 1985 and 1995. 

In 1995, he joined Euro-RSCG as a senior planner, before moving to MCBD as Planning Director in 1999. In 2001 he moved to TBWA/London where he was first Executive Planning Director and later Chairman. Between 2007 and September 2013, he was a Founder and Planning Partner of HMDG, later rebranded as Enter. In October 2013 he took up a new role as Chief Strategy Office of Sapient-Nitro Europe. 

Between 2001 and 2006 TBWA\ London won five IPA Effectiveness Awards, including two special prizes. Neil co-authored the Silver Award-winning Eurostar paper, Learning To Fly.

He was Convenor of the Judges of the 2008 IPA Effectiveness Awards, having been Deputy Convenor in 2006. HMDG were the only independent agency to win an IPA Effectiveness Award in 2010 (for Karcher). 

Neil has also authored chapters for the IPA publication, ‘Advertising Works and How’, and for ‘Beyond Disruption 2‘. He has published articles in various industry journals including Market Leader, Admap Campaign and Marketing.

Last updated 15/10/2013

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