The Drum | St Luke’s Richard Denney Talks About His Life, Career And Favorite Ads

The Drum | St Luke’s Richard Denney Talks About His Life, Career And Favorite Ads

The chief creative officer discusses how he got his start in advertising, the top ads he’s made and the advice he’d give to young creatives.

“I was at a show last night and was looking at all the young creatives there and thinking fucking hell, I’m so old. Just seeing all their excitement and remembering starting out and going to all the events, it just goes by so bloody quick.”

Richard Denney has more than 25 years of experience in the advertising industry, he’s worked at some big hitters such as RKCR/Y&R, Saatchi & Saatchi and DDB. The current joint chief creative officer at London-based agency St Luke’s is feeling in a reflective mood.

As a youngster, Denney was an art fanatic. He knew a ‘traditional’ career probably wasn’t right for him.

“I didn’t really like school, and school couldn’t cope with me either,” he recalls. “When I was chatting to the careers advisor and he asked what I wanted to do and I said that I was thinking about art.” The teacher told him that no pupil could ever make a career out of a creative subject.

Describing himself as quite an energetic lad, he then decided to get his grades up to scratch and go to college to study design and communication. He loved photography too and cites his college mate Marcus Piggott, who would go on to establish the fashion photography duo Mert and Marcus, as an inspiration.

After struggling to find his niche, he was encouraged to pursue a career in advertising as he was “ideas-driven” and the role encompassed a lot of his design passions.

“I started collecting scrapbooks of ads that I liked and funnily enough, I ended up working in some of those agencies.” One of those ads was Volvo’s ‘Cages Save Lives’ by Robert Campbell and Mark Rolfe, who went on to form RKCR Y&R. “I love the power of simplicity, it was bloody brilliant.”


His big break came in 1996 from Rob Porteous and Majella Lewis, who helped him create a book to take to Y&R. The agency recognized his potential and he had his foot in the door.

“That’s where my education began, straight into agency life,” admits the creative. Alongside his partner David West, he was getting put into various briefs but knew he needed some kind of stunt to really grab people’s attention.

“I came up with an idea for a charity to put a homeless man outside a cinema, everyone outside ignored him and then when they got in, he came up on screen and asked the audience not to ignore him again.”

The idea won the duo a Gold Lion.

In the years that followed, a move to Saatchi saw the creative work on the Carlsberg account, notably the ‘Old Lions’ and the ‘Carlsberg Don’t Do Wallcharts’ ad campaigns. It’s important to always do things “beyond the brief,” says Denney. “Have that proactive mentality.”

But the ad that he cites would probably define what he creatively stands for would be Halford’s ‘The Trip’ which was made during his time at DLKW Lowe. Set to the upbeat 70s tune Into The Valley by Skids, the spot is loosely based on his own childhood going on camping holidays with his family.

“They’re life stories, moments and connections, which is what you hope an audience will get. That ad is my holiday every year. It was me, projecting.”

It’s that personality that Denney has carried through to his role at the independent agency St Luke’s. “It really did disrupt the category back in the day,” he recalls. “But it went a bit quiet for several years and that appealed to me, along with the management team. I was so excited about the opportunity to bring fame to St Luke’s and its clients.” It now works with Butterkist, Ocado and Heathrow.

He admits that the past six years have gone by in the blink of an eye. “I say this to the young creatives, look through the annuals, go online, study the places that match your personality or ambition.”

To really push your creativity, the agency boss feels like you shouldn’t be tied down to a house style. “You can be disruptive, but you don’t want to be pigeonholed unless you’re really into that.

“As you progress, the most important thing is to find the people that you believe in and they believe in you.”

Read our interview with Ogilvy’s Jules Chalkley on his life, career and favorite ads.