Creative Directors / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Richard Morgan, Executive Creative Director at AnalogFolk

Richard Morgan is the Executive Creative Director at AnalogFolk, an independent digital creative agency with offices in Amsterdam, London, New York, Sydney, and more.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I am Executive Creative Director & Partner at AnalogFolk Sydney, an advertising agency specialising in digital and integrated communications. With 7 offices around the world, AnalogFolk’s mission is ‘Using digital to make the analog world better.’

My career began as a copywriter from my hometown of Adelaide, then Melbourne, Sydney, London and now Sydney again. I’ve been fortunate to work alongside many truly great people and have amazing mentors in my career.

Advertising is not merely a hard job to break into, it’s highly competitive to excel and stay ahead. Like an African savannah, someone, somewhere, is always eyeing your dinner – or you – to eat. So knowing what’s what in culture, being digitally savvy and constant learning is key. 

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

Whilst I’m a born night owl, having young children – not to mention an early bird wife – largely weaned me off that habit through necessity. At least 3 mornings a week I will do an early gym or spin class.

Though painful at first, it leaves me feeling energised, focussed and somehow, more optimistic about the day ahead. Between breakfast and getting our two sons off to school, it’s controlled chaos in our house.

Being a bit of a newshound, I scroll through different news sources over breakfast; Sydney Morning Herald, The Guardian and The Australian, maybe some New York Times or others until I hit article paywall limit; I like seeing topics from varied perspectives. 

Thanks to Sydney’s patchy public transport, I mostly drive into work, listening to music, reflecting and thinking about the day ahead. Hitting the office, I’ll have a strong almond milk coffee in my hand, which I carry like a trusty sword into battle. It girds me.

My day involves many meetings – reviewing ideas and projects, speaking with clients and production partners, new business pitches and agency finances, to all manner of things.

Mornings are my most creative time, so if I have an idea to crack, now is the time to do it. Much of my diary is spent reviewing the creative team’s work. Someone may have half an idea, a scribble or design with potential, but it’s embryonic. So I must very quickly identify the best ones and help breathe life into them.

As creative director, my role is often seeing how all the pieces fit together, then getting everyone in the team playing the right notes in time to realise the bigger score. This is an art in itself; especially under the time pressure of a pitch, for example. There’s also nothing like a ticking clock to focus the mind.

After work, I’ve recently started doing F-45 or cycling. It takes the edge off and calms my nerves for the evening. Then it’s the maelstrom of the family dinner routine, stories and anecdotes from the day, a bit of streaming, social media, possibly a couple of evening emails.

Then ideally, a game of table tennis with the kids post their homework. The Table is a highly competitive arena in our house; it’s a good place to chat, blow out cobwebs and try and perfect my eternally-average backhand.

Late evening – the night owl in me awakens once more – and compels me to read or watch movies. I have to actively fight the instinct or I get too tired the next day without sufficient sleep.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

My agency places great kudos on giving people independence and accountability in how they work. Currently we aim to have four days a week in the office as a team, with Wednesdays designated as ‘Work from Anywhere’ day, on which most people, including myself, choose WFH. 

Creatives tend to work in two modes – time alone to think and dream, then time to collaborate and refine – and both are critical in my opinion. In fact, I’ve come to believe that one’s brain works in very different ways when you’re alone or with others, with markedly different outputs. 

Once the seed of a great idea is there, collaboration is the soil in which creativity grows. And yes, the metaphor holds that another person’s build on your crap idea can grow it into a brilliant one. Bouncing stuff around, hallway conversations, being silly and asking ‘what about this?’ is key.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

Whilst deceptively laid back, the reality is that advertising is a business of great highs, lows and pressures. If you’re going to be a truly great creative, much of that pressure is that you put on yourself.

One also needs to be resilient to cope with people rejecting your ideas on an almost daily basis. This can be stressful and emotionally taxing, especially early in one’s career. But as you grow into it – and maybe just harden up – you realise it’s just part of it, and that people rejecting an idea doesn’t mean they’re rejecting you as such. 

The talented people you get to work alongside and are exposed to in the production process – from filmmakers, artists, musicians to game designers – is a real privilege. That part doesn’t feel so much like work. You also get to meet incredible clients, from billionaires to people trying to save the planet and further equality.

The alchemy of creativity, balanced with the logistics and people-skills required for co-managing a business is just that – a balance – one that requires constant micro-adjustments to reach yours and the team’s goals. It only takes 2 seconds to have a great idea and there’s always the latent, thrilling possibility that one lightning bolt of inspiration can change everything. If you ever lose that sense of optimism, it’s time to call it a day. 

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

If there’s a tiny silver lining to the pandemic, there’s a newly-found awareness within companies on the importance of mental health. In the past, ad agencies were hives of overwork and it was almost a ‘right of passage’ to prove your worth. It’s now clearly on the radar of companies, and frankly the bad ones can’t get away with some of the overworking practices of the past. They will get called out. 

That said, the siren call of email, Slack and social nudges have made life and work even more intertwined than ever. You can’t escape it, so you do have to learn to manage work and life co-existing to a level. Creating boundaries, putting your partner and family first, taking holidays and exercising regularly I highly recommend.

In late 2018, I took a 5 month sabbatical. After almost 20 years in the business, it enabled me to pause and reflect. With a newly found perspective, I saw that whilst there was much I could be proud of, there were definitely a few things and situations that I’d do differently given that time again.

It’s a bit like the frog put in a pot of cold water and brought to the boil without ever jumping out. Without dissecting said frog here and now, there were certain personal standards and working practices that I had slowly let slip or be eroded in order to please my superiors and company stakeholders. Ultimately it wasn’t healthy and I vowed to change it.

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

Well here I must of course give a shameless plug to my wife Alison Morgan’s Mindfulbiz podcast, interviewing inspiring entrepreneurs in the health & wellness industry.

I also enjoy really existential subjects like the origin of time and the universe, such as interviews with Roger Penrose, or Sean Caroll’s Mindscape podcast.

I don’t agree with everything Joe Rogan says, but you can’t deny he’s a brilliant interviewer. Lewis Howes’ School of Greatness podcast, especially the Kobe Bryant episodes, are a must-listen.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

My iPhone and Specialized Roubaix bike are all well, ‘quite close to my heart.’ I probably spend too much time on Instagram, but I enjoy the digital escapism.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?  

I have no idea how Santa Claus gets everything done in time for Christmas, so probably him. Walter Isaacson’s bios on everyone from Steve Jobs to Da Vinci are always insightful.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Take control of your schedule or someone else will. Put time into your diary with the same level of ‘non-negotiable’ as professional commitments. The asterix on that would be ‘within reason’.

If you choose to work in a way because it is better or easier for you, yet adds pressure to someone else, consider that too. Compromise is necessary, life and career are a juggle and occasionally the best laid plans go awry and need tweaking. I think that’s just called life!

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.