Q&A WITH PEPE MARAIS OF JOE PUBLIC UNITED
If passion, creativity, open-mindedness, and ambition to push boundaries were bottled up as a scent, it would be called Eau du Pepe Marais. Pepe is a co-founder and Group Chief Creative Officer of Joe Public United, a purpose-driven brand and communications group in South Africa, whose clients include Chicken Licken, NedBank, Converse and more. Ahead of Pepe’s upcoming Ciclope Africa talk in Johannesburg, SA, we asked him some questions about work, life, creativity, and South Africa. Read our interview below and don’t miss Pepe’s talk on March 26.
Q: What is your background? How long have you worked at Joe Public United?
A: I am a fine artist and graphic designer by training, an art director by trade, and a writer by experience. I co-founded Joe Public in 1998, and have been at the helm of our creative product ever since.
Q: What kind of obstacles have you faced and overcome in being a creative working in South Africa?
A: For many years I had to compromise my deep belief in creativity just to stay in business. I had to overcome my fear of stepping into creative leadership and standing firmly for what I believe in. It’s been a journey, and although our product is starting to add value to the brands within our stable, we still have a very far way to go / grow.
Q: What excites you about the creative production space in South Africa?
A: Our intolerance to average ideas has been near depleted over the course of the past two decades. Today, the majority of films that fill the media spaces on our television stations are not worth talking about. Similarly, our production partners have more and more become yes men and women, putting the importance of revenue above quality. That said, there are the outliers that are daily going the extra mile, the ones who push back on poor ideas, who strive to make every step of the production more than worthwhile. These are the people who excites me. I am also very inspired by the rise in new talent and diversity in this sector of our industry, as I believe the more diverse we are, the more creative we will become.
Q: Which masterpiece (artwork, book, album, etc.) would you save from a burning building?
A: I will save a human being. I believe that each of us are indeed the greatest artwork ever created. It may sound cheesy, or way too deep, but that is what I believe. If you have a child, you will really get this point. We just need to find more ways to unlock our own potential.
Q: What is your favorite ad ever?
A: I will tell you once we make it. In the meantime, three come to mind: 1) BMW Mouse which launched the career of the late and great Keith Rose. 2) Beautiful, also directed by Keith. It put Allan Gray on the map. 3) Memories for our client, Tracker, directed by Kevin Fitzgerald. Maybe not in the same league as the two aforementioned advertisements, but it marked the start of our obsession as an agency towards creating greater film in our industry and as a country.
Q: What is your favorite ad you worked on?
A: The Notebook, for Dial Direct, directed by Greg Gray. I had worked many years towards growing our business together with my partners in order to work with the likes of Greg, who I rate as one of our industry greats. The Notebook was our first commercial with him and Helena and we have had the pleasure to make many more commercials together to date. I love the level of planning that goes into our productions with Romance Films, and I also love that whatever the treatment sets out to achieve is delivered upon 100%. Which is rare in a world where there’s far more talk than action in general.
Q: Who/what are your three greatest loves today?
A: My family. Our agency. Snow skiing.
Q: How do you get out of a creative dry spell?
A: We don’t have a creative dry spell, we are blessed with a team of creative people who have each other’s backs. I am just fortunate to be positioned at the top of our little pyramid and be credited for their great thinking. I do however try my utmost to lead from behind, although I make mistakes daily. My personal driver in life is my life’s purpose, which gives me immense energy for the task at hand: the daily improvement of Joe Public United’s creative product in order to serve the growth of our people, our clients and our country. And of course, have fun while doing so. Because if we are not having fun, we are f*cked.