Jonathan Deeb and Ahmed Tilly: Collaborators. Picture: SUPPLIED

Jonathan Deeb and Ahmed Tilly: Collaborators. Picture: SUPPLIED

It’s an experiment not without risk: pairing two top chief creative officers (CCO) at a major ad agency and hoping the fur won’t fly.

FCB, one of SA’s biggest ad agencies, with brands like Toyota and Coca-Cola in its orbit, has appointed Ahmed Tilly to work alongside incumbent CCO Jonathan Deeb. Tilly is well known in the industry for award-winning work on the Nando’s account at the Black River FC agency. FCB has more than doubled in size over the past three years.

It might seem a clever move to share the workload, but some in the ad industry are asking how two people can fill what is traditionally one position and not clash.

Notes Deeb: "This isn’t our first rodeo. Ahmed and I have worked together before. We share the same values, passions and views of what we believe makes iconic communication. To extract real reward from collaboration you need to begin with a shared vision, the ability to park ego, and an appetite for heated debate." Tilly says: "I would be disappointed if we never butted heads. I think it’s important in the creative process that there are dissenting views. This is the friction required for magic to happen."

In a modern advertising agency and with an increasing focus on digital communication, the role of the CCO is changing, but Deeb suggests that basic principles apply. "It’s still about identifying an insightful big idea and helping to nurture it and expand on it. The media landscape is radically different today, but this does not shift the focus from relevant, insightful storytelling across all platforms. Tilly agrees, saying: "At the core of everything we do remains a strong, surprising idea that solves a problem. The role of the CCO is to not lose sight of the problem and steer the work in a direction that solves it in the most unexpected way."

In an evolving advertising environment many agencies are struggling to align the function of the creative department with the strategic and business vision of clients. The disconnect can lead to poor output, which weakens brands.

While Deeb is cognisant of the argument, he believes the creative function is the only function of an ad agency. "Our product is strategically creative marketing. All departments need to fully commit to knowing that their role is about facilitating the most iconic and effective creative work."

Part of their roles will be to get the best out of their creative teams in an environment where production timelines have shrunk. No longer do ad agencies have the luxury of spending months developing a campaign.

Tilly concedes it’s a rough environment: "Creative people need clarity in direction more than anything else. They also need to be jolted out of a particular train of thought. And they need to be given permission to fail."


Speaking about one ad that still resonates, Deeb refers to a television commercial he worked on to assist a young boy suffering from bone cancer. "The ad was a simple plea for funds. It achieved its objectives and raised enough money to buy the hi-tech equipment needed to find a bone marrow match." Tilly remembers a Nando’s ad called The Dictator that poked fun at, among others, Robert Mugabe. It was withdrawn after threats to staff in Zimbabwe.