Back to Alea | The Alea Interview – Rob Wilson

News . 03 March 2021 Read Time5 min

The Alea Interview – Rob Wilson

Dice’s Creative Director talks Selfridges, skiing and the power of simplicity. 

Can you pinpoint the moment you got your creative ‘spark’?

I’ve always had a passion for ideas and how things look on a page or screen. At the age of 10, I’d be in my bedroom drawing logos and improving them. I lost count of how many times I drew the Liverpool crest, trying to perfect it. It gave me a real sense of pride. 

I also loved the iconic TV ads of the 80s, such as Guinness, Hamlet Cigars, Carling Black Label and Levi’s. I watched TV for the ad breaks, not the programmes!

Your first job was as a graphic designer for Selfridge’s. How did that come about and what was the experience like?

It was a hard job to get because there was a recession when I graduated in the early-1990s. I didn’t even know what a recession was when I was at uni. I just remember struggling to get my foot on the ladder, going up to London for numerous interviews and writing 60 to 70 application letters.

I only had an inkling I was getting closer to the Selfridges job when I was whittled down to the last few, and then the last two. I had three great years working at the flagship store on Oxford Street. The studio was on the roof with amazing views of London, and your work was showcased around the store, so you could see your portfolio wherever you walked.

It also meant I got to work on the Christmas window displays, which were very creative in the early days. We’d work all day and night in the windows the day before launch, and there’d always be a celebrity to open them. However, we usually missed that part as we were so knackered after working through the night. We just wanted to go down the pub!

What is your creative vision for Dice? Has it changed since you joined the company?

Dice has come from very humble beginnings, and my role as Creative Director is very different now to when I started with just a few people. I don’t want to be the sole creative at Dice. I want to create a safe, creative space for everyone to experiment and push the boundaries. Above all, I want Dice to be renowned for its creative qualities, so people say “I want the Dice treatment”.

What are your values and how do they inform your creative direction?

I think simplicity is everything. Provided you hit the brief, get the simple things right and keep refining, a good idea has the potential to get even better. From there, successful execution is almost like a dance. Every element – from the words and typography to photography and illustration – comes together to create a performance.

Finally, I love what I do. That’s incredibly important to me, as I’m sure it is for other creatives. You can always tell when someone has had fun with a project.

How does the creative challenge of healthcare compare to other industries?

I’ve been fortunate to work in many sectors, but healthcare has been by far the most rewarding. Hearing people’s stories about their health and what it means to do the basic things – go shopping, go to work and things that you and I take for granted. Making a difference to those people is far more rewarding than promoting the latest car and clothes range. 

Of course there are plenty of challenges within healthcare, but there’s a good reason for that. Once you understand the regulations, it becomes easier to work within them. In fact, it almost forces you to be more creative. There’s rarely a challenge you can’t solve with creativity.

How have you seen the pharma industry change in the time you’ve been working in it?

When I first started, iPads were just coming through and weren’t really being used as a sales tool. Over the years, they have become a huge sales tool for reps. Our digital output has increased dramatically over that time, and now with the Covid situation, it has pushed it to a whole new level. We have had to adapt to that as an agency; however, we have always found ways to solve problems digitally, while never forgetting the importance of traditional channels.

How do you think Covid-19 has influenced pharma and healthcare marketing? Has it shaped your own thinking at all?

I really feel agencies thrive on communicating, brainstorming and getting the best out of people. Losing that suddenly in the first lockdown was the biggest shock. Keeping up communications with the team has been vital, even if it means more time on Zoom or Skype. 

There’s no doubt that digital is king during Covid, but it’s up to us to think of other digital solutions and new experiences. Have we reached a saturation point with these digital executions like video, email and online sales tools? Is there anything else we can do?

How do you think Covid-19 has influenced pharma and healthcare marketing? Has it shaped your own thinking at all?

I’ve probably had less time on my hands than a lot of people, to be honest. However, I have enjoyed many runs and long walks with my German Shepherd and played a bit of golf when it’s been possible. I’ve also discovered that a good Fortnite session solves everything.

What have you missed the most?

Skiing. Mountains are the best place ever in my opinion. If there’s one place I could be tomorrow, it’s a mountain. Getting back to the office will also be amazing, when it’s safe to do so. I can’t wait to be back working face-to-face with people again.

What do you want to achieve in the next five to ten years?

There’s so much more to achieve with Dice, and I’m looking forward to helping the agency grow, bring on new talent and explore new opportunities for clients. I also want to see more of the world and grow as a human being; learn more, be respectful and have more experiences. 

The last year has taught me not to take anything for granted. I’m lucky to live in a reasonably-sized house; my heart goes out to people who can’t get out and have a less fortunate life than me.