On Paul Domenet’s personal website, there’s a photo of a Post-it note: “Nothing says it better than words.” Words — and his ability to put them together in creative and impactful ways — have defined his life.
Paul has risen to the top ranks of the advertising industry, working on prestigious and award-winning campaigns for some of the largest agencies. But that’s hardly the career path he thought he’d follow.
“I was convinced I could be a rock-and-roll star, although I didn’t have the charisma or talent,” says the self-deprecating Londoner, creative director and partner at Free The Birds. “I decided advertising was more rock-and-rock than rock-and-roll. And it paid better.”
Poor Man’s Poetry
Like the best music, his words reach into a person’s heart, soul and imagination. “[Advertising is] a poor man’s poetry. The best poets read a line and the world doesn’t look the same way. That’s what we do [in the ad business] in a minor way.” And they get people to “put their hands in their pocket and purchase something.”
Free The Birds offers design and communications services from brand identity to packaging, film, print and digital assets. Paul’s willingness to understand the brands he works with prompted him to embrace his feminine side by trying on “a beautiful shade of coral lipstick” when he was working with one of the agency’s cosmetics brands, recalls co-worker Sara Jones, a partner at Free The Birds.
“His uniqueness comes from a deep curiosity and continued willingness to learn,” says Sara. “He never sits back, smugly resting on his laurels. He keeps pushing until the best idea gets through.”
Earlier this year, Paul worked on a campaign for Compassion in World Farming to encourage consumers to reduce their meat-based protein consumption, with the goal of lowering overall meat-based protein by 25 percent by 2025. For the campaign, Paul worked on a film called “Mouths.” The message of the film — which uses close-ups of people’s mouths — is that change can come as much by what we put into our mouths as by what comes out of our mouths. The campaign’s tagline was “Eat plants. For a Change.”
Free The Bird worked on Hello Day nutritional supplements — from the name to the packaging to the brand marketing. Paul came up with the idea of rolling through the seasons — a theme carried throughout every aspect of the brand. The Hello Day project won several prestigious Pentawards, a global design competition.
Attitude, Not Age
Sara says Paul “totally and utterly” exemplifies the motto of Free The Birds: “Attitude, Not Age.”
Paul believes age is irrelevant, and he’s sick of clients who are fixated on reaching the 25-34 demographics: “It’s absolutely stupid. You can stick a bunch of people in a room spanning 60 years, and if they have the same attitude, they will click and they will empathize with each other.”
Curiosity, he says, is key to working in an industry dominated by youth — not to mention the key trait for a fulfilling life.
“It’s not that I have to find out about the latest digital trend, I’m just interested in it. If you’re naturally curious, it’s not difficult to stay relevant.”
He calls his ability to continually evolve throughout his career his own little Darwin experiment. “I’ve evolved to avoid the natural predators that have been killed off. They can’t hit a moving target.”
“Advertising wasn’t what I was supposed to do or thought I was going to do,” says Domenet.
Growing up in Northern England, he had a traditional education, attending Manchester Grammar School. After graduation, he wanted to pursue his music dreams. On his father’s advice, he begrudgingly attended St. John’s College at the University of Oxford. “I was on track to do the normal things you would do with an Englis degree from Oxford.”
Despite his success there — he joined societies, passed all of his exams and “ate a lot of words” — he left after a year to pursue music. Paul played drums in a few bands — he likens himself to Animal from The Muppets — and loved the gigs. “Some of the best times I’ve ever had were playing in front of people,” he recalls.
But he needed to find a day job to support himself. Paul’s father worked in the pharmaceutical industry and got him a job there. He loved hanging out with the marketing folks and the company. When one left to join an ad agency — something he didn’t know existed — it piqued his interest. His father arranged for him to interview at an agency in Manchester in Northern England, and he got the job.
4 Seconds to Make an Impact
His new career reignited his love of words — something he lost during his time at Oxford. “For a while after Oxford, I didn’t pick up a word. I’d had enough.” Now, instead of writing 2,000-word essays, he was challenged with writing ad copy. It was artistically more challenging and also more rewarding.
“In advertising, you have four seconds to have an impact,” he says.
Paul’s advertising career began in earnest at DDB/BMP where he worked on award-winning campaigns for Knorr and Volkswagen and received a Gold Lion at Cannes. From there he moved to Y&R where he was a Group Head before being promoted to Deputy Creative Director. He joined Saatchi & Saatchi and became the agency’s first ever Head of Copy, working with such clients as Toyota, Procter & Gamble and Carlsberg. He went on to found two agencies — Random Factory and Johnny Fearless — before joining Free The Birds two years ago.
While the money in his chosen profession has been nice, the true reward is the constant quest for excellence — to come up with new words in interesting ways to affect and influence people.
“There’s nothing like writing a script and seeing it on TV — your words and your ideas. That’s so magical to me, and you never get tired of it.”
The Music of Words
It’s not surprising that one of his role models is Spike Milligan. The British comedian, writer and playwright taught him that creativity and imagination can break down boundaries — a philosophy he has carried throughout his life and career. His father gave him a book of Milligan’s poetry called Silly Verse for Kids, a collection of absurd, ridiculous and sublime poems. “The music of the words and how silly they were — and the images they conjured up in my head — were wonderful.”
Paul’s own fertile imagination is exemplified by “Flight of the Stories” – a campaign created and screened in summer 2014 for the relaunch of the Imperial War Museum and the First World War Centenary. He created the animated film — working with Wallace & Gromit animation studio Aardman — with quote marks flying home from Northern France to the museum. “The idea was that many did not return home from the war, but their stories did,” says Paul, who created the campaign while working at Johnny Fearless, a London agency he co-founded.
As a result of the campaign, visitor numbers at the museum soared 60 percent against a target of 30 percent. The campaign also won widespread acclaim, including a prestigious Annie Award for Best Animated Television/Broadcast Commercial presented by the International Animated Film Society.
Asked if this was his favorite campaign, he echoes the sentiment of many creatives: “My favorite piece of work is the last one I’ve done.”
Music for the Love of It
Paul’s rock-and-roll dreams now have come full circle. In his free time, he plays keyboard, guitar and drums. Thanks to technology, he is able to record music “for my own amusement. Nothing gives me as much pleasure as sitting for three hours and recording my less-than-mediocre attempts.” He says he now writes songs — a love letter to his 20-year-old son and 24-year-old twin daughters — for “when I’m not here anymore.”
“I sing about things I actually believe in,” he says.