IN-DEPTH INTERVIEW: The Mill's Rodrigo Sobral

Rodrigo Sobral is creative director of The Mill Digital in London. In this interview he reveals his working process, inspirations and what it's like working with some of the world's biggest clients.

Rodrigo Sobral has been working with interactive and integrated media for the last 15 years. Starting his career as an art director in Sao Paulo, he quickly went on to become the founding partner of one of Brazil's first digital production companies.

A job opportunity prompted a move to London and since then, Sobral has gone on to work for some highly prestigious digital agencies, including Unit9, AKQA and, presently, The Mill Digital.

In this exclusive interview, we talk to Sobral about his career so far, the importance of working with the right people and why fresh ideas really excite him. Check it out...

QUESTION: When did your interest in advertising and design begin?

"It started at a very early age. I was about 9 or 10 years old. My father had a passion for all things creative including advertising, even though he never actually worked in the industry, and I guess he passed his passion on to me.

"We use to watch this TV show together in Brazil, called ‘Intervalo’. It was a factual show featuring the best in advertising from around the world with interviews and reports on current work and trends including coverage of the Cannes Festival and its winners every year.

Intervalo was on at 2am every week and I absolutely loved it

"The show was on at 2am every week and I absolutely loved it. Even then it was very late for children to be watching TV, but that was my version of partying hard back in the day, with my dad.

"At university I studied Advertising and Marketing, I already had eight years of the Cannes Lions winners recorded on VHS (that long ago). I became an advertising encyclopedia and knew all the top agencies around the world, their main clients and TV ads."

Rodrigo Sobral (and a hairy handed assistant) in his office space at The Mill Digital in London

QUESTION: Your career began in Sao Paulo, what prompted the move to the UK?

"Back in 2004 I owned a small digital agency in Brazil called Loo /SP and I had a partnership with the folks at Unit9 in Hoxton. They invited me to replace their Creative Director when she left to have a baby.

I jumped at the chance because it was a great opportunity

"It was a lot of pressure, because she was a great design director, but I jumped at the chance because it was a great opportunity and the chance to up my game, in a new language, and in a new country. I packed my stuff and moved with my wife to London within a month."

QUESTION: What do you think has been key to your successful career?

"I believe you’re only as good as your latest work/campaign so I think the key is being able to work with the right talent and continue producing great creative work week after week."

QUESTION: Having worked in many different areas of design throughout your career. Which do you prefer and why?

"For me, it’s not about preference. I always try to teach myself more about great design, whichever aspect I’m involved in. Interactive media is simply the one I’ve found to be the most stimulating.

"I like its complexity and the way you have to consider all elements of design with the usability, information architecture, message, composition, colour theory and typography. Then when you’ve made it through this process you’re still required to transform complexity into simplicity... so it flexes all your creative muscles.

Interactive media is simply the most stimulating

"Everything that I do has a digital DNA to it - it’s through interactive media that I’ve managed to bring my different skill sets together and find authentic and real ways to engage with audiences."

QUESTION: What are the main challenges when working with some of the world's biggest clients, such as Nike and Audi?

"There are two sides to working with world-leading brands. Firstly, they’re at the absolute top of their game, with a clear vision of what they are doing and what their brand stands for. They’re used to hiring the best in the industry and have incredibly high standards and there’s no room for bullshit.

You have to keep putting your vision and inspiration forward

"Secondly, they’ve seen it all! You have to reinvent the wheel for a group of super talents! And you need to stay curious, investigate and inspire more than anyone else otherwise your ideas will die in a flash. You have to keep putting your vision and inspiration forward; thrash them out in competition with everyone else’s."

Sobral has collaborated with some of the world's leading clients, including Nike and Audi

QUESTION: What's the coolest brief you've ever had and why?

"If I had to pick one which is really tricky, it would have to be Nike+ Supersonic at AKQA. We were tasked with the challenge of totally reinventing the famous Nike Run London, which already had seven years of success to its name.

"It was cool because it felt like an important moment in time - tapping into the zeitgeist alongside a team of top industry professionals, all excited by the potential of a new idea - one of the first truly integrated ideas that AKQA had done. It was totally out of our comfort zone, involving a live event, print, posters, everything under the sun, but we smashed it.

It was cool because it felt like an important moment in time

Above all else, Nike is an incredibly brave brand. They don’t do research - if they believe in an idea, they just go for it and if they fail, they fail quickly and move on. It’s an inspirational and revolutionary mindset for a brand."

While working at creative and interactive agency AKQA, Sobral was involved with the reinvention of the famous Nike Run London