Next Creative Leaders 2021:
Sarsha Drakeford

By Laurel Stark Posted on Nov 02, 2021

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She / Her / Hers

Hometown and country:

Wellington, New Zealand

Current employer, city and role:

DDB Aotearoa/New Zealand, Auckland, Art Director


How did your upbringing, family or hometown shape you as a creative?

My family is made up of interesting people who collected interesting people. We consist of a ballroom dance teacher (Mum), a computer nerd (Dad), a rugby-obsessed comedian (my twin brother) and an angel with autism (my youngest brother). Growing up amongst a group of people with extremely different perspectives made me think a bit differently to other people. I was always given the freedom and independence to follow my own weird quirky thoughts rather than follow the crowd. Which led to a fairly strong creative streak and some interesting stories to tell.


What’s your “breaking into advertising” story?

I had wanted to be an art director since the age of 14, when I watched Helen Hunt think up a pretty average Nike Ad in 'What Women Want' (I know, I'm sorry).

So after completing a Bachelor of Design double majoring in Advertising and Graphic design, I enrolled in AWARD School. I was lucky enough to win, and was given an internship at DDB New Zealand.


What’s the piece of NCL winning work you’re most proud of and why?

Re:scam was a bot we created to scam phishing scammers out of time by trapping them in endless (fake) conversations. Creating Re:scam was probably the hardest I've ever worked in my life. I learned how to 3D model for this piece of work. My partner and I wrote over 60,000 responses to help train the bot. But it's also the piece of work that made me appreciate the geniuses I was working with and the effort they were putting in to make Re:scam what it was.


What’s the lesson another creative can take away from that successful creative experience?

Advertising is a team sport. I’ll always remember my creative director telling me to stop thanking the team who were working on Re:scam. They weren’t helping me with my project. It’s their baby now too. When your whole team owns the project the more passionate they will be, and the more open they'll be with their ideas on how to make it better. Also, it'll be so much easier to explain why that teeny tiny change is actually really important.


What does being named a Next Creative Leader mean to you?

Like a lot of creative people I’m constantly doubting myself. Winning Next Creative Leaders helps me realize I’m on the right track. Being recognized on such a global stage is such an honour that I am truly grateful for.


Who has most influenced you in your career so far?

I’ve been very lucky to work for exceptional creative directors that have helped shape me in different ways. Brett Colliver and Mike Felix really took me under their wing early on in my career, they push me and the work to be better. Christie Cooper’s and James Conner’s nurturing, non-judgmental approach and unwavering support have built the foundations of the creative I hope to be.

And finally – Geordie Wilson, Sylvia Humphries and Renee Bryant. All have been amazing creative partners who changed me as a creative and a human.


What is your secret (or not-so-secret) creative superpower and how do you flex it?

I get things done. Procrastination kills so many ideas, either because you run out of time or momentum. There really shouldn’t be a job that is beneath you if it’s going to help a creative idea. So many problems that arise can be solved simply by picking up the phone and finding out more information.


What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing the creative industry right now and how would you solve it?

Fear. It feels like agencies are afraid of losing clients, so they don’t fight the battles they need to. It feels like clients are scared of ideas that can’t be quantified, they want more certainty. Which means they want to see everything sooner and want research to tell them what is good. Fear produces mediocre work that neither offends or delights.


How has the pandemic changed your creative process or the way you work?

I hate working remotely. That might be partly because I have a basement office with no windows, or that every lockdown my Microsoft Teams blows up. But mostly I miss the energy of working with others. But the pandemic has taught me that I am capable of working in many different ways.


Our jobs can be exhausting even in “precedented times.” How are you caring for yourself right now?

This is something I struggle with, and am trying to improve on. I think having a network of people that you can draw on for both understanding and perspective has been an amazing way of helping me when I am feeling anxious.

Also lists that help me prioritize my workload so I can see what is urgent and (more importantly) what isn’t. Love a good list.


How are you working to celebrate, support, or elevate other marginalized voices and experiences?

As a recent participant of DDB’s Project Ivy initiative, I have been working with a group of talented women to make the industry fairer for women. I’m also an active member of DDB’s diversity committee where we are currently involved in a project to make it more achievable for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds to enter the industry.


Creativity can save the world. What real-world problem would you want to tackle with creativity, if time, budget, and logistics were not an issue?

Medical inequality. It is such a massive issue all over the world. That doesn’t just mean in 3rd world countries either. In New Zealand, unconscious bias can dictate the amount of time you wait for an organ transplant, depending on race. It can dictate whether doctors think you have a legitimate medical condition or are just being dramatic, depending on your gender. It’s something that has affected nearly everyone I know. Yet medical care seems like such a basic human right.


Where do you turn when you need to spark your creativity?

I collect awesome people. I surround myself with human sponges who know so much more than I do, and share their experiences and stories with me. You can never have too many hilarious geniuses, or caring, creative people to help inspire you.


How are you leaving work, the workplace, or the world a better place than you found it?

I care. A lot.

And while caring so much isn’t always appreciated, it does ensure that the work is something the whole team can be proud of. It motivates and energises people in an industry that can be exhausting, and it’s how projects that make the world better get made.


What is a story you feel uniquely set up to tell?

Before I worked in advertising I was an A.B.A. Therapist (basically a social therapist specialising in Autism). My experience with my younger brother, helping train him and later, many other children and adults with disabilities means I have a unique perspective of disabilities, both from the side of a family member and that of a clinician.


Who is inspiring you right now and why?

I am obsessed with Julie d'Aubigny (aka La Maupin) at the moment. She was an opera singer in the 1600’s, is known for openly cross-dressing, being unashamedly bisexual, offending a whole heap of men and winning countless duels (she was a super accomplished swordsperson).

Oh, and when one of her lovers was shipped to a convent in Avignon? Julie followed her lover into nun hood, staged both their deaths, then set fire to the convent to cover their tracks.

I am inspired by anyone who is brave enough to unashamedly be their true self, even in the face of 17th century patriarchy.


If you could go back in time, what pivotal advice would you give yourself before your first day as a professional creative?

Relax. You can be honest with people, you don’t need to hide all your flaws. They are human too (Shout out to Damon Stapleton who actually did tell me this pretty early on in my career. I’m sorry I didn’t believe you at the time).


Be sure to check out all the winning work for the Next Creative Leaders of 2021!



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