In August Tom Lawrence from NSW was crowned Australia’s Top Student of the 2017 AWARD School. In an AWARD School-first, Lawrence (son of the late, great Neil) won a once in a lifetime trip to New York where, yesterday, he met David Droga to compare their winning portfolios from AWARD School 1987 and 2017. Remarkably, this makes Lawrence the only person in the last 30 years (outside Droga’s family) to see the portfolio that landed Droga his big break at OMON. Lawrence (above left, with Droga) recounts the experience, exclusive to CB.

It’s a Monday in New York City and I am dropped outside Harry’s Cafe in the financial district to meet David Droga for lunch. Not somewhere I imagined I would be 3 months ago as I was sitting at the AWARD school information night. The place was great, a real old school NYC institution with lots of leathery things and old whiskeys.

I was a bit early so I decide to go to the bar and order a soda water. I felt like a beer but there was something about David arriving to find me downing a pint of IPA that didn’t feel right. I strategically positioned myself in the middle of the bar where I could keep my peripheries locked on the entrance to clock him as he came in.
A few minutes later the front door opened and in a cool, calm and collected manner, I craned my head to the side to see if it was David. It wasn’t. This happened about 20 times before I began to feel, and probably look a bit nuts. I didn’t admit it to myself at the time but it is fair to say I was a bit nervous.

Five minutes later I saw David walk in the front door. I took one last sip of water, slowly stood up to avoid a bar stool tripping over situation and shook his hand. We headed into the restaurant and sat in a booth at the back. We were seated at either end of a red semi circle booth at what I felt was a slightly awkward distance. I shuffled a little bit closer without it being weird and finally settled down. I was there, David was there, everything was cool. He remarked that he very rarely has lunch out and usually just eats a sandwich at his desk. I then laughed when he looked at the menu and ordered a sandwich. I had a salmon something and we began chatting. I babbled about my Proudly Pokies Free campaign and David talked to me about family, his work and his love of New York. After a glass of wine, a few laughs and 0 awkward silences I declared (internally) the lunch a great success and we began the walk to Droga5.

We met up with Esther [Clerehan] and Wilf [Sweetland] – sponsors of the trip, pictured left – who were waiting downstairs. We all walked into his building and headed to level 11. David graciously laughed when I asked him why he didn’t have to sign in downstairs with security. Great success. David’s legend of an assistant, Allison, greeted us and took us to David’s office. After water and pleasantries we kick the others out and we got down to business. It’s portfolio time.

Any creative would know that it is hard showing your book to someone, but there was something about David that took the stress out of it. He is a genuinely humble, relaxed and friendly guy. So as the pages of my portfolio began to turn over and we talked through each idea, everything felt fine. One thing that really stood out in terms of advice was how David talked about how to become the creative you want to be. He said if you want to work on different campaigns, to experience a variety and diversity of work, you have to refuse to be pigeon-holed. Don’t be seen as the comedy guy or the TV guy, just be the smart guy and you can work on what you want. Well not everyone can be a Droga but I felt it was good advice nonetheless. In terms of his portfolio I’m sorry to say, that’s between David and me.

As things began to wrap up in his office I felt it was the correct time to tell him my first ever ad idea. Since AWARD school started in 1983 the first application question has remained the same: “Why do you want to do AWARD school?”. As this year the first prize winner received the AWARD pencil and a trip to meet David, I wrote (but never submitted) “I just want the chance to compare pencils with David Droga”. I then drew two pencils next to each other. One had David’s name and the other, mine, but mine was ever so slightly taller. I just had to know so as we said goodbye I grabbed my pencil from my bag and put it next to his. Turns out Droga’s was bigger. But only just.

After a quick tour of the Droga5 office we headed across the road to Industry Kitchen, a bar by the water. Soon after David, [chief creative officer] Ted Royer and a bunch of Droga’s Aussie alumni came down and we all caught up over pizza and too many beers. As the night went on and people began to leave, It finally hits me that I have just met some of the world’s best creatives and spent a day with their fearless leader.

I am reminded of a video we were shown at that AWARD school information night. They had a clip of a young Droga saying that If you do AWARD school and put everything you have into it, it can change your life. This is just the beginning, but whatever happens next I would have to say, I agree.

This post first appeared in Campaign Brief.