Igniting the Spark – Neil Marra’s journey to Spark
Following on from Neil’s appearance on ‘Right Aligned’ we thought we’d share a series of 3 blogs documenting Neil’s personal journey to success in the colourful world of advertising.
Neil’s inspiration has always been, and continues to be his Dad Ralph, he was the driving force behind Neil’s desire to succeed in the same space. In this first instalment Neil talks about his education, homelife and his early career before founding Creative Spark. Ralph was and continues to be a huge influence in Neil’s life and this is reflected in how big a part he plays in the Creative Spark story.
How did you get into this industry?
I grew up in a creative family, both my parents were artsy and creative. At home my mum would make amazing costumes and my Dad would go out to work each day to the creative agency he worked for in Manchester. My first memories of agency life are spending time at my Dad’s agency at the weekends and during school holidays. I loved being around all the equipment, pens, drawing boards and polaroid cameras, in this huge open plan space. It had such a good buzz about it. I’ve got a really ‘mad men’ eclectic memory from those days, hanging out in this cigarette smoke filled office with the designer’s and writers all at desks, with foam dividers, sat face to face, a hive of activity, banter, chat and creativity; whilst the suits sat in their office occasionally coming out to see what was happening.
It wasn’t until I was older I realised what a privilege it was to have grown up in this world and be immersed in the creative space from such a young age. I now know what an honour it was to be afforded such an opportunity, being surrounded by creative talent, being able to hang out at their desks as a teenager, ask questions and learn from them as they worked. Ultimately this opened so many doors for me and gave me direction as to what I wanted to do when I grew up.
I owe so much to everyone that worked there at that time, they could have been irritated at this lad asking loads of questions but instead they let me get involved and form opinions, a genuine bunch of lovely people. Although there was likely a lot of underlying pressure which I couldn’t see at the time, to me it was just the best environment, I loved it, and from 7 or 8 I knew it was where I wanted to be and that has never changed.
Tell us more about your inspiration…
My dad didn’t push me into doing the same as him, I just fell in love with the idea of learning from him and following in his footsteps. Everything I saw growing up, led me here. My Dad went to art school, he’s superb at drawing, visualising something and translating it onto paper; this was way before computers. He’s also amazing at typography, he’d design magazine covers; if someone asked him to draw something, he’d draw it by eye, so I grew up just watching him, this incredible artist, and I just wanted to follow in his footsteps.
I soon realised I wasn’t ever going to be as good as him, I went to college and realised early on that I wasn’t a great artist and that was super frustrating because I wanted it so much. It was at that stage I did start to question whether I could do it, but my Dad, as ever was really supportive and helped me to figure out how I could express my ideas without having to be the best at drawing.
The breakthrough for me was one summer holiday from school; I had a photography project to do which tied in with my Dad’s agency starting a Mac department. I totally fell in love with what it could do, I was quickly scanning, printing and wall mounting my work, I never looked back, this was my thing. I finished at college and my Dad just said, spend time learning, do what ever you need. There was never any pressure from him. (My mum thought I should get a job and earn my way but my Dad 100% supported me learning and developing my skills in the studio gradually, so that’s the route I took).
Once my Dad bought me my first Mac, I was off, I met Ben an entrepreneur whilst working in a clothes shop, they did some of their own designing and he gave me the opportunity to work on some designs freelance; I got a lot of business from chatting to people in bars in Manchester believe it or not, then I was introduced to one of Ben’s friends Daniel Cainer who was to have a huge impact on my career.
Daniel provided me with my first office space in exchange for designing logos for various projects he was working on, this gave me my base and business just grew from there. Again my Mum and Dad supported me all the way, I was able to organically grow the business with no pressure, no responsibilities at home, everything I earnt was just to get me by, I couldn’t have done it now and I certainly couldn’t have done it without their backing. Dad came up with the name, and Creative Spark was born.
If you’d like to learn more about Neil’s highs and lows as founder and owner of Creative Spark, look out for the next blog as Neil talks us through the first 10 years. In part 3 Neil wraps up his story by talking about how all consuming agency life is, how his Dad is still 100% a part of what he does and how he plans to pass on his Dad’s legacy to his own son, so stay tuned!