Popstar art director Nikos Georgópoulos on the launch of his galactic creative agency Marlon Tate
On the back of renowned identities for Greece’s first co-living brand and a fictitious hotel from the 50s, Greek art director Nikos Georgópoulos has launched Marlon Tate – an ambitious creative agency with offices in Athens, London, Jupiter and Mars. He will serve as its creative director alongside a team of designers and developers, while continuing his role as Head of Graphics at London-based architecture firm Pollard Thomas Edwards. With exciting projects already underway for a new urban neighbourhood and the Hellenic Institute of Architecture, we caught up with Nikos to hear about why he’s decided to start the agency, the experience so far and his hopes and plans for the future.
EM Hi Nikos! So, why was 2022 the right time to ‘officially’ launch your own agency?
NG I mean, launching my own agency, I think it was something I always had in the back of my head. It definitely grew on me as a more solid idea during the first lockdown in London especially as I was starting to attract some attention from projects like Wallis Road and the first chapter of the Time Travel branding trilogy. Like most people, I went from being crazy busy to having time to reflect on my career and what interests me. I had the opportunity to pause, recharge and then come back enlightened I hope. It felt like a coming of age film. It still feels like that tbh and I quite like it.
EM What impact, if any, has the change from ‘Nikos Georgópoulos, solo art director’ to ‘Nikos Georgópoulos, Founder and Creative Director at Marlon Tate’ had on what you do on a day-to-day basis?
NG Somebody said once that “[...] it is important to have a future that is inspiring and appealing. If the future does not include being amongst the stars as a multi-planet species, I find that depressing.” I think that the main difference is that launching your own agency means that you can build a team allowing you to work on more projects and bigger accounts in a way that is more impactful and sustainable. It’s also more enjoyable working with others rather than on your own and you can also build some kind of a culture. However, it also means, that you are constantly busy on an everyday basis but in a more sustainable way, I think because other people can take some of the pressure off. As a freelance art director who also has a steady job, you can spend weekends and nights working on freelance projects and that means you can really burn out.
It felt like a coming of age film.
EM How do you plan on balancing Marlon Tate with your role as the Head of Graphics at Pollard Thomas Edwards?
NG I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for this privileged position I’ve found myself in. I guess I am doing more than I have ever done before. The job that I am doing today between Pollard Thomas Edwards and Marlon, is really refreshing because both roles inform each other in a very positive way. Budgets, restrictions and scale might be different but my approach is exactly the same when it comes down to projects. I am always trying to create a narrative, a sense of a story and pitch that story to the client regardless of whether they are small and cool or really big and corporate. I hope there’s a bit of naughtiness and cheekiness regardless of the scope. I guess this format is not very common in our crazy design and advertising world but it’s common practice in the fashion world. For instance, Marc Jacobs, Raf Simmons and J.W. Anderson are only a few of many fashion designers who founded their own fashion brands while they are also creative directors in really big fashion houses like Dior and Louis Vuitton. This is not to imply that I see myself like them, of course, but maybe it just proves that nothing is really impossible if you challenge the format or bend the rules of physics.
EM What does the structure of the agency look like at the moment, and who’s on the team?
NG I am serving as the creative director and leading a team of three creatives and developers while we are also planning to work with an extensive network of freelancers to meet briefs. Marlon Tate has also partnered with the Berlin-based shop Design Ambassador for new business and account management services.
I feel like the lead singer and songwriter of a socal pop-punk group.
EM Does being the creative director mean you will do less of actual designing yourself? If so, how do you feel about that? I’ve spoken to designers that struggled with that transition throughout their careers.
NG I mean I tend to have a slightly different approach when it comes down to design. I write a lot and create videos and many times, the creative concept comes out of this process. It’s like I feel the work and the visual language that we should go for. That, I still do but when it comes down to expanding and polishing the design, I don’t have to do it by myself. So I haven’t really struggled with this transition. I think that my ambition to create Marlon Tate was more like ‘let’s start a band.’ Tbh, I feel like the lead singer and songwriter of a socal pop-punk group. I don’t need to incorporate amends to a brochure or explore every aspect of a design on my own. I can come up with ideas, positionings and design things quite extensively but when it comes down to fine-tuning and implementing them, I don’t need to start from scratch. I can just review designs and make changes on screen, small or come up with a completely new concept and narrative while reviewing work. But I think that comes with experience.
EM What challenges have you faced in founding and running a design agency so far?
NG In order to keep everything running I need to be really well organised and need to plan my schedule efficiently because, for the first time in my career, performance and cost are inextricably linked! What’s more, you can quickly become overwhelmed with back to back meetings, presentations, client meetings in conjunction to creating work and leading and nurturing your team properly. I guess it was important for me to find a balance and preserve the space that’s in between insane and insecure.
EM What systems and software have you got in place to help you with staying organised?
NG I mean, we use Adobe Creative Cloud, Microsoft Teams and Zoom for calls and presentations as well as Dropbox and WeTransfer for sharing work between us but other than that, we don’t use any project management tools or systems. However I feel we should – any recommendations?
EM Notion is fantastic – I’d really recommend it.
What do you think are the necessary things to have an understanding of when transitioning from designer to business owner?
NG You have to delegate – but you also have to have a creative vision for your business as well as for every project. Being a creative director and doing everything yourself sounds pointless in the same way that some CDs do nothing and just sign off. But you need to be efficient and professional towards everything you do – whether that’s your time management, meeting deadlines, mentoring and including all team members in the game and so forth.
EM If you could only show one piece of work from your site, what would it be?
NG That is such a difficult decision to make! It literally changes every time we create a new project. Perhaps our video showreel, which we actually have on our homepage, and includes everything!
EM I think one of the first times we featured you was for Xenia – the first in your time travel branding series. What inspired you to start the series, and where do you plan to take it in the future?
NG Yes! And I am so grateful for your support over all these years. I did this project before I was appointed Head of Graphics at PTE and it was inspired out of my frustration with senior people above me who would reject my creative concepts and designs. Adam Carouso, the famous British architect once said “we, as architects, spend an awful lot of time trying to convince people to do things that really they don’t want to do.” On that basis, I said let’s do something for a fictional client, but not like how we did in art school. In the Xenia case, I did the brand identity for an actual hotel and client that doesn’t exist anymore. And so the whole concept was let’s travel back in time to create a cohesive yet fictitious visual identity, the hotel’s logotype, amenities and promotional literature, all presented as props within a past that never happened. An alternative past has the opportunity to become a brilliant future. Fictitious but brilliant. This project, I think, kick-started a new chapter in my career because people (including the senior people) loved it and that gave me credibility and also illustrated very well, I think, the power of storytelling. And then we published a book about it, documenting the whole journey. We are in talks with Polly Brown for the second chapter of the trilogy, which I can’t say much about atm, but I can say that it’s about the world’s first electric car that failed to go in mass production in Greece, in the 1960s…
It was important for me to find a balance and preserve the space that’s in between insane and insecure.
EM What would you like Marlon Tate to be doing in five years' time?
NG A Super Bowl commercial.
EM By the way, where did you get the name Marlon Tate from?
NG The name is fictional. It’s entirely made up of Marlon Brando’s first name and Sharon Tate’s last. So are our offices in Jupiter and Mars! Many European agencies open up offices in New York because they are aiming for the US market and accounts. Our aim is to create work that is inspiring and appealing so we’re aiming for the stars.
EM What kind of projects are you doing at those Jupiter and Mars offices…?
NG I think that I haven’t changed my approach towards creative work and that still, the underlying connection between our projects at Marlon Tate now is the notion of storytelling; the sense of a story. We have recently completed a vibrant brand campaign for a new urban neighbourhood in North London and the new visual identity programme of the Hellenic Institute of Architecture in Athens, with its new website launching imminently. Other projects that we are currently working on include the heroic redesign of the famous urban culture magazine ‘OZON’ in Greece; creative direction for Moments magazine; and the identity and marketing campaign for an exciting new urban quarter in Athens launching at the end of this month. We are also currently filming our short reality-tv series called ‘Who the Fuck is Marlon Tate’ airing on Marlon’s IGTV from April 2.