The Iconic Loop. (Episode 101)

The Iconic Loop. (Episode 101)

Interview with Peter Khoury, Chief Creative Officer at TBWA\Neboko Adidas.



The way pro-bono work feeds the creative soul of an advertising professional holds a lesson in the creative process for all of us.

It’s called “The Iconic Loop,” and it is the loop that will make you iconic. It works like this:

1) Nurturing Creative Growth

A creative company takes on a pro-bono client where they can take more risk, try new things, and push themselves creatively.

With pro-bono work, there is often not such a strict brief, the clients are more open-minded (since they are not paying and thus are grateful to get the work done) and, since there are often very low budgets for production and media spending, the creative challenge is bigger and generally needs a non-traditional approach.

The creatives are also doing work that they have chosen, that they believe in, that aligns with their values, and that makes them feel that they are helping promote a worthy cause.

2) Harvesting Creative Growth

The creative approach – ideas, hacks, formats, frameworks, experimentation, coding, design approach, agility – that is unleashed in pro-bono campaigns is then learned from, pushed further, and used for commercial clients.

3) Fertilizing Creative Growth

The commercial clients are paying fees to the agency that not only pays their salaries but also make it possible for the agency to build and maintain an infrastructure and an organisation that can create and orchestrate epic work at scale. Without that, the agency would not be able to create full-fledged campaigns for their pro-bono clients.

I learned about The Iconic Loop from Peter Khoury, Chief Creative Officer at TBWA\Neboko adidas. Before his current job for adidas he worked at the best advertising agency in South Africa, TBWA\Hunt Lascaris, and repeatedly did epic creative pro-bono work that was widely awarded.

For example, they did a campaign called “Breaking Ballet” for the Joburg Ballet where they shot short videos of ballet dancers interpreting current world events. (I highly recommend you check them out. Search for “@JoburgBallet” on YouTube or check out this one, which is my favourite:


Peter explained that the creative freedom they got from working on the #breakingballet videos, they could later harness for their commercial work.

The bold videos they created for the ballet were used to pitch a braver campaign for their paying customer MTN.

The money they got from paying customers, like MTN, helped the agency run a full-service agency that was able to create running work also for the Joburg Ballet.

A great example of The Iconic Loop at work.

In a conversation with me about how the Iconic Loop works, Peter said about

1) Nurturing Creative Growth:

“Bringing in pro-bono work makes our creatives better. We are human beings (and working on pro-bono-projects) makes us feel fulfilled. It’s a way to keep staff motivated by encouraging them to do meaningful work, but it also helps push their creative ambitions – which they love. These projects also give us time to play. For the #breakingballet campaign, it took us over a year to come up with the idea. A paying customer would never have the patience to wait that long.”

2) About Harvesting Creative Growth, Peter said:

“The creative energy that the creatives get (from the pro-bono-work) is then there for our other clients’ benefit. You cannot ‘unlearn’ the inspiration and approaches you get from these (pro-bono) projects. That spills over to our other work, which becomes better. We can sell bolder, more provocative work to our paying clients. The pro-bono work helps make the creatives perform at their peak – you see the confidence they get when they can do things they never thought they could do.”

And about 3) Fertilizing Creative Growth, Peter’s comments were: “Another pro-bono-project we worked on was for the Riky Rick Foundation where we used AI to create a new song by deceased Hip-Hop icon Riky Rick, titled “Stronger” to bring attention to mental illness. The song was made up of social media posts written by Ricky Rick before he lost his battle to mental illness.  Everything in the campaign (except the song production) was made in-house, from social media launch to music video to graphics and merchandise etc. That would never have been possible without the Fertilizing of Creative Growth by our paying clients.”

(Check out the campaign here:

In my case, as “The Creativity Explorer,” The Iconic Loop looks like this:

1) The interviews I do as The Creativity Explorer nurture my creative growth. Like interviewing the children of sex workers in the slums of Mumbai about how they look at creativity or talking to an owner of a mosaic school in Istanbul about how creativity and mosaic are connected. I do not get paid for these interviews, but they feed my creative soul as a creativity explorer.

2) The Harvesting of the creative growth is how I use the lessons I have learned from my interviews in my speeches or how I become better as an interviewer and researcher for my clients after having done so many interviews with the creative people I meet as The Creativity Explorer and the inspiration I get from learning from the most unexpected creative people out there.

3) The Fertilising of my creative growth is the travels for the speeches that I do around the world. Like speaking to the CEOs of the Tata Companies in Mumbai before going to the girls in the slum, or speaking for bankers in Istanbul for Finacle before going to meet the owner of the mosaic school in the same city.

Without being paid to travel the world to speak, it would be much harder to meet with and interview interesting creative people all around our planet.

That is my Iconic Loop.

What does yours look like?

What nurtures your own creative growth?

How do you harvest it?


How are you fertilising your creative growth?

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