A long time ago, Tom McElligott told then-junior copywriter Joe Alexander, to just put his head down, and make ads. He listened. For the last 20 years, Mr. Alexander -- who today is the chief creative officer of The Martin Agency-- has been very busy creating ads, in fact. Under his leadership, the Richmond, Va.-based shop has done excellent work for the JFK Presidential Library and Geico, among others. But while most are familiar with Mr. Alexander's work, they might not know that he has a cat named Oscar who thinks he's a dog. Below, for the latest installment in our "Things You Didn't Know" series, we outline a few more things you didn't know about the creative leader.
1. He grew up in a huge family, in a neighborhood full of huge families. Mr. Alexander was one of nine kids growing up in St. Paul, Minn. [in photo, bottom right, front row.] However, his was one of the smaller families in his neighborhood. "The O'Neills had 10, the Dolans had 12, the Henrys had 16," he recalled. "I learned how to work amid chaos, which I know has really helped me in advertising and leading a big group of creatives."
2. Mr. Alexander is a sucker for the color blue. The love affair with the hue started when his wife told him he looked "so good" in blue on their second date. "No one had ever said that to me," he said. He was sold for life. "I think my closet is like 87% blue."
3. He took three months off to work for the Obama campaign in 2008. Some of Mr. Alexander's most famous projects have been campaigns for the JFK Presidential Library. He had read about people who dropped everything and gone to work for him when he ran against Nixon in 1960. But while Mr. Alexander says he didn't have "the courage nor the bank account" to do that, his boss, Mike Hughes, granted him a sabbatical to work for Obama for a few months: answering phones, canvassing, fundraising, recruiting and getting lunch, all under a 19 year-old boss.
4. He's a golf nerd. "I shot even par 72 at The Old Course in St. Andrews, 2 days after Louis Oosthuizen won the British Open at the same course. I eagled the same hole he did - number 9. Oh, and Oostie happens to play PING clubs, an account I've worked on for 17 years," he said.
5. Mr. Alexander's late father, Ace, is his hero. He was a teacher for 40 years, dealing with 2,700 kids in the day and heading home to a family with nine kids. This year, to honor his memory, Mr. Alexander started The Ace Scholarship, an annual award given to a male minority graduating senior in the St. Paul school system who has committed to college to become a teacher. The first winner is a first-generation American from Uganda. "He's amazing," says Mr. Alexander. "Just like my dad."
6. He loves to cut grass. He has a big yard on a big hill overlooking the James River in Richmond. It takes two hours to cut, trim, weed, garden, plant and mulch the yard. "It's my therapy," he said.