Creatives Roundtable 2008

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Participants (clockwise, from bottom left): Harvey Marco, ECD, Saatchi, L.A.; James Cooper, CD, Another Anomaly; David Covell, CD, JDK, New York; Scott Duchon, CD/Partner, T.A.G., San Francisco; Steve Mykolyn, ECD, Taxi, Toronto; Neil Robinson, GCD, AKQA, San Francisco; Martin Cedergren, CD, 180 Amsterdam; Fernanda Romano, CD, JWT, London; Jan Jacobs, co-Founder, Johannes Leonardo; Mark Fitzloff, CD, W+K, Portland; Steve Nesle, ECD, Tribal DDB, N.Y.; Peter Nicholson, CCO, Deutsch, N.Y.; Rob Reilly, ECD, Crispin Porter Bogusky

Click on linked participants to view their video extras from the event.

Creativity: David, as the "design" guy, can you just explain to everyone what JDK is?

David Covell: JDK is a design branding firm that has been around since '89. The main office is up in Burlington, Vermont. In the past three years I've helped to open up a New York office. We also have a small outpost in Portland. We cut our teeth with youth culture and Burton snowboards, which continues to be an ongoing relationship. I think the company was built on that sort of gut learning about marketing to cultures.

C: Did you guys [Scott, David and Neil] work on the Xbox 360 launch together?

Scott Duchon: When we were doing the initial launch of Xbox we had about three or four different disciplines coming together and we didn't really know what was going to happen. It was kind of a forced marriage at that point. It's difficult because everyone's ideas nowadays are about crossing lines and blurring lines, so everyone has to be comfortable with that. We still have a good relationship with JDK and AKQA.

Neil Robinson: I think from an AKQA perspective, it was unusual at that point to be involved in a product development cycle. We did a lot of work on the interface, collaboration with form factory designers to try and get that synergy between the two.

Crispin's Rob Reilly
Crispin's Rob Reilly
David: I think that the success of that collaboration [was due to] a strong lead on the Microsoft side. With collaboration it's always good to have the people who want to participate, but also having someone in the driver's seat from the client side to instill confidence. Let's talk about how we can make our work gel together, but also critique in a really healthy way. If you set that tone, I think that's how it will work best.

Fernanda Romano: Maybe with Microsoft, you had such an incredible client, but I've been through situations before where it hasn't been the same case. I've been reading a lot of fiction about the Tudor court, which has been my obsession. I've been starting to make the parallel that the court is what we have today, with the families fighting for their land and power. The digital agency that doesn't want to be a digital agency, and the traditional agency who doesn't want to be a traditional agency, and the design agency who doesn't want to be a design agency. It's insane.

C: When you guys were collaborating on Xbox, do you think that it was the proper way to go? At the time, people were thinking maybe this is the way clients are going to work now, cherry picking people versus working with a single agency.

Martin Cedergren: That's pretty common where I come from, Sweden. If you go into an agency there and ask for a creative director, people will look around and ask, "Who?" It's a very flat organization up there. H&M, for instance, had their own internal agency called the Red Room and they always hand pick some kind of dream team for a specific project. They're doing it more and more now.

T.A.G.'s Scott Duchon
T.A.G.'s Scott Duchon
Mark Fitzloff: It's like parents who just assume that their kids are going to be great with their friends' kids and they'll like each other and want to play soccer. They just say, "You should love each other and get along. Call us when the thing is done." But it doesn't always work that way.

James Cooper: In theory, its absolutely great but it's too complicated. There's too many people and that's why they give it to an agency. For a lot of people I think the agency is an extension of the marketing department.

Peter Nicholson: I've started to turn it around and ask why clients want to do business with us. We have to be very selective now about who we want to work with, instead of going, "How much money are they going to pay us?" I really don't think we spend enough time critiquing that. We have the right amount of money, they like a little bit of the work, now you're in bed together.

David: Do you think there is a moment in a brand's life that is better for collaboration?

Peter: There are a lot of brands that go through phases where they know they need to reinvent themselves. That's the point where I feel like you do get more collaboration.

Frenanda Romano of JWT, London
Frenanda Romano of JWT, London
Steve Nesle: In my world it's not just dealing with the above the line agency, it's dealing with a media agency with a significantly larger piece of that budget than we have. So, what's interesting is that you get into a situation where a client briefs multiple agencies and they expect all of these different agencies with different P and L's and agendas to get together, get along and do what's right for them.

Steve Mykolyn: I think we could debate the forced marriage forever, but for me, its really about who's closest to the king, to use Fernanda's analogy. Because if you are closest to the king you can kind of shape what comes out as the final product. Starting a brand new brand doesn't happen that often. It's more about where are you positioned in the life of a brand and are you close to the king? And we have to face new realities that there are needs for certain types of services.

Steve N.: We all don't have the same idea of what that end product is. A Carat or an OMD thinks what they do is the product and the creative agency is just filling the inventory. So it's interesting to have a roundtable with all these different kinds of creative agencies, and ask them what they think the ultimate end product really is.

Harvey Marco: My scenario is a little bit different. We've had one piece of business for 35 years, so we've had the ear of the king forever. I believe we've been able to hold on to that business for so long because we are constantly trying to give them something new and unexpected. We openly invite collaboration, even when it scares us. A lot of what we're talking about really comes down to the kind of clients you have and the trust that you've built with them.

Mark: I've been working at Wieden for so long, and now we are sharing Nike. That's a really good analogy—it's who the king is at a particular moment in time and you can reinvent the shit out of yourself but it's still just a relationship business on such a deep level that somebody's going to decide it's time to bring in some new blood.

Rob Reilly: Some of these companies have such a strong culture that they don't always want everything that we provide. Our relationship with Nike is different than it is with Burger King. We are just going to try to bring them as many good ideas as we can and try to positive. We call it delusional positivity. Clients are always going to want smart people, so if you're smart you're going to have a job. We'll just reinvent ourselves in different ways.

W+K, Portland's Mark Fitzloff
W+K, Portland's Mark Fitzloff
C: So James, why make the move to Another Anomaly?

James: I was always interested in how a product makes money in an interesting and creative way. And Anomaly seemed to be doing that well. Anomaly works with Coke and Nike but on much smaller projects that maybe can make a little bit more revenue over a shorter amount of time than these long TV shoots. The thing that's keeping me up at night is going from this advertising process to manufacturing. We're working on a skin care line, we went to design a bottle and we've been waiting two months for the design to come back. We won't get paid till the first thing goes out to Barneys or Bloomingdale's. It's about approaching clients who want to do new product development with you or are interested in a revenue share.

Peter: We're doing a line of toys for the Bronx Zoo, so we're going through a similar kind of thing. We've started contemplating the idea, on more of a senior level, where people can really lead a project, letting them investing their bonuses for the year in cash incentive as startup money for a project.

David: Have you figured out some sort of structure for addressing intellectual property of the young designers?

Peter: That's where it gets messy actually. It's a whole new set of lawyers, a whole new way of doing things. But down the line, it could be an entirely new model for creatives.

Rob: It's definitely an issue. There are products we've made for Burger King that have now made billions of dollars, and I get nothing of it. We didn't strike that deal with them, but now we're in a position where we've proven to them that we can come up with ideas in that area, so we're trying to work a structure out. But we have certain clients that are strictly product development. It's not a big money maker now but we're in a good position, and have a lot of projects. Alex, his new position as chairman is to do those things.

Fernanda: One of the most pressing issues is how do you make money out of it and how do you set it up so you don't lose the talent? A kid creating a widget for me to download on my iPhone—if we don't figure out a way to give the kid some sort of piece of it, he's going to go solo and probably make much more money. Why should he work for us?

Tribal DDB's Steve Nesle
Tribal DDB's Steve Nesle
Martin: I went to three different ad schools in Europe in the last two months and I asked the students there who wanted to go to an ad agency. Maybe three or four hands out of 40 went up. I mentioned Apple, all hands went up, Google, all hands went up. They don't want to go to agencies; creative people want to go to companies.

Rob: But that's good, the more creative people that want to go to those companies, the better the opportunity for us.

Steve N.: That's my burning issue, the real technical talent out there. Why go to an agency? Everyone knows in an agency, you don't own anything you come up with.

Mark: Isn't that the same problem that's always been there, when every copywriter was writing a screenplay? It seems like all of these creatives are bitching about not getting paid for their IP, but at the same time we are all getting paid to do the communications that are funding our salaries. If we have such a big problem with it then go pick a different industry.

Fernanda: People are going to go and pick a different industry, that's the problem.

James Cooper of Another Anomoly
James Cooper of Another Anomoly
James: When I was at Dare, we had Sony Ericsson as a client. They brought out their first phone that had a decent camera, so we said we're going to build you a photo website because where are people going to keep their photos? A few months later, Flickr launched their site. We can all have these amazing ideas but unless you spend two years flogging your guts out trying to make that idea happen, then it's just a piece of paper. And at the time, nobody at Sony would put $2 million into a scheme that maybe will work or maybe won't work. They are just concerned about selling products.

Fernanda: Today clients can look at their commercial budget and turn the budget into R and D. "I can take $50,000 and give it to 10 different kids to do a 100 little things, and if one is successful. . ." I don't have the solution but, we should wonder about how we get these kids.

Peter: I'm all for all this other stuff, but I'd also like to have some talented kids who know how to make an ad. None of them know how to write. A lot of the guys that we hire have great ideas, they get it, and then and you have the big meeting, two weeks later they come back with what they made and you're like, "What the fuck is that?"

David: On the design side, I was pleasantly surprised recently, a kid came in from Syracuse whose curriculum actually had brand briefing for every project. That was encouraging.

David Covell of JDK
David Covell of JDK
Jan Jacobs: These days, when you give a brief to somebody, it's difficult to focus too much because maybe the best idea is a big balloon over New York City or a video game. More often than not, it's going to end up in traditional channels and you'll need people to execute that work. It's tricky to balance.

Peter: One of my issues is I don't think [clients] understand award shows or the importance of them. They don't want visibility or PR. And it's a little bit frustrating. Obviously there are a lot out there that do care about the work and therefore they get really good work. But there are some that look at it like almost like a utility.

Rob: I think the PR part is the bigger thing. We have so much momentum from some of the brands because they are constantly being written about.

Harvey: I've never had a client give a shit about awards, ever. They've always been interested in the press.

Fernanda: If a client's work wins an award it's just one more great thing. I've gotten briefs already from clients saying, "I want to win a Grand Prix with this." I say, "Excuse me, it's not like that. Especially if I have to present three times to 12 people and you need everybody's agreement before they buy the work. It's not so simple, but I'll do my best."

Rob: Honestly, I don't think that the award shows are really important anymore. Partly, it's the internet, things like AdCritic. You get instant recognition if somebody likes it. It used to be like the only way you can make money or get a new job is winning a One Show Pencil.

Steve M.: I think the awards shows are also going through this crisis right now. I personally can't figure out what Titanium means. I could understand it when it was bequeathed on an idea that didn't have a category. I feel like Burger King last year was just a brand extension on a game, albeit good, but was that the biggest idea ever?

Peter Nicholson of Deutsch, N.Y.
Peter Nicholson of Deutsch, N.Y.
James: The award shows are all businesses and they are primarily and solely to make money.

Jan: When I judged D&AD last year, the year before, there was a guy whose bio said he won 200 awards. That's the problem, too many shows, too many prizes, too many categories. Can 200 awards really mean something?

Neil: I chose interactive because it's a measurable science. In the very early days new media effectiveness awards were a big thing. It was a true partnership between the work you did and the people who commissioned it.

Steve M.: I think awards are really important as a recruitment tool. As a whole, whether clients like them or not, it's probably good for the industry, they set a bar, for quality, and internally they might set a bar.

Martin: The thing is, the awards shows are controlling the advertising industry, not vice versa. Now, you can enter the same entry in Cannes in like 14 different categories. It's amazing. Come on, it should be like one category.

Rob: We all complain about them, we all like winning them, but there are flaws to everything. But we've had 18 quarters of straight positive sales, and clients wouldn't be happy about the awards if that wasn't the case.

C: Interactive people, the number one question that we hear is that there is a shortage of talent. Who are you really looking for that you can't find?

TAXI's Steve Mykolyn
TAXI's Steve Mykolyn
Steve N.: There is no shortage of idea people, but I feel that there is a shortage of interactive craftsmen—engineers, developers, tinkerers, builders— the agency business isn't drawing them the way that the internet as a whole is. They have so many options where they can make more money and have more control. They can do it for themselves; they can go to small firms like Big Spaceship.

James: When I was at Dare we set up Dare School literally to try and chip away at this problem. We were probably the most awarded agency in London and we couldn't find people to come and work for us.

Rob: We have a good reputation, but we're still having trouble. Also the recruiters don't know how to find these people. I've got a creative manager trying to find interactive people.

Jan: Why do we assume that we can get the best programmers, the best digital people to work for us? We opened a concept pop up store in Berlin for the next month. Does that mean we suddenly have to staff a whole department of people to do interior design and design pop up stores? No.

Steve N.: It is a costly proposition when you think of the sheer range of talent that has to come together to build the most digital content. Even a full service digital agency has to reach out to other companies to help. But just on the payroll alone I have information designers, architects, interaction designers and engineers.

Steve M.: It's ironic that earlier we mentioned that we can't find anyone to write a headline and now we're saying we can't find anyone to do a website. Most of the digital people that I've had success with hiring, pure play digitals, are self-taught. Most of them just learned on their own.

Jan: We sound like back in the '50s when everyone was doing print advertising and TV came around. Now that digital's come up we somehow think we can't do that. I don't agree with that at all. We have to focus on ideas and find the best people to execute those ideas, digital programmers.

Steve N.: We are an agency, it's our job to come up with an idea and to architect. But then we're an interactive agency because it's our job to see whether the thing is possible to do. We're sort of in the invention business not the idea business. We have to come to the table with a really cool idea that's possible that's going to take this long and this much money and we are going to take you 75% of the way. As soon as we retreat from that and shed the production mentality entirely and stay as architect, then we're just an agency.

Johannes Leonardo Co-founder Jan Jacobs
Johannes Leonardo Co-founder Jan Jacobs
C:Neil, at AKQA we've heard that you're bringing in more production people, experts.

Neil: Every designer fights to not be the production guy. How do I create that culture of respect and harmony in an agency where very designer/copywriter wants to be the concept guy? We're trying to strike a balance because we've learned there's a huge amount of value in the actual execution that I don't want to give to someone else.

Rob: Everyone feels like you're in the ghetto if you're a copywriter or art director. Maybe we need to pay different. Where's the Bob Barrie? He never became a creative director, he didn't want to and I'm sure he was handsomely paid. We almost have to change the structure some and reward people for being a programmer or being a designer.

Steve N.: Our best Flash people are in their own community and they like to out-technique the other people in the community. They're focused on the craft and that's a beautiful and valuable thing. The challenge is having a process and culture that value the specialist as much as the generalists.

Fernanda: I think the creative director has never been so important. That person will make the copywriter and the art director feel really great about what they do.

Harvey: I'm curious to get feedback from people around the table, because I'm finding myself as a manager dealing with conflict and people being territorial more than I'm actually managing the work.

180 Amsterdam's Martin Cedergren
180 Amsterdam's Martin Cedergren
Rob: We end up having a lot of clients, hundreds of projects and there are not enough people to do the things we have. There isn't enough time to fight about it. Part of it is that we just don't hire assholes, either.

Harvey: I like to think that we don't hire them either but it's just that the assholes are born when they feel like they have a right to see this idea happen in a certain way.

Martin: Back to Sweden again, why it's kind of successful, you have to be collaborative. I met so many people abroad who only talk about themselves—"My work, me me me me." Then you meet the real guy behind the work, the guy who doesn't talk a lot—that's the guy I want to hire. You should actually go to Sweden. It's very disorganized in one way, but it also allows you to collaborate, anyone.

Duchon: As a small shop, with something like Gears of War 2 or Halo 3, everyone wants to get their hands on that. It really comes down to the culture you create, where everybody can come in and if you're smart, we'll listen to you.

Peter: I find running my creative department is like running my kids. You have to be consistent, and the minute you waver, they see it and are going to take advantage and then you've got all hell breaking loose.

Fernanda: You have to be part of a club. When I worked atDM9 DDB Brazil, I could tell you a lot of bad things about them but if you say one thing and you've never been there, I'll punch you in the face. That's what the Swedes do so well. They're very much protective of their community. When Farfar won for "The Heidies," all the Swedes were celebrating it. That doesn't happen in Brazil or the States.

AKQA's Neil Robinson
AKQA's Neil Robinson
Steve M.: Last year "Evolution" did so well, and everyone in Canada was like, "Go Ogilvy!" We all wanted them to win everything. They should get that credit. 2% of the world watched "Evolution." That's a pretty cool stat.

C: Lighting round—you have the option of explaining your most burning issue or defining your role.

Fernanda: I think being a creative director is trying to gather the best, most interesting people, hopefully much better than I am in what they do. And to not have any prejudice. I really think a programmer can be as creative as a writer. My role is to gather those people, listen to them and work with them. And hopefully make their work better and famous and sell things. I think in the end I'm a sales person. I don't think I'm an artist.

Martin: Living in Amsterdam, my burning issue is probably global warming. I think it would be awesome if the industry had an Al Gore award. Can you imagine a world group of all agencies all over the world, you'd look at the credits and you'd have to scroll for hours? We can all gather around and give something outside our boxes. There are some projects going on, like Tap, but we can do much more. Dove's 2% is a good example. Why not do something that's 5% but for the environment? Hallelujah! That would be really cool.

Neil: I think the conductor role, facilitator role is pretty important. It's as much about moderating and overseeing the careers of my people as it is doing great work from my clients, I feel a huge sense of responsibility in that area.

Steve M.: My role is 50/50 divided between helping clients and helping the agency—and I include the creatives, management, everybody—in thinking beyond the normal disciplines that we do. My role is to work with clients and Taxi to get to that point where there's a synergy, which isn't always the case. It's all about relationships in my mind.

Scott: I think my role is to be a champion of curiosity and to set an example of that. Whether it's trying to understand anything new media wise and just celebrating within the walls of the agency, just being curious, insatiable creatures, finding those ideas. I love coming in everyday with 10 links to things I've never seen before. You never know where those will come from and that's the best part of my job. And if everyone comes to work and believes they can do something new, that's where it becomes fun because there is something in it for them.

David: We talk about sustainability as a category of projects that we actively go after. As far as the role is concerned, it's helping designers think holistically about brands. How do all of our tools come together to build an entire brand story?

James: Anomaly is an anomaly. Every single project is different so the role of creative director is a notional title, but really it's working out what ideas are going to be good and how we can do them in an interesting way, focusing on how to get stuff done. But it's totally different from my last job.

Harvey: I really hope the creative industry in general—filmmakers, screenwriters gaming developers—becomes a lot less territorial. It seems like as marketers in advertising we're trying to flatten out what a creative department or a creative group of people can do together. And what I'm not seeing a lot of is a collaboration between the other industries working collectively with people like us who really understand the brand. I hope that in the future we see more collaboration across the board.

Harvey Marco of Saatchi, L.A.
Harvey Marco of Saatchi, L.A.
Rob: My role is just momentum, throughout the whole organization, with projects, clients and creative people. If you don't have it, you die. We've seen great brands run out of steam. It's hard because you have to be constantly on it. It's not about being delusionally positive, trust me. But we try to keep that and that comes from the top.

Peter: I'll use an American football metaphor. I am the 400-pound center traveling down the field taking all the hits, getting pummeled, if this clears a big hole that makes everything easier for everyone else.

Steve N.: My burning issue is to continue to attract inventors, tinkerers, technologists who might not normally look at a big agency like Tribal DDB and think it's right in the interests of nurturing their particular specialties. What keeps me up at night is finding these people.

Jan: Leo and I started the company because we feel it's the most exciting time in advertising. The doyennes of advertising, the Bernbachs, the Cronins, were valued for bringing true business value to their clients. I think through the years, testing methodologies, research and all these formulaic structures have eroded our influence and have taken people away from this business that really should be in it. And I think all the current uncertainty has brought that value and respect and responsibility back to us. As a young company entering this marketplace, our role is to be brave and responsible, take clients into this world without fear. Because that's what they pay us for. Everyone is out of their comfort zones, we are and the clients are. It doesn't matter what discipline you are in, it's a wonderful place to be.

James: And it could be worse. We could be in the music industry.

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