Staffers at San Francisco shop Pereira ODell might have heard some scary sounds coming out of a meeting room when creative vet Kash Sree, most recently ECD at JWT, stopped by to meet with Chief Creative Officer P.J. Pereira about a month ago. Among the noises was the thud of Pereira being thrown against a wall, but there was no need for worry. The two were just setting the stage for Sree's new role as executive creative director at the agency.
That meeting—the first time the two had ever been face to face—turned out to be an eight-hour marathon conversation, including one hour "with Kash teaching me Bruce Lee's one-inch punch," says Pereira. "He threw me against a wall a couple feet away." It turns out the two are both longtime students and former teachers of martial arts—Sree mastered a derivative of Malaysian Silat, while Pereira did the same for Chinese Kenpo.
The pair bonded over more than punches and parries, however. "One thing that created a connection between Kash and me is that we're both passionate about ideas more than anything else," says Pereira. "For the past year I had been thinking about what kind of person could come in here and change the way we work and elevate our game big time. Some of my favorite campaigns ever came from Kash as a writer or creative director. He had the book I wanted to have myself."
"I was pretty far along in the process with someone else," admits Sree of his decision to join Pereira O'Dell. "We just got on really, reall well. It just confused everything. I went down to San Francisco and we talked and talked and talked. It was one of these things where you felt like I can get into a conversation, and eight hours later, same conversation, we would have changed the industry."
The Singapore-born London-raised Sree's career has taken him on a grand tour of the agency world. Perhaps his most memorable performance was at W+K/Portland, where he was behind the Grand Prix-winning Nike Tag and the much celebrated Move, among other blockbusters for the client. Post Wieden, he moved into big agency territory at Leo Burnett in Chicago, followed by a stint at BBH, New York steering work on Vaseline. He was most recently ECD at JWT, New York, where he oversaw campaigns for DeBeers, including the Grand Central Station "Roses" installation and the Unbreakable Kiss stunt at New York's Madison Square Park.
"I've always been delusional enough to have very strange ambitions," says Sree. "My delusion was that I wanted to change the business. You can do it from the periphery, where you show the way, or what I tried to do was go to the big, dark heart of the beast, to New York, at one of the bigger agencies. I went to the oldest, and tried to shift that there and I think was having some success. But after a while it just doesn't feel fast enough. It would be nice to see fast change again, hopefully."
Sree will continue to be based in New York but will also be spending plenty of time flying back and forth to the west coast to work out of Pereira O'Dell's San Francisco office. The curious set up seems to hint at plans for a bi-coastal agency expansion, but for now, there won't be an official Manhattan office, Pereira says. "Everything is open at this point. We're considering all the possibilities, but nothing is set. The only guaranteed thing is that he's an ECD with us now."
The agency, launched by Pereira and former AKQA colleague Andrew O'Dell a year and a half ago, has a client lineup that includes Lego, University of Phoenix, Crown Imports (maker of Corona beer), Ubisoft, Yes-to-Carrots, Pop Chips and Muscle Milk. It's also now home to about 70 staffers, well-positioned to soon outgrow its recent honor of being named Ad Age Western Agency of the Year for its Small Agency Awards.
Looking forward, "part of the plan is to go way deeper into branded entertainment and content, blurring the lines between what is advertising, content, PR, digital and technology," Pereira says. "If you want to do that for real, you need to make sure you have a bunch of people that are really passionate about ideas more than anything, but can also bring amazing craftsmanship. During the next month we're probably going to bring in more talent and energy around the areas of entertainment and technology, all those areas that will allow us to take the ideas wherever the need to be taken. "
And all those talents will likely now get to enjoy martial-arts-themed preaching from two of their creative leaders. "Martial arts is in its own sense, a language," Sree says. "And speaking that language changes the way you think. It's certainly affected the way I approach my career and work, and seeing that in P.J. as well was great." Recalls Pereira, "When I was training to get another belt, my master actually told me, 'You know what you're doing? You're closing your eyes when you know you're going to get hit. You cannot do that because you'll get hit twice. If something tough is going to happen, keep looking, absorb it, keep going.' That's the kind of calm and posture you need in this business. That mental training just stays with you, and it's kind of funny to see it all come back around. It's funny because I never had a chance to have a more serious conversation about these things until I met Kash."
More of Sree's past work: