The next wave

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With all the talk of how Internet companies are siphoning off the best and brightest in a host of industries, from consumer products to finance, how does the future look for the ad agency business? Specifically, is there a new generation of creative talent coming up that holds promise for adland's new millennium? ­ According to a number of qualified observers, there's a cadre of strong individuals rising through the ranks of many agencies, and a handful who are particularly worth watching, profiled here. ­ This selection isn't meant to suggest these are the pre-eminent young talents in the agency business today. Indeed, many have been helped along at times by other senior creatives in their own shops who have similarly remained outside the limelight -- people such as Steve Simpson at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, or Arthur Bijur at Cliff Freeman & Partners, New York. But by and large, these profiled individuals are known in the creative community or they're in the process of building reputations on the strength of their portfolios and awards-show performances. ­ They all occupy posts below that of their respective shops' executive creative directors -- at least for now. But no one should be surprised if any one of them is named to lead a major agency creative department in the near future.

David Apicella & Jeroen Bours

The creative team of David Apicella and Jeroen Bours is a study in contrasts.

Art director Jeroen Bours is on his third job in less than three years. He joined Ogilvy & Mather last fall, after spending a year or so at DDB Worldwide's New York office. Prior to that he was at McCann-Erickson, where he was teamed with copywriter Joyce King Thomas. Copywriter David Apicella, on the other hand, has been at the same agency since shortly after the Iranian hostage crisis was resolved.

Mr. Bours, who's Dutch, came to New York via Israel, where he worked as a graphic designer. He got his start in the business at Ammirati & Puris, then worked at Burkhart & Christy, then did a short stint at Grey Advertising before going to McCann, where he stayed for more than four years. Mr. Apicella just seemed to settle in at Ogilvy, his first agency job.

About a decade ago, he said, there was a period when he thought about leaving but decided to stay after the arrival of Bill Hamilton, now one of J. Walter Thompson Co.'s worldwide creative directors. The decision paid off, as Mr. Apicella's career has mirrored Ogilvy's rising creative fortunes. "I didn't have to leave," the 44-year old Mr. Apicella said. "The agency I wanted to go to came to me."

Messrs. Apicella and Bours, who share the title senior partner-executive creative director, shoulder a considerable amount of responsibility. They supervise creative work for almost half O&M's New York billings, just about everything except IBM Corp. and Cotton Inc. They have 80 people working under them, and serve as the worldwide creative directors on the agency's Eastman Kodak Co. and American Express Co. accounts.

Like Eric Silver of Cliff Freeman & Partners (see page 18), Mr. Apicella was trained in the law. Indeed, he's probably one of the few creative directors in New York who has passed the bar exam.

"People who work for David love him," said Rick Boyko, O&M's chief creative officer for North America and president of its New York office. "He's grown into a position of leadership over the past two years."

What Mr. Boyko liked about Mr. Bours was that "he has consistently done terrific campaigns in different places," referring to his DDB work and his collaboration with Joyce King Thomas (see page 18) on MasterCard International.

Also, he likes how Mr. Bours is striving to enhance the art direction of the work from his group and how he's functioning as a mentor. "He's already had an impact on some of our younger people," he said.

Gerry Graf & David Gray

The siren's call is singing out to copywriter Gerry Graf and art director David Gray.

Rising stars at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, the agency they defected to after becoming rising stars at BBDO Worldwide, New York, the team spent almost two months back in New York over the just-past holiday season, editing the latest round of E*Trade TV commercials.

Now associate creative directors, the big question for this pair is whether or not they're going to stay on the agency side or follow in the footsteps of Bryan Buckley and Frank Todaro, two former agency creatives who co-directed many of Messrs. Graf and Gray's award-winning "Hungry? Why wait?" spots for M&M/Mars' Snickers candy bar. Mr. Buckley is now a partner in the New York-based production house Hungry Man and Mr. Todaro is a director at Radical Media.

Goodby's pitch for the E*Trade account was developed by Mr. Graf, who's 33, and Jeremy Postaer, a former art director at the agency. Mr. Gray, who's 31, was working on the agency's Nike business at the time. They're teamed again as creative directors on E*Trade. The two first met at Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, but didn't become partners until their BBDO days, where they worked under Charlie Miesmer, vice chairman-senior executive creative director.

For the time being, the pair is quite content to stay at Goodby.

"Rich [Silverstein] lets us present almost everything. So as long as that goes, we see no reason not to," Mr. Gray said.

Mr. Graf finds the concept of directing intriguing, but he's aware that functioning as creative director "allows us total control over everything, so even the spots we don't do can have the same feel."

They joke about how good creative directors are almost always control freaks, but then lament the difficulty of finding the balance between what Mr. Gray called "being too involved and being not involved."

The two seem to genuinely appreciate the degree of trust they've been shown by Jeff Goodby and Mr. Silverstein, and they acknowledge Mr. Miesmer's impact on their careers. But right now, the person who might be having the biggest influence on them is Mr. Buckley.

They admit they've asked Mr. Buckley about the mechanics of co-directing. Mr. Graf said that when Mr. Silverstein gave them permission to direct some E*Trade work themselves, an opportunity they seemed to relish, "All he said was, `Just don't quit in six months.' "

Chuck McBride

Chuck McBride, newly hired creative director of TBWA/Chiat/Day's San Francisco office, has the tools of strategic intelligence and leadership "in spades," said Lee Clow, the agency's worldwide creative guru. "He's such a smart thinker in terms of solving problems."

And Mr. McBride, 36, has been one of the most sought-after creative talents in the ad business. He started in San Diego, working for Franklin & Associates, where he worked under John Vitro and John Robertson, a creative team who eventually would open a highly regarded eponymous boutique.

From there he went to Team One, El Segundo, which lead to a stint at Wieden & Kennedy's now-defunct office in Philadelphia. From there he went to San Francisco, where he worked on the "Got milk?" campaign for Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, before moving over to Foote, Cone & Belding to work on Levi's, where he supervised the much-touted "Elevator Fantasy" and "Emergency Room" spots.

He then moved to Wieden's Portland office to head up client Nike with fellow Creative Director Hal Curtis. The result was several award-winning campaigns, including the series of "What are you getting ready for?" TV spots.

He was reluctant to leave Portland, but made the decision because his family wanted to return to the Bay area. And the goal of TBWA/Chiat/Day's San Francisco office is not merely to service Levi Strauss & Co.

"There are much bigger things on the agenda," he commented.

He's hoping to replicate what he left behind in Portland. He had just more than two-dozen people reporting to him there, and about the same number at FCB before that, but he said his current job is the biggest assignment he's ever tackled.

"There's more delegating here, more dealing with egos," he said.

His goal as creative director is to encourage "great thinking," and to help creatives develop their own strategic abilities.

"I want people to come to me with good solutions to their problems, not just their problems," he said.

Overall, he said he believes the office will grow beyond just being the main office for Levi's. It also handles Onhealth.com and Pets.com, among others. Even if that anchor account were to disappear -- and stranger things have happened in the agency business -- he said he and Mr. Clow are committed to San Francisco.

"Before you blink an eye," he boasted, "I'm going to have the best creative department on the West Coast."

Steffan Postaer

Advertising is kind of the family business for 37-year-old Leo Burnett USA copywriter Steffan Postaer. The only problem is, none of the family members work together.

His father is Larry Postaer, exec VP-creative services at Honda agency Rubin Postaer & Associates, Santa Monica, Calif. His brother Jeremy is an award-winning art director turned copywriter who recently left Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, to free-lance. And his mother, Christine Montet, is a former interior designer who has spent the last 17 years as an art buyer for Chicago ad agencies; she's now with FCB Worldwide.

While the junior Mr. Postaer, now a Burnett senior VP, acknowledged his father had a lot to do with his choice of career, his real mentor was former Burnett creative director Ted Bell, now vice chairman-worldwide creative director at Y&R Advertising, New York.

Steffan "was the only person I ever hired without a portfolio," recalled Mr. Bell. "I just had a gut feeling he would be great."

"He's a genius, and I don't say that about a lot of people," said Cheryl Berman, Burnett chairman-chief creative officer.

While Mr. Postaer's first campaign ended up winning a Gold Lion at Cannes -- a 1988 series of offbeat TV spots for Heinz ketchup -- he's best known for the Altoids print ad campaign he developed with his partner, Mark Faulkner.

In addition to being a forward-thinking talent who has taken a leading role at Burnett in pursuing dot-com clients, "he also loves the heritage of Burnett, and will be able to take that into the new century," Ms. Berman noted.

Indeed, Mr. Postaer comes off as a fiercely loyal Burnetter, and a level-headed adman who touts not just the creative angle of the work he's been associated with but its strategic underpinnings.

Of course, the juggernaut that is Kraft Foods' Altoids brand has become huge, largely based on the offbeat print and poster work.

"Mark and I used to hide in this company but we can't operate that autonomously anymore," he said. "Both literally and figuratively, we're responsible to a larger group of people."

As for why he's still at Burnett, he added, "It's worked for me. I've always had it good here." And he defends the shop as a place that can nurture good creative. With a bit of family hubris, he pointed out: "I've got more awards in my office than my brother and father combined."

Eric Silver

Following the career path of Eric Silver is like following one of David Letterman's Top 10 lists on "The Late Show." First there was Larsen Colby in California, then TBWA/Chiat/Day in New York, then Earle Palmer Brown in Richmond, then Wieden & Kennedy in Portland, then Foote, Cone & Belding in San Francisco (where he worked for Chuck McBride) -- and then it gets interesting, including a stint writing for Mr. Letterman himself. He followed that with his current job, at Cliff Freeman & Partners, New York.

But all of it came after four years of law school in California, and a couple of months clerking.

The 32-year-old copywriter, who now shares the creative director title at Freeman with Arthur Bijur, said that back in his legal days he thought advertising was "entertaining, but not viable as a career."

Somehow, he had an epiphany in law school that the legal profession was not for him, and he started putting together a spec portfolio that was good enough to land him his first ad job.

During his pre-Freeman years, he worked on some high-profile accounts, including Nike, Levi's and ESPN. These experiences have shaped his approach to advertising, helping produce talked-about work such as Freeman campaigns for Outpost.com, Fox Sports and, most recently, Budget Rent A Car.

As for influences, clearly there's the role Cliff Freeman himself has played in Mr. Silver's career, but there's also Mr. McBride.

"Seeing how he supported the work has helped mold my impression of how to be a creative director," Mr. Silver said.

Mr. Silver's stint on "The Late Show" turned out to be less than satisfying. Hooked up with its executive producer via his talent agency in Hollywood, Mr. Silver was hired based on some spec scripts and his commercials.

"The show has a very small box of what works there" in terms of skits and gags, he said. "I found it disillusioning."

Mr. Silver is a big fan of "Monty Python" and he borrows some of their comic tenets for his ad work -- absurdity, edginess and a dash of over-the-top violence. But he insists its use is never gratuitous.

"Yes, there have been gerbils fired out of cannons and there have been puking bears," he said, "but they're there for a reason, and if there wasn't one, we couldn't sell it."

Joyce King Thomas

Joyce King Thomas may be working for some of marketing's biggest names now, but she certainly didn't start out that way. Her first job was for a small agency in St. Louis with a big name, Worldwide Advertising.

"I wrote recruitment ads," Ms. King Thomas said.

Before that, she was an intern at the Kansas City office of Y&R Advertising, where she worked on agriculture accounts.

"It was very glamorous," she deadpanned.

These days, it really is.

Ms. King Thomas has been at McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, now for five years, and is probably best known for developing the "Priceless" campaign for MasterCard International with art director Jeroen Bours, now at Ogilvy & Mather.

A journalism graduate of the University of Missouri, the 43-year-old copywriter is exec VP-deputy creative director and has about 30 creatives reporting to her.

She cited Nina DiSesa, McCann chairman-chief creative officer, as having had the greatest influence on her approach to the job.

"It's about inspiration, not intimidation," Ms. King Thomas said.

The mother of two boys, she lives in Brooklyn Heights, which makes it easier for her to put in the kind of hours she said it takes to get the job done. "I expect that from the people who work for me," she said. "We all do it over and over again, until we get it right."

Since the success of the MasterCard campaign, Ms. King Thomas has had offers to move to other shops but has so far declined. Rather, she's focusing her attention on keeping the "Priceless" campaign fresh. The strategy is to keep putting new teams on it, and to work with lots of different commercial directors.

One of a disappearing breed of senior women creatives in the agency business, Ms. King Thomas said she doesn't feel any pressure to move on to a top creative post somewhere because of her gender.

"If you like to challenge yourself, you'll want to run a department to inspire a larger group of people. But McCann keeps getting so big, it's like another agency," she said.

Matt Vescovo

Matt Vescovo is "a tremendously creative guy who happens to work as an art director," said Jamie Barrett, creative director of Fallon McElligott, New York. "But he can write, he can manage, he can `creative direct,' he's a fine artist and he has absolutely no pretensions about him."

In this regard, the 30-year-old associate creative director who joined the agency last October fits right in with the kind of talent Mr. Barrett seeks -- "People who don't take themselves too seriously; a group of people who make the place fun."

Judging by Mr. Vescovo's TV reel, fun is his middle name. Or maybe it's guffaw. Chockablock with one comedy hit after another, it bears the distinctive imprint of Mr. Vescovo's four years at Cliff Freeman & Partners. There's the Staples back-to-school ad in which an elated dad tosses school supplies into a cart while the holiday classic "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" plays in the background. Or maybe its Little Caesars' "Training Camp," with the hysterically rigorous training young delivery men endure on the way to earning the keys to their delivery vehicles.

A Syracuse University graduate, Mr. Vescovo started in the agency business at BBDO Worldwide. He worked on Gillette Co. and Pepsi-Cola Co. before leaving with his partner, writer Steve Dildarian, for Freeman. After leaving Freeman, Mr. Vescovo initially took three months off to paint, then followed that up with stints free-lancing at Wieden & Kennedy, New York, where he worked on ESPN, and Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, where he worked on the Discover Card account. Now, at Fallon, he's working on ads for insurer Conseco and he's the creative director -- along with Kevin Roddy, another former Freeman alum -- on the agency's work for cable channel FX.

While he enjoys having the chance to manage an account and help other creative people develop their ideas, he doesn't want to give up the chance to write and art-direct.

"I really don't know where I see myself in five or 10 years," he said, "but for right now, I want to find things that present new challenges for me."

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