Player Profile: Dreveny coaches his team to crow about creativity

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Bob Dreveny is on a mission, and to prove it to his staff, he went so far as to don a pair of black sunglasses and a fedora to sing about it.

As his boss, Jonathan Harries, moved to worldwide creative director of global brands for True North Communications' FCB Worldwide, the new creative chief wanted to outline his 2001 vision for the agency in a truly memorable way.

Inspired by the Chicago location for the agency's holiday party, the House of Blues, the 6-foot-4-inch exec became Jake Blues, the "Blues Brother" character originated by John Belushi. With agency President Brian Williams playing brother Elwood, Mr. Dreveny, 47, danced and sang to explain his goal-to develop "creative that works." In his new role, Mr. Dreveny will oversee creative for clients such as Coors Brewing Co., Quaker Oats Co. and Sara Lee.

Such displays are typical for the new Chicago exec VP-exec creative director, who staffers consider more a coach than a department head. When the 23-year Leo Burnett veteran joined the agency in June 1999, he found a creative team that he believed was, well, overly modest for the depth of talent he found.

"He wore the confidence he wants us to have," said Geoffrey Edwards, creative director, FCB Chicago.

"It makes a big impression on people when the guys in charge are willing to be that goofy and be that silly," echoed Susan Bertaki, senior VP-group creative director on clients Quaker and Sara Lee.


While Mr. Dreveny's long-term goal is to "do great work that actually sells stuff," his immediate effort is to boost his team's nerve to crow about their own work. "It ain't braggin' if it's true," he often says.

"I came from [a] culture proud of who it was and not ashamed to tell it," he said. "FCB had this cultural reserve that left us with no image."

Over the span of his career at Burnett, Mr. Dreveny worked on a number of blue-chip accounts, including Philip Morris USA, Allstate, Sony, Procter & Gamble and Keebler Foods Co., for which he would joke he was the "head elf." He spent a couple of years as exec VP in Hong Kong, where he learned the Asian custom of "saving face;" that is, helping to critique work while retaining the creative's dignity-a skill that would seem incongruent for the one-time tavern bouncer.

Now the former football quarterback and part-time basketball coach for his four children takes the skills he learned on the field and applies them to his staff. "How to get an idea out of a creative is similar to getting a good athletic performance," Mr. Dreveny said. "You can teach them the mechanics, but athletes have to find there's a sweet spot when you hit a golf ball or shoot a basket."

His leadership style is that of a player who becomes a coach, like former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, said Danny Schuman, VP-creative director, on the Quaker's Gatorade business. "He remembers where he came from," he said. "Like Ditka, his players respect him."

It's hard to avoid a sports reference when talking about Mr. Dreveny. Virtually every meeting starts with a chat about local pro teams or his kids' weekend match-ups. But after that, he's all business.

That ability to speak creatively and strategically is a plus for clients, said Cindy Alston, VP-equity development, Gatorade. "They're maybe not winning the most awards of any agency, but I don't know that that's important to them," she said. "If I can't prove that advertising actually drives my business I may not have the ad budget I have today."

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