This year, in addition to the follow-up to "Sheet Metal" and the recent Saturn Ion "Childhood" spot, look out too for the unnerving new "Got Milk?" spot with the "Damien/Omen"-like child, foretelling doom, and the launch of the Saturn Vue. Barrett is in high form, especially when he's working with Murro. It's a vindication of his decision to accept Jeff Goodby's offer; one that chimed with his wife's desire to migrate back west. Good fortune, Barrett claims. There is no master plan. "I don't think anyone goes into advertising thinking, I'll be a copywriter or an art director because it will be a good stepping stone to being an ECD," he says. "A lot of times when you follow the career path as a creative, you get moved away from what you like doing, away from the ranks of the doers to the ranks of the judges."
It's one reason why wherever he's worked, Barrett has insisted on retaining his copywriting duties in addition to being a CD. "I think I'm a better creative director when I'm writing. It's a way of keeping me honest. It reminds me what a vulnerable process creating work is. I'd like to believe creatives respect their creative director more if he's still doing it." Barrett accepts that managing his four writing projects a year is a juggling act given everything else he has to do. He has been asked to give it up before but he says Goodby and Rich Silverstein expected 40 percent of his time to be devoted to writing; they understood his mindset. Barrett's track record buys him this leverage. At Wieden, he did some of the best-known Nike ads of the '90s, including Michael Jordan's "Frozen Moment"; "9,000 Shots"; "100-foot Hoop"; the "What if there were no sports?" spot; and the Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras "Street Tennis" work (as CD). There was memorable Olympic work, "You don't win silver, you lose gold," too.
"People go to Wieden to try to make their mark on the greatest body of work of the past 20 years; I could only leave when I believed I had done so," he reflects. "But Nike starts with a client who is not only receptive to great advertising but champions it. The reason we're getting interesting work out of Saturn is because we have clients there who champion great work, too." Barrett describes W+K/Portland as "like a slugger. There's a fearlessness that starts with Dan [Wieden]," he says. "Perhaps it doesn't hit with the highest average, but it hits more home runs, because it's more prepared to risk being struck out."
He realizes his perspective is skewed because he has only worked in agencies where clients want good work. Barrett had two spells at Fallon on either side of his Wieden experience. His second, in New York, brought the MTV "Jukka Brothers" campaign, Conseco, the FX network and the U.S. Tennis Association print campaign.
The other key to being an ECD is hiring. He says he looks for "greatness," choosing creatives who have done two things that blow him away rather than eight things that are hit or miss. Barrett has a clear view of the kind of CD he wants to be, formed by a career spent working in three outstanding agencies and his desire to enjoy the creative process."I spent 10 years answering to different CDs. I always said that when I have people exposing their work to me, I want them to be as comfortable as possible. There is a danger in going too soft. But I have a lot more Paula Abdul in me than [American Idol's] Simon Cowell."