Given that, maybe it was to be expected that when Boyko first came to O&M from Chiat/Day/Venice seven years ago. Joining up with his longtime Chiat partner Bill Hamilton, the two men fairly shook the hallowed (and a little too quiet) halls at O&M headquarters in New York. "This had become a very genteel place to work, and then the castle was stormed by Hamilton and Boyko," says one former O&M staffer. Things haven't been the same since, thanks to Hamilton and, more and more, thanks to Boyko.
The buzz on Boyko has been building for some time, fueled by his recent ascension to the top of the agency's creative ranks (after working under Hamilton for his first four years at O&M, he was elevated to a position of equal status three years ago) and, particularly, by some of the noteworthy work that has been coming from Boyko's side of the agency. While Hamilton has tended primarily to IBM, Boyko oversees just about everything else-a roster of brands that, aside from American Express, is heavy on packaged goods and middle-American values.
And yet the Boyko-led work for Surf detergent, Kodak, Dove soap, Hershey and other big brands has shown signs of actual life; while it would never be mistaken for Goodby Silverstein's advertising, it is sprinkled with wit, a contemporary spirit, and sound strategy. "When you look at O&M's reel, what strikes you is that it's so much better than you'd expect it to be," says Fallon McElligott Berlin's Andy Berlin. "I think Rick has had a lot to do with that." David Fowler, who has worked on a number of special projects for O&M, adds: "Boyko deserves a lot of credit for moving the needle at O&M-especially when you consider that it is no easy needle to move." All of which raises the question: Could Rick Boyko be the best big-agency creative director at the moment?
In fairness, it was Hamilton who initially reignited the creative spark at the agency, and Hamilton has also been the driving force behind the agency's generally well-regarded work for IBM. But for various reasons, an increasing amount of O&M's overall creative burden has fallen on Boyko in the past few years; Hamilton has had to grapple full time with the global monster that is IBM, and along the way he also took a leave of absence two years ago to deal with personal problems. While it's difficult to predict the mercurial Hamilton's future (current plans call for him to move off IBM, where he will be replaced by Steve Hayden, to concentrate on the recently-won GTE and Ford corporate accounts), Boyko's star seems to be steadily rising. Those who know Boyko say that his success has been anything but accidental: "He may be the hardest-working man in advertising," says DDB Needham/New York's Michael Furlong, who worked with Boyko from 1992 to '96. Another sometime collaborator, John Doyle, now at Hal Riney, adds, "Rick is relentless."
Fowler attributes Boyko's drive-he works ridiculous hours, travels constantly, and yet he manages to oversee (and occasionally works on) virtually every piece of non-IBM business currently at the agency-to his military background: "I think that's why he has a tremendous amount of personal discipline," Fowler says. Boyko, an Ohio native who grew up in California, spent four years as a graphic artist in the Air Force during the late 1960s at the height of the Vietnam War (he was never sent overseas). After he left the service he went to Art Center, but left after three semesters because he was hungry for real-world advertising experience. He moved to Chicago, where he shuttled between several agencies, spending most of his time at Burnett but also working at Tatham, Ayer and BBDO. Boyko describes his Burnett years as "a good training ground," but he hungered for more creative freedom. "Burnett, at least at the time, was an agency run by account management," he says.
When he moved to Chiat/Day in 1983, Boyko found the creative nirvana he'd been seeking, and also hooked up with a partner he'd stay with from that day forward. Hamilton was a very different personality type-more philosophical, not as outwardly driven-but the two men had an uncanny synergy when it came to advertising. "We've always had the same tastes," says Boyko. "If we were in two separate meetings and we were asked a question, I think 99 percent of the time we'd give the same answer."
After working as a creative team for years, Boyko and Hamilton eventually began to split up accounts at Chiat. "We would meet in the morning and then go out and divide and conquer," says Boyko. Hamilton moved to C/D in New York in 1985, but Boyko says the two still worked closely together. Then, as the New York office was going through yet another round of turbulence, Hamilton jumped ship to O&M in November of '89, hired by Martin Sorrell. It took all of one month before Boyko followed him, after hot and heavy recruiting by Sorrell and Hamilton.
"When we came here, all my friends thought we were stupid," says Boyko. They had good reason; Boyko was leaving a creative haven for a large, bureaucratic agency that was in the doldrums, both from a creative and a new-business standpoint.
Boyko says he could see immediately that "there was no real passion in the work. It was a 9 to 5 place. You could walk down the halls and not bump into anyone." But Hamilton says that even in those dark days, O&M had something going for it: "There was an inherent respect for creative, which was a legacy of Ogilvy," he says. "So even though the creative sucked, there was a respect for it. That made it possible to make changes."
And they did. "We came into this agency that had its own philosophy, and some of it evolved toward us, and to some extent we evolved toward it," says Boyko. But as one source says, "It was more a case of the O&M culture having to adapt to them, and particularly to Rick." While Hamilton was partly sucked up by crisis management on the agency's wavering accounts, Boyko was in charge of shaking up the creative environment. "Rick became the model for a mentality that celebrated the work," says Hamilton.
While Boyko is generally regarded as a nice guy, he is also volatile, sources say. In the early days in particular, he was known for exploding around clients and other creatives who didn't share his vision of the new O&M. "Rick is a guy who will look you in the eye and tell you the truth," says Fowler. Another source adds: "He could be a tough taskmaster with his own people." Says Boyko: "Around here, I was the anti-Christ for a while."
But Boyko was also supportive and tried to instill creative pride; he set aside a wall at the agency where he displayed the best new creative work, just as Lee Clow had done at Chiat. "We challenged people to be up there on the wall," says Boyko.
Hamilton and Boyko also slowly began to dismantle some of the stifling bureaucracy in the creative department, by removing an entire layer-all of the executive CDs that had stood between Hamilton and the group creative directors, except Boyko. Today, all group heads report directly to Boyko and Hamilton. "Removing that layer helped a lot," says Boyko.
But longtime O&M veteran David Apicella says: "Yes, they did change the structure, but it was more of an attitude change. They brought some of that Chiat spirit here-a tenacity, and a belief that a great idea is worth the effort, and worth fighting for. That forced the standards up."
Creative staffers had to meet Boyko's own exacting standards. "He's a top-quality art director with a great eye," says Furlong. Apicella praises Boyko's "instinctive sense of advertising-he's a great judge of work, and he's able to bring the best idea forward and make it better."
If there has been one knock on Boyko as a creative director, it's that he has sometimes been too hands on. "I don't think he nurtures talent as well as he could," says Furlong, who says he felt that after four years of working under Boyko, he had to move on in order to grow.
Boyko continues to be very involved in the work even now, as he manages the lion's share of the creative department for a global powerhouse. He goes on shoots and still art directs spots occasionally and, as Apicella attests, "he sees everything."
It's hard to articulate a style or creative stamp that Boyko has put on O&M's work, other than to say he's "smartened" it in a number of ways.
Kodak is a good example: O&M's current campaign touting Kodak's digital capabilities have, overnight, brought the company into the 90s. "We had to really change the perception of Kodak, because most people thought they were just in the memory business, when in fact they had all this technology," says Boyko. But the ads tout those potentially dull capabilities-scanning, retouching photos and the like-in a lively storytelling approach that begins with the taking of an ordinary photograph and escalates into a wacky adventure.
Surf is an even more dramatic case of contemporizing a brand. While most laundry detergent spots are still stuck in 1950s -style "whiter whites" drivel, O&M's Surf campaign tells it like it is-doing laundry is a drag and there's no point in trying to deny it. So instead, the print and TV campaigns accentuate the negative-playing up the drudgery of doing laundry in a lighthearted way. The campaign has only been used in spot buys, but Surf sales have jumped more than 20 percent.
If anything helped set the stage for this turnaround it was when the agency lost American Express to Chiat/Day in the early '90s. "Losing that was like getting hit by a lightning bolt," Boyko says. It marked the beginning of Hamilton and Boyko's move to "change how we acted as an agency," to transform themselves totally from the old O&M into a shop "that genuinely wanted to do better work."
The agency formed a special team charged with winning the work back, and while C/D seemed to help matters by producing what some described then as unfocussed work, when the account was returned to O&M about a year later, Hamilton and Boyko were vindicated. Further vindication came when Amex decided to take the O&M campaign and successfully roll it out globally, a move that was not lost on Louis Gerstner at IBM when he was considering the global consolidation of Big Blue.
Certainly, it hasn't been easy for Boyko to evolve the advertising in packaged goods categories that tend to move at a glacial pace. Boyko acknowledges: "Packaged goods clients want good advertising also, but the structured research they use gets in the way." He says he and Hamilton have tried very hard to move some of the big clients away from structured research toward more of an account planning mentality. "I continue to use Goodby as a model of how planning can be integral to the product," says Boyko.
He hasn't always been successful. Boyko admits that some clients have been more resistant than others; in the case of Surf, change was possible partly because "they were losing market share, and they knew they had to do something different." Other clients, he says, are still locked in to structured research and more conservative approaches. At times, Boyko reveals small hints of the frustrations of dealing with big-agency bureaucracy and megaclients. While smaller agencies have the opportunities to work with entrepreneurial clients, Boyko says, "Here, it's harder to get at the guy at the top on the client side. So you're in more meetings, getting an idea sold through more presentations, at more levels. Yes, it's great to be working on international business, but it can be frustrating at times."
Another frustration is in attracting the kind of talent that Boyko obviously wants to surround himself with at O&M. "As long as there's a Goodby, a Fallon and a Wieden, that's where young talent wants to go," he says. "I don't think we could've gone out and gotten Nike people and put them on Kimberly Clark."
Still, Boyko has brought in some creative stars on a project basis. He refers to these as creative partners, and says the agency tries to develop more than the usual freelance arrangement with them. "We basically tell them we'll buy as much of their time as they want to sell," he says. "It helps create a more unique relationship." He first started doing it with Mark Fenske and Scott Burns, followed by David Jenkins and then Fowler. Boyko sees this as creating a way to work with distinctive talents who are not interested in taking staff jobs and dealing with big- agency politics.
While he's been successful in luring top freelance talent to work on O&M's business, however, his bigger problem has been getting people to stay. "Good people tend to move through the agency," says one source. That's partly the system-O&M remains a large bureaucracy and "a huge gang-banging place," says another insider-and it's partly the client base. But it's also partly Boyko, they agree: "Creative talent gets stifled there. You can't name mid-level rising stars-there's only Rick and Bill. Rick needs to figure out a way to let other people shine." One of Boyko's defenders responds to that by saying, "This ain't a boutique, and people looking for glory have to realize that. You have to check your ego at the door."
Boyko's response is understandable. "To create change, someone has to have a vision and a point of view, and if you have those, there will be people who are not going to agree with you, because you're being dogmatic," he explains. In an agency of O&M's size, with its varied account roster, any effort to improve the work would be difficult and could easily cause conflict, he adds. "Our job is to make it better each time, and sometimes you don't make friends doing that."
In any case, Boyko "has got a huge task ahead of him in terms of attracting the best creative talent to O&M and keeping them incentivized," says Doyle. Fowler adds, "There's no doubt about it, Rick has one of the toughest jobs in the business."
But Boyko seems to have come to terms with it. There's no longer talk of creating a spinoff unit with him and Hamilton, a rumor from a few years ago. "That dream quickly evaporated once IBM came along," Boyko says. "That became a bigger challenge that took over." Besides, Boyko says, he now believes that the formation of a creative agency within an agency "only ends up being a disruption, and you disenfranchise your core people."
Boyko, it seems, would rather fight to make O&M the best of the big. Some feel he's already brought the agency up to the level of BBDO, "though they don't get the recognition that BBDO does," says Berlin. Boyko, too, sees O&M working on a higher big agency plane, alongside BBDO and DDB Needham. "I think all three of these agencies have a respect for creative within the culture," he says. "I used