No Country for 'Cool Dads': Meet the Man Behind R/GA's Twitter Account

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Chapin Clark, exec VP and executive creative director at R/GA.
Chapin Clark, exec VP and executive creative director at R/GA. Credit: Courtesy R/GA

R/GA's Twitter handle has more than 136,000 followers and has been cited numerous times as one of the "accounts to follow" in the advertising industry. The person behind the witty, often hilarious and sometimes biting posts isn't an intern or a dedicated social media coordinator either – it's a 16-year R/GA veteran.

Chapin Clark, exec-VP and exec-creative director at the Interpublic Group shop, talked to Ad Age about his experiences managing @RGA. From interacting with Cypress Hill and John McCain to figuring out the handle's voice over time, Clark opens up about his Twitter prowess.

This interview has been lightly edited for flow and readability.

When did you start manning Twitter for the agency?
I believe it was 2009. It was pretty early on. It was at a time when not just R/GA, but everyone was trying to figure out what this thing was and what you use it for. I think at the start it was a bit of a mish-mash. We were posting job listings and things like that. I had already been tweeting for myself a little bit and I'm a writer and people thought I'd be interested in giving this a shot and seeing how I like it. And I said sure, and that was that.

Has the voice you've given to R/GA's Twitter changed over time?
That's an interesting question. Initially, I didn't really know what I was doing. It was a weird thing of weighing how much it should be my voice and personal things and a corporate voice. I think it evolved organically. Initially, I was trying to provide a daily dose of informative advertising stuff and over time I learned there are a lot of people doing that, so there's no reason for us to be pumping that stuff out as well. And initially I would do dumb things.

Like what?
This is a favorite example of mine: I was watching Charlie Rose and [WPP CEO] Sir Martin Sorrell was on and I was like, "I'm going to live tweet this because it's about advertising and this is an important person in advertising."

Why didn't that work out?
I remember in the moment thinking, "This is fun and it's in real time." The next day at work I ran into someone I had hired who had a very sharp sense of humor and she said something devastatingly dismissive, like, "What the hell were you doing? What was that?" And I was like, "Oh okay, it's not just me talking to myself. There are people out there and they're judging." It was helpful feedback. Now I try more to offer a pointed remark or comment or observation or joke about something and I think on a basic level, those things get noticed more and play better typically.

When did you decide to give it a first-person voice?
At some point early on, which I think ultimately worked. It gives me permission to speak in a way and say things that I may not otherwise be able to say if it was a collective "we."

What's the voice like now?

I like to say it's skeptical. Advertising is filled with a lot of really smart, creative, inquisitive people. Every day we're in meetings and looking at things and getting a certain narrative about advertising and the way people say it should be and we're trying to get things off the ground and we see how the sausage is made. I try to be someone who is taking an honest look at that, without being offensive or insulting or burning people too much, but saying what I think is really going on.

All the tweets seem pretty short and sweet.
It's human. I try to make it conversational and in the vernacular of Twitter without forgetting that it's on behalf of a company. And I try to adopt a voice that people will recognize and not immediately sniff out as corporate.

You tweet about a lot more than advertising.
Even though we're an ad agency primarily, I feel like we have permission to talk about things that go beyond advertising. And I think as a Twitter handle, we have a responsibility to confront culture and confront what people are talking about and decide if we have something to say about it. It's about trying to be interesting and relevant on a daily basis, so I do think we have a responsibility and permission to talk about things that go outside of the traditional remit for an ad agency.

Favorite tweets?
The things that stay with me more are the things that totally bombed that I thought were really wonderful and I was like, "Why didn't people love this?"

Any come to mind?
Not really. Well, over the weekend, I love the Spotify playlists and the names they have. I'm sure they laugh to themselves as they come up with these. I've been screenshotting those and I feel like they're ready made tweets because they're already written and formed and all you have to do is basically cut and paste. So I posted a thing about Spotify playlists just inventing moods.

It doesn't seem like it bombed. It has more than 340 likes.
I posted that on Saturday. I laughed to myself on that one before I posted it.

Speaking of likes, why does Cypress Hill interact with R/GA on Twitter?
You know, it's weird. One day I noticed they were following R/GA and I just assumed that they must have seen something or read an article about accounts to follow. They're very chatty. If you look at their feed, every tweet is about weed, like "Wake and bake!" and then they'll be an R/GA retweet.

And you guys aren't working with them on anything?
Not yet!

Any other random Twitter fans?
People frequently mistake us for the Republican Governors Association. Their handle is @The_RGA, so sometimes people will tweet at us thinking we're the Republican Governors Association and they'll be complaining about some local ad campaign or candidate. Those are easy enough to ignore but a few weeks ago Scott Walker (Governor of the State of Wisconsin) tagged us and my mentions were destroyed by people replying to him and yelling at him.

Do people get nasty with those tweets?
It's completely non-partisan, but sometimes the worst people in those situations are well meaning liberals, who out of the gate are cursing us out and they're like, "Fuck you, motherfucker." If it's really egregious, I'll reply and say, "Hey, by the way, think you have the wrong R/GA," and they'll very politely be like, "So sorry."

Any other politician interaction on Twitter?
One time, John McCain thanked us for lunch.

Did you reply?
I did. Sometimes I like to just reply and play dumb and be like, "I don't know what this is about, but thanks!"

Is there anything you feel like you can't say on R/GA's Twitter?
Yes, of course. I try to be a good corporate citizen. My opinions may sometimes differ from leadership at the company and I try to be mindful of the fact that there's a larger ship steering the direction here and I have a personal account where I can be as honest as I want to be. I try to be supportive of our larger mission and our clients and our clients' businesses.

Any other challenges?
I'm surrounded by younger people -- not just in the office -- but the people I follow and on social media who are inventing new memes and new modes of speaking and new joke formats. There are times I feel I can certainly retweet and be a fan, but as a 47-year-old white man, I try to be mindful that I'm not the "cool dad" trying too hard to adopt slang or that kind of thing.

How do you approach your personal Twitter?
It's similar. It can be blurry sometimes -- there are certain things or ideas I have that can go in either bucket. If something is about marketing, communications, advertising or mass culture, then I'll default to R/GA. But things that are like, "I burned my mouth on my coffee this morning" are more on my personal.

Does manning the R/GA Twitter take up a lot of time?
It really depends on what other client responsibility or other work I have going on. They're tweets, so to be honest, it's not that much of a time commitment. I don't feel like there's any quota. I think it's fine if you don't have anything to say or if you tweet once a day or not at all, it's no great loss for anyone. I don't feel like there's any clocking in or out. I'll tweet over the weekend or at night -- sometimes late at night – because I feel like people are always active on Twitter.

What are your other favorite apps?
The typical things. After Twitter I'm probably most active on Instagram, but that's personal stuff or jokes I think are funny.

What do you think of Slack?
I've really become a fan of Slack. It's something I dreaded initially because it's another channel to manage and I was actively rooting for it fail and go way but it's really grown on me and I kind of love it now. It's this productivity thing and it's very social. It feels like it's the best for work conversations. We have a lot of smart witty interesting people so it feels like it brings out the best of people.

Any cool Slack channels?
We have a channel just dedicated to the soup being served here every day. Actually, that channel is sometimes the liveliest, funniest channel that I look forward to seeing every day.

Ever want to step back from the Twitter or is it your baby?
It's my baby. And it's like my baby is getting ready to go to college now because it's been a long time. I still do it because it's still fun. If it were laborious and I woke up every day and I was like, "Ugh, it's time to do the tweets," then I would find a way to gracefully hand it off or step away. I do sometimes wonder if I'm going to be 65 years old still tweeting. But I'm happy to keep doing it as long as people at the company are happy to let me do it.

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