The 2009 Creativity 50: Gerry Graf

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It was a quite the shock when in January '08 Gerry Graf announced that he'd be leaving his ECD post at TBWA/Chiat/Day, N.Y. to become chief creative officer at Saatchi, New York, leaving the industry to wonder what would become of the agency he turned around to become on of New York's creative beacons. This was, of course, by virtue of the award-winning and culturally beloved efforts for Masterfoods, which introduced the likes of a singing rabbit, a candy Midas and a Man Mom. One of the last and best of that legacy, Pinata, debuted in April, but by then Graf was well into his new role.

At Saatchi, Graf in a short time has managed to turn heads dramatically once again, with the Cannes Gold Lion-winning Crest Bulldozer and the more recent viral sensation Beware of the Doghouse for JC Penney. He had a lot on his shoulders coming into a post vacated by Tony Granger, and now perhaps he has even more, given the recent departure of Crest, and of Saatchi worldwide creative director Bob Isherwood in November, after 22 years of service. "With the day-to-day running of the agency, he left me alone," says Graf. But "he was always there if I had a problem and I'd talk things through with him. So now, I guess it's up to me and the other worldwide creative directors to make sure that the creative spirit he instilled in all of our clients doesn't go away."

Yet all that won't make him view the work—or the clients—any differently. "My role on every assignment has always been to do the best I could possibly do and not be afraid to make the client a little nervous. I've always pushed clients to take chances and that's not going to change. They haven't beaten me down that much."

Graf, on the success of "Doghouse": "It's strange because it came out at the end of November. I knew something was going on when my mother-in-law called me up and said, 'I know you do something for JC Penney and my friend emailed me this really funny video.' Then, I knew that thing was going around. It was written for men and women. The video was for men to stay out of the doghouse, but the whole experience online was for people to put their partners in the doghouse. It was nice that the women got into it just as much."

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