Creativity 50 2015

Creativity 50 2015: Joe Alexander

Chief Creative Officer, The Martin Agency

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Joe Alexander
Joe Alexander Credit: Courtesy Martin Agency

Virginia-based The Martin Agency turned 50 years old this year but proved to be as creatively sharp as ever with campaigns that won consumer hearts and industry respect. The shop turned out more charmers for Oreo, Walmart, Benjamin Moore and longtime client Geico. For the latter, along with funny spots starring Dora the Explorer and the Kraken, the agency accomplished the remarkable feat of making pre-roll advertising totally watchable with the "Unstoppable" campaign, which nabbed the 2015 Cannes Lions Film Grand Prix.

Such highlights during the landmark anniversary year are bittersweet given the passing of the agency's creative soul, Mike Hughes, two years ago, but fortunately, he left the shop in the able hands of Chief Creative Office Joe Alexander. The 25-year industry vet has helped usher the Martin Agency into a new era of creativity, having overseen 2015's efforts and previous digital feats for the JFK Library, although he shies from taking ownership. "The CCO gets way too much credit for the actual work," he said. "I'm lucky to have a great staff. So that's what I'm trying to do -- recruit and retain the best talent. Everything else falls into place after that."

Ad Age: In your opinion, after 50 years, what does the Martin Agency represent today?

Joe Alexander: An agency that's just starting to realize our full potential to grow into an important global creative agency competing against the very best.

Ad Age: What's been the biggest challenge in terms of filling Mike's shoes?

Mr. Alexander: Well, it would be impossible to try to fill Mike's shoes. They were size 14. Seriously, Mike was a storyteller. He loved words. And so we were a strong copywriter's shop for the bulk of Mike's tenure, and that served us well as we did mostly TV and print. Now we do so much more, obviously. Design has become a huge part of our capability across everything we touch. When we take that storytelling and marry it with UX design or motion graphics or packaging, we make something special.

Ad Age: Where do you see the agency going in the next 50 years? What do you think its biggest challenge will be?

Mr. Alexander: Our ambition is to grow a robust global agency, serving brands on every continent. Our challenge will be to do that without losing our very unique culture. We call it "good and tough." Good to each other, tough on the work.

Ad Age: What's your definition of creativity?

Mr. Alexander: Doing something that scares the crap out of you, in a good way. That's when you know you have a big idea.

Ad Age: What's the most important lesson you've learned in terms of fostering creativity and success with your team?

Mr. Alexander: Keep a gentle hand on the rudder. Let your leaders lead and be there to help when they ask.

Ad Age: What are you most inspired by?

Mr. Alexander: The people at the agency. The hard work they put into everything is astonishing, The talent they show every day just blows me away. That gets me up in the morning to make sure they have everything they need to succeed.

Ad Age: What's been your favorite work of your career? Of the past year?

Mr. Alexander: My favorite body of work in my personal career is for the JFK Library. From the early print to and, I hope the work has lived up to his great legacy. This year, the Geico "Unskippable" campaign—great disruption but even better execution.

Ad Age: What's been the biggest challenge of your career? What did you learn from it?

Mr. Alexander: Learning to be vulnerable. For many years, I tried to be perfect, above reproach. Taking on this job changed that. It can be humbling. Now I know there is strength in being who you are, warts and all.

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