Daily papers have struggled mightily to preserve revenues and relevance in these go-go, fragmented media days, and the hell of it is, not even a storied news leader is assured a place on the media menu of the new guard. Enter a self-described nerd from Kansas who showed papers the way online, made local news cool and made everyone in the news game, right up to the The Washington Post's Ben Bradlee himself, take notice. A lifelong news fan, Curley began his career as a reporter, later becoming new media director at the Topeka Capital-Journal. Later, at the Lawrence Journal-World, he gained acclaim for bringing the paper to life online and building a community around engaging and useful web features. His strategy: go "hyper-local"—provide the quickest, deepest most relevant information to your local audience; encourage a dialogue; be useful—across as many media platforms as possible. Curley recently helped launch WPNI's "OnBeing," a site featuring short video glimpses into the lives of all sorts of people, with other stuff in the pipeline including Curley's take on "what a huge hyper-local community site looks like when your local newspaper is The Washington Post."
Tony Davidson and Kim Papworth,Executive Creative Directors, Wieden + Kennedy/London
Davidson is the first to confess that he and longtime partner Papworth are slow—they like to take their time when it comes to the creative process. But that didn't stop the duo, who've been together more than 20 years, from landing Wieden + Kennedy/London three prime accounts in 2006—Lurpak, Cravendale and The Guardian—while producing stellar work for Honda and Nike and sliding in a small campaign for Orange Romania. Honda's technology side became "More Forwards, Please" in a campaign featuring spokesrobot Asimo, who gets in touch with humanity touring Berlin's museums in a Peter Thwaites-directed spot, and whose "first steps" are documented online. Those, as well as a campaign to build interest in Honda's Formula One ventures with video podcasts, round out the agency's strong heritage with the brand, comprised of marvels like "Cog," "Choir" and "Impossible Dream." Elsewhere, a controversial poster for Nike featured English footballer Wayne Rooney in a bloody crucifixion pose as "St. Wayne," which had religious groups up in arms, and the latest edition of Nike's "Run London" pitted North and South against each other. Wieden even managed to get a bite of Orange after managing director Neil Christie spun an impassioned speech after a technical failure, pitching without audiovisual support to a 50-strong Orange contingent alongside TBWA's Jean-Marie Dru and WPP's Martin Sorrell. Orange Romania, impressed by Christie's belief in the agency, awarded Wieden its business, and although a Europe-wide consolidation at the end of 2006 led to the client and shop's eventual split, the agency created notable poster work and TV spots, directed by Nicolai Fuglsig, PES and Smith & Foulkes.
Davidson on his approach to the business: "Kim and I grew out of more traditional agencies, but we were the ones who were always like, 'Why does it have to be an ad?' I'm trying to make Wieden/London an ideas hub."
Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, Directors
Partners on-set and off, the creative chemistry between husband-and-wife directing team Dayton and Faris first came to a feverish boil in the '80s at MTV, where the pair shot programs and promos before earning acclaim for their groundbreaking clips for Smashing Pumpkins, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, REM and more. In commercials, they boast equally prominent stature, having directed an award-winning body of spots for the likes of Snapple, PS2 and VW, including one of the industry's most beloved commercials of all time, Volkswagen's "Milky Way," featuring the serene, stargazing roadtrip of four kids in a Cabriolet, accompanied by the soft serenade of the late Nick Drake's "Pink Moon." This year, Dayton and Faris cemented their status as powerful storytellers on the little indie that could, Little Miss Sunshine, the Sundance darling that sold to Fox Searchlight for a record $10.5 million—the highest of any movie in the festival's history—before pulling in $83 million at the box office and all kinds of recognition from the film community: a DGA nomination; the top honor at the Producers Guild of America Awards; the ensemble award from SAG; as well as an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. When they haven't been promoting the film, the duo, repped by Bob Industries, has toggled between advertising and film projects—they went on to shoot superb spots for HP's "The Computer is Personal Again" campaign and the hilarious Old Spice "Painted Experience" while working on a new screenplay with Tom Perrotta, the author/screenwriter of Election and Little Children.
Faris on holding out for the right project: "A big part of who you are as a director is what you choose to do. If you choose to do something you're lukewarm about, I think that's the wrong way to go. You have to find something that you think is hilarious, or is exactly right for you. I don't know any other way of working."
David Droga, Founder/Creative Chairman, Droga5
With its very first project, David Droga's ominously named agency Droga5 scored an internet sensation, along with the Cannes Grand Prix and two Media Lions into the bargain. Marc Ecko's "Still Free," the sly video that seemed to depict a hooded man tagging Air Force One, became a mainstream media moment and a creative touchstone in the ad world, all of which is enough to earn a high-achieving creative a place on this list. But Ecko is only part of the reason the internationally known former Publicis Worldwide creative director remains one of the industry's most interesting players. Droga transitioned from top agency creative director to brand creativity pioneer, building an agency that aims to bring ideas to marketers including but not limited to communications. It's a multidiscipline group from inside and outside the ad world, including: former Publicis CD Duncan Marshall; magazine editor Andrew Essex; Devrin Carlson-Smith, from Microsoft; Kim Howitt, formerly of Nickelodeon.com; and a growing array of producers, designers and interactive types. The 30-plus person shop, just a year old this month, has won accounts such as TracFone, the country's largest prepaid phone outfit, for which Droga5 will oversee everything from packaging to ads, and the Australian brewer Lion Nathan, which is set to launch its Steinlager brand in the U.S. D5 has also set a giving-back precedent with its Tap Project in support of the U.N.'s World Water Day (TapProject.org). But maybe most significantly, Droga has also been busy building the ultimate brand-based online content hub, set to launch this spring. On how the industry needs to change: "I don't think marketers have enough awareness about how important and big their brands are. The biggest challenge for agencies is getting brands to have faith in their own appeal. They can use that and create their own momentum instead of piggybacking on something else. That's a step change in our industry; that's what we're trying to tap into."
Jim Farley, Group VP-Marketing/ Corporate Officer, Toyota
"As business people, we're not creative by nature," Jim Farley told Creativity last year. "I'm not a creative person." Contrary to what he thinks, we believe that Farley has all kinds of creative juice flowing through his veins, having had the insight—and the guts— to reconfigure Toyota's marketing approach and "invert the pyramid," as he calls it, by tapping specialists to tailor-fit brand messages to various target demos. Farley, who happens to bear a slight facial and vocal resemblance to his late cousin Chris, the comedian, has been known, like his cousin, to make a lot of noise wherever he goes. When he was at the helm of Scion, he helped to put the experimental Toyota baby on the map with San Francisco's Attik, assembling a panoply of underground talent from the design and art worlds to create a marketing campaign that truly talked to and talked like the kids it wanted behind its wheels. Since then, Farley who now oversees all of Toyota's marketing, over the last year has plotted a similar "dream team" strategy on the brand's biggest launch yet, for the newly redesigned Toyota Tundra. With longtime agency of record Saatchi at the wheel, Farley has assembled a troop of local specialty shops with proven track records in addressing the Tundra's conquest demographic to execute an all-out marketing and advertising effort. And if the strategy pays off again, Toyota just might overtake G.M. to become the biggest car manufacturer in the U.S.
Ze Frank, Web Designer/Creative Entrepreneur, Zefrank.com
These heady days of Web 2.0 have broadened the playing field and the possibilities for the self-made celebrity. The poster child of this phenomenon may very well be Brooklyn-based Ze Frank. A former art director at Dennis Interactive, Frank has built a loyal audience that flocks to his website ZeFrank.com for games, interactivity and, especially, "The Show"—a daily video dispatch that he started last March, where he vowed to post a new episode every weekday for a year. Each show consists of Frank talking about everything from news headlines to ideas about which foods are best to put one's fingers in. Between the quick-cut editing, Frank's rapid-fire delivery and the sheer amount of funny he brings on a daily basis, each show attracts an audience of about 25,000. This in and of itself would be impressive, but the truly creative aspect of Frank's show is how much he involves the audience in its creation. In June, The New York Times wrote about the wiki-style page Frank set up so his audience could write the comedy script he would follow for a day dubbed "Fabuloso Friday." Add to that the various video compilations he encourages his viewers to build and photo projects such as the viewer collection of dressed-up vacuum cleaners, and it's clear Frank sees endless possibilities for collaborative online fun. Last September, Frank signed with United Talent Agency, which led to meetings with studio honchos from DreamWorks, Warner Bros. and Fox. We're not sure what offline entertainment Frank has in store for us, but given his 2006 track record, we'll be watching.
Matt Freeman, Chief Creative Officer, Tribal DDB
Ironically, the growth of Tribal DDB's already strong interactive reputation last year can largely be attributed to shaving—the kind that took place on the acclaimed "Shave Everywhere" website, created by the agency network's N.Y. office on behalf of Philips. The ballsy effort, which starred the unabashedly candid Bodygroom Guy, was emblematic of Tribal's willingness to push the boundaries of digital marketing, in terms of both form and content. This is thanks to CCO Matt Freeman's continued focus on establishing specialized units of expertise throughout the Tribal network, resulting in the creation of what the shop calls "Centers of Excellence" in areas like mobile, interactive TV, gaming and, most recently, search & media. Last year also saw global growth, as Freeman tapped former Tribal DDB/Australia MD Adam Good to spearhead the agency's expansion into Asia. By the end of the year, Tribal outposts in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Korea were open, with a Singapore office on the horizon.
On 2006: "In years past, a handful of offices delivered the bulk of the brilliance, but I think we really hit a groove globally last year. We had award-winning work from almost every one of our 36 offices in 21 countries."
Janus Friis and Niklas Zennström, Founders, Joost
Already peerless when it came to the creation of crowd-pleasing peer-to-peer applications like the file-sharing network Kazaa and the internet voice service Skype, digital pioneers Janus Friis and Niklas Zennström took major strides toward unveiling their next piece of technical wizardry in October 2006, when they announced plans to revolutionize interactive TV with the ambiguously named The Venice Project. Befitting the pattern established by the similarly unusually named Kazaa and Skype, the project's official moniker has since been changed to the far more unusual Joost (as in juiced), and beta testing for the software began in December with an eye toward a full launch later in 2007. Designed to turn any PC or laptop into an on-demand television without the hassle of additional equipment, Joost promises to blend the freedom of on-demand TV with the social networking capabilities of YouTube, creating a channel-surfing experience that puts the viewer in complete control. Given the visionary duo's track record, there's no reason to doubt their ability to deliver on that promise. In the meantime, their company is busily brokering strategic content partnership deals to build up the service's eventual video library, most recently forming a timely pact with Viacom right after the latter's falling out with potential Joost rival YouTube, where Viacom's copyrighted clips are being removed.
Steve Gandolfi, Editor
Consider the quiet one-take hilarity of John West's "Salmon," the more uncomfortable banter-driven moments of its "Babies" spot, or the respective forewards-and-backwards timewarps of Xbox's "Champagne" and Guinness "Noitulove." We've been privy to a wealth of satisfying stories via the hands of yes, Daniel Kleinman, the director, but let's not overlook the perhaps less visible hero, editor Gandolfi. Long before he opened Cut + Run in 1997, Gandolfi had been bringing the finest editing moves to subtle comedies, visual spectacles and heart-thumping actioners, all while mentoring a new guard of talents. Last year proved to be one of his most creatively fertile yet, thanks to the Cannes Grand Prix-winning "Noitulove," laffers for PG Tips, and the impossible-looking "Impossible Field," for adidas.
On his definition of creativity: "The ability to create emotion and feelings. And standing behind Paul Weiland, next to John Lloyd and, last but not least, next to Danny Kleinman. Part of creativity is standing on other people's shoulders. I'm not a great editor. I just know who to surround myself with."
Michel Gondry, Director
Like a few others on this list, Gondry could have pretty much cruised in '06 and one would be hard- pressed not to include his name here. It still seems like every 10th commercial or video or movie is directly or indirectly influenced by some visual innovation Gondry unleashed in his 20-odd years in film. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a 2004 collaboration with writer Charlie Kaufman, was a triumph by any measure—a visual wonder with a romantic heart that rounded out Gondry's domination of every film arena. But, unsurprisingly, Gondry didn't sit still in 2006. The year saw the release of The Science of Sleep, the first major feature he wrote as well as directed. The film is a mixed- media tour of the director's part rocket scientist, part 12-year-old kid, part wounded-but-committed romantic imagination. Based around the strange but adorable Stéphane (played by Gael Garcia Bernal), a character whose dreams and waking life become indistinguishable, Science serves up an endless stream of eye-popping dreamscapes while injecting wit and wonder into real life. After the release of the film, the Deitch Projects Gallery in New York staged The Science of Sleep: An Exhibition of Sculpture and Creepy Pathological Little Gifts, featuring elements from the film. Gondry also got back to his musical roots, directing Block Party, the Dave Chappelle documentary based on the comic's A-list hip-hop gathering in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. Gondry's next, perhaps biggest feature, Be Kind Rewind, will see him partner with Jack Black in recreating Hollywood's biggest blockbusters from scratch. Gondry also returned, in a way, to the commercials fold at the end of last year, signing on to star in the next round of Goodby's "The Computer is Personal Again" campaign, in a spot directed by his brother, Olivier, set to debut later this year. In the midst of it all, the untiring talent had enough juice to create a YouTube moment, with a video in which he magically solved a Rubik's Cube (or did he?) with his feet. And, in a follow-up piece, he repeated the trick—with his nose.