Three Takeaways: Transformation 2013


Last week the 4A’s hosted their annual Transformation Conference. It was a well-produced affair at the Hyatt Regency in New Orleans. Mayor Mitch Landrieu gave a keynote and musical entertainment included the legendary Irma Thomas.

The conference started with an agency forum on Sunday, limited to 4A’s members, which thankfully includes my agency. While the speakers and panels Monday through Wednesday were more general, Sunday contained more hard-hitting case studies for agencies leaders.

The morning sessions Sunday featured presentations by kbs+, Barkley, Juel and Brunner. Really enjoyed it. Also had some great conversations with Tracy Wong and Pat Doody from WDCW, Greg Johnson from BooneOakley, and Jerry McGee from the 4A’s in LA.

I’ll share the most resounding takeaways in following posts.


My dream job: An interview with KMBA

A few years ago I did an interview with my friend and colleague Craig Brimm for his award-winning blog, Kiss My Black Ads.  Evidence below. See the whole thing here.

How did you discover advertising?

I graduated from design school in the late eighties. There were a few avenues for work — graphic design, illustration and advertising. I dabbled in all of them. The more I learned about advertising and the more time I spent in ad agencies, the more fascinated I became. I loved the combinations of words, pictures, sound, music and film. And I liked the people — they were sort of misfits, which seemed like a good match. I freelanced and worked on staff at a few agencies, and realized I wasn’t trained for the conceptual thinking required for truly great work. And the places that would hire me couldn’t teach me how to be as good as I wanted.Someone turned me on to The One Show (1987 Annual). It was an incredible turning point. The book was full of the kind of work I wanted to do — that seemed a little beyond my grasp. So I dropped everything and enrolled in Portfolio Center, at which point my career really began.

What aspect of your work do you really love?

I love the window into different industries and different audiences that comes with each campaign assignment.

But my favorite thing is recruiting. One of my first creative directors, Bill Westbrook, once said in an interview, “My most important job is recruiting. If I recruit great people, great advertising will result.”

Bringing interesting, talented people into a nurturing environment is a joy. And given the advertising industry’s continued lack of diversity, it’s nice to be part of the future rather than the old paths of least resistance.

What’s the most challenging part of what you do?

Getting the work just right is still the hardest and most important thing. But at this stage in my career, cultivating other creative leaders is critical. It’s also daunting.

People who can not only create great ideas, but also inspire enthusiasm for them — within the agency and with clients — are the ones I count on every day. And we’ve got some brilliant people here who do that.

ECDs can actually restrict the creative work and the process — without even knowing it. It’s more important for me to be a cheerleader for the great ideas rather than telling people why the other ones are mediocre.

I try to follow what David Kennedy said years ago: “Our secret has been to hire people better than we are and to get the hell out of their way.”

What’s your dream job?

I have to say, this is it.

Every day I show up to see fabulous ideas and great finished pieces. We’ve got two offices full of talented, gracious people. If I did anything else, it would just be trying to do the same thing we’re doing here now.

Also, I work with four other partners I trust and respect, in an independent company.

A lot of folks in our business put profit and glory first, and then wonder why they end up mired in politics and compromise. If you stick to what you believe in, with people you believe in, everything else will take care of itself.

Any advice for neophytes?

Don’t worry about being “creative.” Focus on simple, human truths.


Long live the fragile.

As my old friend Tripp Westbrook has said, I wish I’d known how fragile great ideas really are.Photo © Toby Pederson

It’s pretty amazing how an invisible acknowledgement can gift lift and life to a creative notion. And an equally fleeting and gentle dismissal can banish it forever.

Most of us will dismiss a good idea rather than risk failure or embarrassment. Most of us, when faced with criticism or obstacles will cave, even though we tell ourselves we’re “fighting for good work.”

Because ideas are fragile, creative professionals need to be tough. To withstand criticism, to defend ideas, to navigate impossible timelines or unrealistic budgets.

I try to remember that if every situation was perfect, there’d be no challenge. And there’d be no excuses. Great minds navigate obstacles and use them to be better than they would have otherwise.

Some of the world’s greatest creations happened in spite of, if not due to, total debacles and melt-downs. More on that later.

Ruthless Creativity is about capitalizing on the opportunities and confronting the obstacles — within our minds, offices and studios — head on, before pointing fingers at clients, editors, deadlines or budgets.

Get going. Your delicate ideas need you.

Ericka Herod, Sam Bonds and Shan Sigers created this poster as a reminder to everyone at our agency.

Ericka Herod, Sam Bonds and Shan Sigers created this poster as a reminder to everyone at our agency.