Been there, doing that!

In 2001, I became Chief Creative Office of an agency within Leo Burnett, which we called LBWorks. Our emphasis was on B2B and technology clients. At the time I had trepidations about leaving the world of consumer advertising for the new and intimidating frontiers of high tech marketing. I worried that I wouldn’t understand the client’s businesses let alone their communications. But I had been part of Burnett’s new business machine in the late 90’s and pitched a bunch of dot coms. Therefore, willing or not, I was the right guy for helping my famous agency build out their B2B and technology capabilities.

My biggest fear, however, was about doing good work in a space dominated by technical jargon and business cliché’s. Selfishly, I was afraid of becoming irrelevant, especially in the context of my consumer-focused advertising peers.

Vintage swag from LBWorks…

I soon discovered most of my fears unfounded. To this day, what we accomplished at LBWorks remains among my proudest achievements, surpassing even that of helping create the “Curiously Strong Mints” campaign for Altoids. For all its potential creative limitations, working with truly contemporary clients was a rush, and is one that still has not abated.

Currently, I am the Executive Creative director at gyro (the “g” is small) in San Francisco. Here, we specialize in technology clients that market to information architects, developers and CIO’s, most of them in Silicon Valley.


Just last week my job took me to Cisco’s sprawling campus in San Jose, where we showed them a new campaign. In the last year I’ve visited Twitter, Google, PayPal and CA technologies (formerly Computer Associates). Those are pretty big names. I’ve also created and presented work to myriad smaller but no less interesting companies like Cloudera and Turn. These businesses merchandise in Big Data, the Cloud, software and algorithmic solutions.

Gyro’s vision is to create marketing for these future forward companies free from engineering-speak and tired tropes; to do work that, as we like to say, is more “humanly relevant.” It’s not an easy sell but it is possible. Moreover, it is becoming deeply necessary. The world has feverishly embraced technology. It is no longer just scientists talking to engineers. People at these companies are people we know. They need to be marketed to as such. At gyro, we feel we are ahead of the curve.

Or you can sell this crap…

it’s amusing (though not surprising) how many of my peers still consider consumer advertising the zenith. The companies I work for are changing the world. Right here. Right now. Consumer products like fast food, cars and packaged goods haven’t changed much in a century. If anything, they are old-fashioned, even out of touch with our changing world. I’m not denying that it’s easier to do great work for many of these clients. But they are hardly the end-all-be-all when it comes to relevance. In some respects, they are anything but.

Altoids, circa 1997

I wrote the above copy for Altoids in 1997. A year or so before, Mark Faulkner (art director) and I created the “Curiously Strong Mints” campaign for Altoids. The two of us would run this creatively driven account for about 7 years, producing myriad posters, print, ambient and digital pieces.

The campaign exploded into popular culture. Sales boomed. Within a couple years, Altoids became the number one selling mint in North America. Later, in a parlay with Life Savers candy, Kraft sold the brand to Wrigley for over 1.5 billion dollars. Pretty sweet, especially for a confection that wallowed in obscurity for over a century.

Those ads were game changers: for the client, for the agency, and thankfully for yours truly. Mark and I (plus a growing and talented team) would go on to win tons of creative awards for our work, including, in 1997, the $100,000 Grand Kelly Award for best print campaign in North America. Which, fortuitously, brings us back to the above execution: “Makes Other Mints Feel Inadequate.”

Imagine my surprise discovering it in the latest issue of People magazine! Holy crap. After all these years and all that history, they’re rerunning our ad. The headline. The typography. The color scheme. Save for a different (and in my opinion) crappier looking tin, it’s the same exact ad.

I’m baaaaaack… as seen in People, May 2013

Big deal? Well, sort of. For whatever reasons, rerunning old advertising is unprecedented. Creative has a super short lifespan. Like cicadas, campaigns appear, create buzz, and then die. Precious few last longer than their first flight. Once gone, even the most successful ad campaigns stay that way. Yes, taglines or other assets get resurrected all the time. But never the ad itself.

Until this one.

What can I say? Of course I’m flattered. But seeing my ad after all these years is also discombobulating. Like running into your ex and her new beau. Altoids was and is so personal to me. I still remember pitching the above headline to my client. In fact, I recall telling them Altoids’ smart and cynical audience would appreciate a quirky word like “inadequate.” The subtle innuendo was highly intended. (As the brand grew, its widening audience would appreciate much sillier copy. But my favorite pieces always remained true to that “smart and cynical” core.)

So, having perhaps lost its way, is Altoids’ advertising returning to its base? Literally. Look, I don’t blame agency and client for rerunning our copy. There’s a whole new generation of “smart and cynical” out there. It’ll be new to them.

Special note: I discovered a website devoted entirely to Altoids advertising. In it, you’ll find “Inadequate” along with all the others, far as I can tell, pretty much in the order we produced them. I have no idea who hosts this site or why. Pretty cool, though.

The new CMO of Target, I knew him when…

Before Jeff Jones became the new CMO at Target, before he was the President of McKinney and before he was CMO at Gap, Mr. Jones was my partner in creating and running a stunning little shop inside Leo Burnett called LBWorks. When I saw the news of Jeff’s latest illustrious appointment I couldn’t help remembering those halcyon days in both our careers.

Long story short, Jeff was the guy who convinced me to take on a struggling B2B/technology company at Leo Burnett called TFA. I don’t recall the full name of the company but we later joked it was Totally F**king Awful. Like everyone else in Adland, Burnett was trying to shore up its creds in the B2B and technology space. TFA had been an acquisition toward that goal. And it was failing.

Previously, I’d been looking for something more to do inside the company… Don’t get me wrong. Running a creative group built around the Altoids campaign was probably the best job in advertising. My creative partner (the brilliant Mark Faulkner) and I were in a really great place. But I hungered for a new challenge. And it came to me in the form of a baby-faced account man, barely 30 years old, named Jeffrey Jones III.

I’m not blowing smoke when I say Jeff was the main reason I took the job. He was deeply persuasive, in an earnest sort of way. When he told me we could fix TFA, I knew in my bones he wasn’t bullshitting. When he told me B2B could be just as awesome as consumer advertising, I believed him. The trade press would question my appointment as this new entity’s Chief Creative Officer but, buoyed by his confidence, my own doubts were short lived.

We fashioned the agency as a mash-up of “old school and new tools” called LBWorks. In a marathon session, I wrote the credentials for our company, populating my office wall with text and propaganda. Jeff was cool with all of it, and my cluttered walls literally became the pages of our website.

Old School. New Tools.

LBWorks took off and became a bright, shiny thing at Leo Burnett. We breathed life into TFA’s few remaining clients and won a bunch of new ones…big ones. Soon, a handful of tortured souls became a robust group nearing one hundred. As LBWorks President & CEO, Jones was a straight shooter, always upbeat and dynamite in a meeting. The perfect straight man, we killed together.

LBWorks was magical, in some respects surpassing Altoids as the thing I’m most proud of. I believe Mark would tell you the same thing. I suppose we brought something to the table but make no mistake there would be no table without Jeff Jones.

And now Target. Wow. Dude. That’s a seriously big job with big shoes to fill. Michael Francis was a rock star. But now it’s your turn in the spot light and I’ve no doubt you’ll shine. You always have.

The King and I -A command performance!

I am thrilled to report that my good friend and former colleague, Jamie King is now part of our operation in Chicago. He will be Co-President with Joy Schwartz. Both are highly capable and well-matched. The move raises the standard and the bar at Euro RSCG Chicago. I look forward to seeing what they (and we) can do together.

Jamie and I go back almost 10 years, where along with Jeff Jones, we built and ran an agency called LBWorks at Leo Burnett.

For the full story (and some of the scintillating back story) please read Jeremy Mullman’s exclusive story (from AdAge):

King joins me and Euro RSCG!

My business partner, Ron Bess has an interesting theory about our business. He posited that agencies, in order to flourish, must now evolve every six to eight months.

For example agency X is an advertising/design boutique in the 1st quarter. A new client demands expertise in promotion and by the 4th quarter the shop is touting it’s promotional capabilities in its credentials. After all, they now have a case study, fresh and robust. Perhaps two or three new employees, versed in promotion, have been hired. The home office in New York now regards the shop as its promotional arm and, voila, agency X is reborn. While this is a gross over-simplification of Ron’s notion, it is accurate. Agencies evolve. Rapidly. Often the new entity is very different from the one that preceded it. A byproduct of “integration” or is there more to it?

Leo Burnett supported the development of LBWorks (my previous agency) in order to service B2B and technology clients. There was a glaring need for specialists in these areas and we got after it. That said I remember being scared at the prospect of leading the agency’s creative department. I had no issue with technology but B2B? Wasn’t that just code for trade ads? And weren’t trade ads the providence of advertising’s minor leagues? I was terrified about writing technical copy (“integrated data-based solutions”) and making photographs featuring suited white men shaking hands in airports.

Happily, my paranoia was unfounded. When I realized B2B meant big time businesses advertising to other big time businesses, I felt like I’d discovered the golden goose. Some of the best ads (and other marketing communications) were being done on behalf of such interests. Not only would big ideas be required they were essential. My “creativity” would not be compromised. Frankly, if I were to succeed, it would need to be emphasized. Sure enough, the accounts we pulled in were no less sexy than the blue-chippers at Leo Burnett.

Within a year LBWorks became an advertising agency, filled with specialists in technology and white-collar enterprise.

At my current agency, per Ron’s observation, we’ve adjusted our mission to client need and marketplace gravity. Our offering is plural and getting more so. It’s exciting, a bit nerve wracking, yet essential. With consultants and clients emphasizing specific marketing services during the RFI process, we are perpetually customizing our credentials. I think a lot of agencies are. Or they’d better be.

In the end it’s all about ideas but MGMT obsesses about mission statements and the like. “Who are we?” we are always asking ourselves. What if we are something new and different every year? Why not just own that?