Photos: Don Lupo Photography
How did you get started in advertising? What's been your career road map?
When I was seven years old, I visited my Uncle’s post-production studio. I was fascinated by how commercials were put together - all the tools and tricks that went into creating an ad. I wanted to use those tools to tell stories, which led me to my initial career as a copywriter. While working at BBDO, I taught a series of courses in creativity at The Portfolio Center and came to realize that while I was a good creative, I wasn’t a great one. What I was great at was brand and creative strategy. So I left copywriting and enrolled in the Masters of Integrated of Marketing Communication program at the University of Colorado in Boulder. When I graduated, Joe Phelps hired me to be a mid-level account guy. Over the last 18 years I’ve pitched and led accounts, and led the agency through a succession of roles – first as chief operating officer, then president and now CEO.
What keeps you motivated? Do you have a personal motto?
I’m on a quest. And have been for a most of my career. There just has to be a better way for companies to interact with customers. When two people have a conversation, everything is relatively straightforward. The conversation flows both ways. People talk. People listen. The conversation progresses and benefits both sides. But when a company tries to communicate as one entity, it’s a train wreck. Listening seems to be optional (or at least intermittent) and speaking only seems to clumsily advance the brand’s interests. So I wake up every day, knowing deep down inside that this can be fixed. It’s a big problem that clearly can’t be solved overnight. But I think we, as an industry, can do it to the benefit of everyone involved.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned so far?
Customers are people. It sounds simple, but so many things our industry does completely ignore the fact that on the other end of our communications isn’t a “target” but an individual human being – a protagonist in their own narrative filled with pains, joys, drama and desires. We ignore that at our own peril.
What excites you most about this industry?
Thanks to technology, we’re entering an era where marketing can serve people, and we can establish authentic, equitable relationships between people and brands. As we continue to get more information about people, we come to understand how communications can support rather than interrupt their lives.
Where is advertising heading? What do the next five years look like?
We’re on the road to either distinction or extinction, depending on the struggle between convenience and quality and how we use data as a result. If quality wins, advertising will become more relevant to people than ever, because we’ll mine data to understand individual needs and create brand conversations with meaning and utility. If convenience wins, we will become little more than technicians shoveling data around, helping our clients stalk prospects with no regard for what they want.
Why are you involved with ThinkLA?
Our business is so competitive. We’re constantly trying to edge each other out of the way so that we can win (or retain) clients. We need to remember that we’re also a community. It’s important and rewarding to take a moment every once in a while to enjoy each other’s company (and war stories) and help each other overcome shared challenges. Also, who doesn’t love AdJam?
What advice do you have for those just starting in advertising?
Learn the software. Learn to code. But don’t stop there. Learn to speak. Learn to write. Learn about people, particularly what cements our shared humanity. And learn about yourself. You’ll need all of those skills to succeed.
Any closing thoughts?
The ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus said something advertising needs to live by if we’re to earn a meaningful place in the emerging world: “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.