Let’s try a little experiment, shall we? We heard from our contacts that Victors & Spoils, which has been much chattier over the past few months, brought on CP+B alum (surprised?) Noah Clark (yep, that’s him above) as a creative director not too long ago. Instead of doing things the usual way and just doing a separate post about a new hire, V&S suggested that why doesn’t the shop’s CCO, Evan Fry, just interview him and reveal more than you ever probably care to know about the V&S CD.
It’s something we usually don’t do in AS land and we’re sure Fry is no Edward R. Murrow. But what the hell, we’ll give it a shot and it could provide more insight into this crowdsourcing agency that basically kept schtum for some time and is actually building up an in-house staff.
Thankfully, it’s not quiiiite the self-congratulating, mutual admiration society that we were initially afraid of when pitched this (though they do push it at times). You can read the full Q+A after the jump if you have some stamina/patience.
Can you give us a rundown of your career story prior to Victors & Spoils?
Well, I’ve been fortunate. Fortunate to have a career at all and fortunate to have been taken under the wing of some truly talented people without having to jump around a bunch. I was at Ground Zero for nearly seven years before moving to Boulder. I was a lifer there so that place will always hold a special place in my heart as will Court Crandall who was/is the best mentor a young creative could have. I lucked out, plain and simple. I walked into his agency without a clue about how advertising works and nothing but some nudey sketches from my life drawing courses in college in my portfolio. But he took a shot and hired me on as his assistant despite the blonde highlights and puka shells I was rocking at the time.
Once on board, I was a sponge, trying to learn from anyone and everyone that would give me the time of day. I thought I wanted to be a writer because I didn’t know a thing about Photoshop or Quark or any of that stuff. But after shadowing some of the art directors in the building around the light box all day, I found my calling. After GZ I packed up the Tacoma, moved here and took a job at Crispin Porter + Bogusky. Those guys were super kind to me. I learned a lot about myself as both a creative and as a person at Crispin. And now V&S. Oh, and prior to all that I was a waiter and barback for about ten years–which is a job I actually kept at night while I working at Ground Zero. And I was the Easter Bunny in high school once.
Mmmmm, bunnies. And what about before the paying gigs? Werenâ€™t you an illustrator in school?
Yeah, I was an illustration major. At USC. Go Trojans. Anyway, sore subject there…For as long as I can remember, all I ever wanted to do with myself was to become a character animator for Walt Disney. That’s it. If you’re ever traveling through the great city of Dallas, Oregon and want to swing by my parent’s house, I’m sure my mom would be more than happy to give you a guided tour through my file cabinet of drawings. I used to watch Disney movies over and over, pause them, draw what was on screen, and then keep going.
That was the ultimate goal, to be animator. My friends sent fan mail to baseball players and sports heroes. I sent letters to my favorite animators at Disney. So I went to college with an illustration emphasis and animation minor. But at some point during my freshman year Toy Story came out, which almost single-handedly shuttered the traditional animation studios at Disney and ushered in the computer animation era. I was crushed. The purist in me revolted against animation altogether because my career plans never involved pushing pixels around a computer monitor. I hated the computer stuff. So I sorta ditched the animation thing and started nosing around the journalism school. I took an intro to advertising class and thought it might be a suitable plan B as it would still give me an opportunity to be creative and expressive. But the school didn’t have anything remotely similar to a book-building class so I graduated basically with the skillset of an account person.
In fact, that’s what I was when I interned at Deutsch in LA many years ago and I nearly took an account coordinator job at RPA when I graduated. As for the animation stuff, I kick myself. Because I love everything that Pixar touches. They’re magicians, those guys. Plus Pixar and Disney are essentially the same company now. And as fate would have it, here I am, pushing pixels around a screen after all.
Wow. You were an account guy first. I love that. Maybe every creative should be required to go that route… Ok, enough about account service. Back to fun things. Disney or Pixar?
Disney. Although Pixar has put out more fresh and beautiful storytelling than anyone on the planet the last decade, I will always put traditional, hand-drawn Disney animation on a pedestal. I just don’t think people appreciate the level of work and craftsmanship that went into each one of those films in a pre-computer era. I mean it was basically nine guys in a room in 1937 drawing each character in Snow White frame by frame. Then they handed off their sketches to someone who would trace each drawing with ink, frame by frame onto a cell. And then to someone else who would hand-paint each cell. And so on.
I mean, it’s mind-blowing. Disney was just such a huge part of my childhood. My buddies wanted to be fireman and astronauts and stuff. I wanted to make cartoons. That’s not gonna happen now, I realize, but my post-advertising plans do involve retiring to Disneyland and becoming a tour guide on the Jungle Cruise. I’d like nothing more than to be 60-something years old and shooting animatronic hippos with cap guns.
I could see that. In fact, I heard you were a tour guide at USC? True?
True. Starting my sophomore year I was one of the dudes that welcomed prospective students and their families to campus. I’d introduce myself, smile real big, drop a lot of dorky collegiate phrases and then spend 45 minutes walking backwards through campus giving them the hard sell. Sometimes I’d have groups as large as 50 people. They’d smile, listen, nod as I railed off canned school jokes in my shirt, tie and sweet Guest Relations badge. Parents hung on my every word. The kids just wanted to know where the campus bars were. I dug it though, man. I loved the idea that I could be responsible for making or breaking these kids decision to go to school there. I liked being on the soapbox. But if you asked my buddies, they’d say my sole responsibility as a campus tour guide was to scout the incoming class of freshman girls. They demanded a full report each night. It was good to know their priorities were in the right place.
What do you think of being a CD at Victors & Spoils?
It’s got its challenges and rewards, like any job. But to date, I think the latter firmly outweigh the former. What I love is the human element of it all, the insight into human behavior and tendencies. I mean, the crowd is a dynamic thing–full of vastly different people. That much is well documented. Different geographies, backgrounds, advertising experience, ages, talent levels, etc. To keep the process harmonious and efficient and moving toward a common goal can be taxing. But I dig it. Mainly, I think, because I’m such a people person. I like people. Observing them, talking with them, forging relationships with them. I think it’s why I liked being a waiter so much for all those years because a customer walks in the door and you don’t know jack about them. What their day was like, what they’re doing next, what their mindset is. General human baggage stuff. So you’ve got about 9 seconds to make that initial introduction and get your lay of land.
By the time I went to fetch their drink order, I’d already be formulating a plan of how best to approach that person for the remainder of our time together that would provide for the best mutual experience. So this crowdsourcing thing, for me, is a lot like that. Everyone has their own needs and you have so little time to figure out what they are without ever meeting them in person. I realize creative directors face similar challenges at traditional shops. But we’re talking about managing sometimes thousands of people at one time here. So I take pride in providing the best service possible. That might sound weird, but I figure they’re working their asses off for us, so I better work my ass off for them. Some of these creatives have never received an ounce of constructive feedback in their lives. So to provide that and to have them respond so positively is rewarding.
Yeah this crowdsourcing thing is so new that it’s still pretty ugly sometimes isn’t it?
For sure. But we’re figuring it out fast. The way that we at V&S are leveraging its principles is going to continue to work better and better I think. The biggest challenge is that it’s tough to creative direct a number of people who aren’t sitting in a room with you. From briefing a crowd to providing feedback to tightening the screws on an approved idea–sometimes its tough to accomplish remotely.
But I try to make it as personal as possible. Or as personal as our creatives want it to be. So phone calls, video conferencing, iChat, all that stuff comes into play. The other biggie is running a project when everyone is on different work schedules and sometimes, in very different time zones. We’ve got people who have full time jobs. We’ve got people on different continents. We’ve got people who work best in the morning. We’ve got people work best in the middle of the night. Sometimes people are working while I’m sleeping and vice versa. So you just gotta stay organized, know who you’re working with and be willing to provide as thorough feedback at 2am as you would at 2pm.
That personal touch is key, man. I’m super glad you do it. Cuz I hate people. Speaking of people, the V&S office space is killer for people-watching, isn’t it?
The best, man. The best. During business hours, the light hits our office in such a way that our windows become like two-way mirrors. It’s like watching Boulder from a focus group room sans the sparkling water and mixed nuts. On any given conference call we’ll see anything from wedgies being picked to women adjusting themselves in the mirror. They just don’t know that weâ€™re there until they cup their hands to the window and see us staring right back. It’s an “oh shit” moment that never gets old.
It’s my favorite part of V&S, I swear. OK, so tell the people a little bit about the DISH TV production. Any good stories?
Lots. But probably none suitable for print. I’ll just say that any time you spend late nights and long hours in a dark room full of VFX guys, itâ€™s bound to get a little weird. Same goes I suppose for a shoot that required us to hang two funny guys in hot-ass astronaut suits on wires for hours on end.
The actors playing Tom and Burnie were phenomenal and anyone who had his or her comtac turned on between takes was treated to comic gold. From a purely production standpoint, though, I can say that while this was a true pleasure to work on, I’ve never been so challenged as from an art director POV. I mean, who knew that Earth had so many different looks? We all think we know what it looks like from space, but once you really start pulling reference your head just starts spinning. How is the sun hitting it? How much cloud cover is there? Are the clouds wispy, puffy, hazy? What about landmasses? Do we see them? If so, what continents are we over? What season is it on Earth? Does the land reflect springtime green or summertime brown? How fast is the orbit in each shot? These are all questions that need to be answered. I dug it, donâ€™t get me wrong. But it was a little bit like playing God for stretches there.
Good. Because I’ve always wanted to ask God something: If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life what would it be?
Dodger Dogs with lots of ketchup, mustard and diced onions.
I’m so sorry for that last question, I really hate myself for asking it. Talk about your hair now. Go.
Will this interview be accompanied by a sweet black and white photo of me looking all art directory and broodish and serious about my craft? Maybe we let that do the talking. And if not, I’ll indulge you only by saying that applying product to dry hair, never wet, is the path to happiness.
Is it true that the men of Victors & Spoils have the best hair, per capita, of any advertising agency on the planet?
In terms of sheer concentration of good hair, sure, I’ll agree to that. But when you consider we only have six dudes in the office and one of those is a Golden Retriever, maybe we shouldn’t put a plaque on the door just yet. Itâ€™s almost like MLB stats. You gotta have a certain number of plate appearances before your batting average and home runs can be counted. So I think we either need a few more people or you or me need to grow a sweet Goodby-esque pony tail to be legit. And now I’ve officially spent far too much time talking about hair.
Who’s your favorite all-time ad guy?
I was always fond of Bob Barrie at Fallon when I started out–as much for his work as for his work ethic and refusal to take a title promotion. I remember seeing his Times work in all the annuals and then looking him up to read that he’d purposely held on to the simple art director title forever. Not “Senior” or “Associate” this or that or anything. Just art director. I thought that was kinda cool, especially in a business as ego-driven as ours. And on the writing side of things, I dig just about anything Jaime Barrett has ever done whether as creative or creative director. The dude has range.
What’s your favorite ad agency, all time?
Ah man, I dunno. I’ll get massacred for saying this maybe but I’ve really never been a very good student of advertising. I follow it because I’m in it but I really don’t follow it. Maybe that’s a product of not going to ad school. Hard to say. I’ve got a buddy who’s an extremely talented writer (Hello, Sean) who’s like the Rain Man of advertising.
He can tell you what agencies had what clients and won what awards for what spots in what years. I used to go to him with my ideas in the early days to see if they had “been done” before I even showed them to Court because he seemed to know everything. It was impressive. But that’s not answering the question. I guess for me, there are agencies out there that have good runs. Spurts of success. Three years here or five years there where they were on top of the world. That’s all good. But in terms of sheer longevity of success and relevance, I gotta tip my cap to Wieden. They’ve had down years like any agency, but damn if they haven’t been in the conversation more consistently than anyone.
If you could have dinner with one person, alive or dead, who would it… Sorry. Forget it. Thanks for letting me interview you.