Creative partnerships are very much like romantic relationships. You find someone who sees the world the same way you do; you feel that spark of connectedness; you start building something together; and you try to hold on through the inevitably bumpy ride, where deepening familiarity can either strengthen your bond or tear it apart.
How do you make a creative partnership work over the long haul, without veering off track into a messy divorce? Ten sets of creative partners told AdFreak their stories about how they stay passionate and productive—without wanting to murder each other.
Barton F. Graf 9000
The partners: Joey Ianno and Matty Smith, creative directors
Their background: They met in school at VCU and freelanced together at TBWA\Chiat\Day New York for a few months after. Eventually, they ended up together again at their first full-time posts at Barton in 2011, where they started out as copywriter and art director and worked their way up the ranks to become CDs.
From Matt: "Joey and I were lucky enough to start working at Barton on Valentine's Day in 2011. Gerry [Graf] is a romantic. We've had a successful partnership because we work at a shop that's small, smart and hungry. We work with some really talented and creative producers, strategists, account managers and creatives. That makes our jobs fun and helps keep our successful partnership alive. We're only as good as the people we get to work with. The most important key to a creative partnership is collaboration. Share everything with your partner, work on their ideas just like they were your own, and listen to each other. And never go to bed angry."
From Joey: "Matty and I started working together about five years ago. I planted an acorn that day knowing that the mighty oak that emerged from the tiny seedling would be the perfect representation of our creative bond. It never grew. Matty and I still get along well, though. Thanks, Miller Lite! For people just starting out in a creative partnership, I'd say start with Miller Lite and work to something stronger as needed. If you get to bottles of Night Train, get a new partner."
Deutsch North America
The partners: Chief digital officer Winston Binch and chief creative officer Pete Favat
Their background: While they've only been "married" for two years, Pete and Winston are inseparable both in creative practice and as people, and have decided to move in together (no, really). Their new shared office is underway as we speak.
How they keep the creativity fresh…
Winston: "We stuff our faces with culture and technology and try to laugh as much as possible. Levity matters. Great ideas arrive when you're having fun. We also channel our inner teen. It's important to live like your customer."
Pete: "Constantly experiment. We love to bring people with different skill sets in early. Start with the idea that 'No one cares what you have to say.' Push for original and shareable ideas. Get a powerful strategic direction. Solve for something. That's the starting point."
How they keep a creative partnership strong…
Winston: "We treat work like sports. We both played ice hockey growing up and treat one another like line mates. We play our positions, put the team's needs ahead of our own, play hard on every shift, lookout for one another, continually try to up our game, and make it fun."
Pete: "We are like two cops on a beat. Total trust in each other. We share one brain. We both want to shake up this business, so we strive for provocative ideas. We also created our own language that no one understands."
How they inspire each other…
Winston: "By acting like teenage girls."
Pete: "We're always joking around. Constantly sending weird shit to each other that's happening out in culture. We keep stuff loose—never let it get too serious. And know that the best ads aren't always ads."
Saatchi & Saatchi New York
The partners: Lauren McCrindle and Erin Wendel, creative directors
Their background: They've worked together for over 10 years in numerous roles.
Their words: "We were paired up on our second day at Humber College in Toronto. It was immediately clear that we were so much better when we worked together. It also turned out we lived a few blocks apart. So maybe we're just lazy. That was over 11 years, three countries and four cities ago. And we still live a few blocks apart. We should probably get out more.
Moving around the world with your creative partner/colleague/friend/nonromantic significant other makes it a million times easier and makes for a million random inside jokes and references. Describing your relationship to immigration officers and random dudes in foreign bars can make it super weird.
Having a good partner in this job is invaluable. They have this innate ability to put up with your bullshit and call you out on it at the same time. There's also something nice (and probably clinically codependent) about the fact that you've got backup no matter where you end up, from creative reviews to client meetings and marathon job interviews, countless sets, foreign countries, karaoke and that one time in Egypt. Let's just say it comes in handy more often than we'd like to admit."
Havas Worldwide New York
The partners: Jon Vall and Christian Beckett, creative directors
Their background: They've been creative partners for nine years.
Their words: "We got to know each other almost nine years ago when we worked together with Nike Football at AKQA in Amsterdam. We've been partners here in New York at Havas for about three years and counting. Three years of bliss working on Dos Equis, TD Ameritrade and basically all of Hershey's portfolio of brands.
We compliment each other incredibly well but are very different, so we discuss and argue a lot, but never, ever fight. Good ideas come from good, long, short, passionate, casual, weird conversations. Conversations that can be about and around anything and everything. To challenge, test and make every idea better than it was five minutes ago. Be blunt, honest and open with each other. We can talk about anything with each other. And we do. And ask questions! There aren't enough questions asked in this industry. Compliments never improved any project—but critique and questions have. So ask. A lot. And BJ's. Bad Jokes. We are connoisseurs of bad jokes. Humor has no boundaries. Nothing cannot be joked about, and it works particularly well here since we're basically the only ones who understand Swedish. Another superhero skill is that we can finish each other's sentences.
Work takes up a lot of your time, so make the most of it. Having fun is more fun than not having fun. Just remember that no one really likes advertising. It's a great starting point."
Anselmo Ramos, Fernando Musa and Gaston Bigio, creative partners and co-founders
They co-founded David in 2012. Each of them runs one of the three offices—Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires and Miami.
From Anselmo: "Musa and I met in college, and the first time we met, I knew that huge human being had potential that was just as big. But I could never imagine that one day we'd become Cannes Agency of the Year at Ogilvy & Mather Brazil, and then start David together. I think our relationship works because we were friends first, and then business partners.
Gaston appeared in our lives seven years ago, and the trio works because of balance. Musa and Gaston are incredibly passionate. They love and hate things with equal force, and I'm the calm one, trying to manage the two beasts on a daily basis. We fight a lot, but we also have lots of fun. We love spending time together, even when things are not going well. It also helps that each one of us has his own office in different parts of the world. Musa and Gaston, I love you guys, and I take this moment to renew my vows."
From Gaston: "We decided to start David like most couples do—in the middle of a party and pretty drunk. It was like a wild date. Two Brazilians and one Argentinian makes a very passionate ménage a trois. What do we have in common? We live under the same motto: "All in." And like every couple, we also have our song: "Time of My Life" from Dirty Dancing. Every once in a while we need to dance to it. The three of us together, having the time of our lives."
From Fernando: "I've known Anselmo for 23 years. It was love at first sight. In the second semester of the Advertising University, one day this guy appears using colorful socks and nerdy glasses. He was clearly dressed by his mom. Then I found out that he was into kung fu and knitting. Maybe to save him from all that weirdness, we started to work together on every school assignment.
I've never worked so well with anyone like Anselmo. He's patient and organized. I'm chaotic and anxious. He's a dreamer, I'm a doer. And during all these years, I borrowed from him what I didn't have, and I gave him what he needed. For seven years we traveled the world together; it's weird to be in an airport without him.
Gaston invaded this peaceful relationship, and we found in him our Jewish mom. He takes care of us, makes a lot of drama, cries, suffers. The whole thing is very intense. Imagine an incredibly loud Tango playing in your ears 24/7. That's Gaston. But with these two guys next to me, I know I can do anything."
The Barbarian Group
The partners: Art director Claire Manganiello and copywriter Emily Sheehan
Their background: Claire and Emily met at Miami Ad School and have been working together for over three years.
Their words: "We met in school, and we've been working together for three years. Or roughly 1,126 days. But who's counting?
We keep the creative juices flowing at pretty much the same rate we keep the drinks, snacks and sharing of dumb stuff we find on the Internet flowing. Through this time-honored process we've learned that we've hit on a great idea if 1) it was our first idea, or 2) it's our last idea at 4 a.m. and we're giggling maniacally about how bad it is.
We're roommates and best friends, so our working and personal lives are pretty deeply intertwined. Codependent? Maybe! But also fun, because every night is a sleepover party *girl hand up emoji x2*.
Maintaining a long-lasting creative marriage feels very much like maintaining a regular marriage (which, to be clear, we know nothing about, because we've never been married to anyone, or each other). Keep the magic alive: Articulate your feelings, go on dates, maintain your own interests, tell each other how pretty the other is, don't go to bed angry, tell each other how pretty the other is. Normal stuff. Totally normal."
KBS+ New York
The partners: Dan Kelleher and Jonathan Mackler, co-chief creative officers
Their background: Since joining KBS at the end of summer 2014, Dan and Jonathan have had the opportunity to work with an array of clients, from BMW to Simmons to Harman to Keds. They both have strong TV backgrounds, so one of their main goals was to jump headfirst into creating some breakthrough TV campaigns—and out of the gate developed a Super Bowl spot for BMW.
From Dan: "While we've only officially been together for a year, we know that our partnership works for us because we see things the same way and are almost always completely in sync. Part of the reason we work well together is that we agree on creative 99 percent of the time. The other 1 percent is decided through a dance-off. In addition, we both know that no matter what, we have each other's backs. Making a team work is about knowing that your partner has your back. For instance, right now Mackler is standing right behind me. It's creepy but reassuring."
The partners: Michael Hart and Chris Lange, founders and managing creative directors
Their background: They've been working together for over 22 years. A little over 11 years ago, Hart and Lange, alongside Jim Scott, founded Minneapolis creative agency Mono. Prior to that, Michael and Chris were a creative team at Fallon, Carmichael Lynch and Mullen, working together with brands including Porsche, BMW, Dyson, Target and Sesame Street.
Their words: "By the time we opened Mono, we felt like we were already partners. We found early on that we shared the same philosophy on doing great work, but that we brought different and complimentary skills to the partnership. It was a case for us of 1+1=3. Like a marriage, you gotta lean on each other for what you need to be better. And that means not letting your ego get in the way, and really valuing what the other brings to the table.
We can order for each other at restaurants, anticipate what the other will say, and know each other probably as well as our spouses. The best part is the unbelievable trust and bond that can form when you've shared so much together, both the successes and the failures. This industry is amazing—and hard. Knowing that your creative partner absolutely has your back and is as vested in your success as you are in theirs is a powerful advantage.
The key is to make sure you share the same values and vision. We had the same goals and shared the same deep passion for the work. If one of us was going to be there cranking on the campaign on a Sunday, so was the other.
One of the really cool parts is the amazing shared memories we've accumulated over the years. We've vacuumed carpets with James Dyson in his home in Bath. Driven Porsches on the Autobahn at 145 mph. And hung with Big Bird and Grover on Sesame Street."
The partners: JD Hooge, Justin Lewis and Vince LaVecchia, partners
Their background: They started out in creative roles, and after working together, decided to become partners.
From Vince: "I asked Justin Lewis if he wanted to quit his well-paying job as a creative director of a medical software firm and partner with me on Instrument. The thought had never occurred to me before, but when the words came out I must have looked as surprised as he was. Also without hesitation, Justin looked up at me and said, '…Yeah, sure,' and with that I had a new business partner.
I didn't know him that well. I had never really done business with him. It was purely a gut feeling that this was a unique and driven individual who could make confident decisions from instinct to move something forward in a smart way. Within a year the two, we would be packing up from Burlington, Vt., to move to Portland, Ore., to open an office there, a change that would prompt the growth of Instrument from two to over 115 employees over the next 10 years—not to mention our families.
Justin knew about JD Hooge and his pioneering design work in the early days of Flash interfaces and web development. About as soon as we got to Portland, Justin reached out to JD to begin working together. JD's studio was called Gridplane at the time. After working together with Gridplane on several large and small projects, the three of us decided to design and build an office space together. You could say we dated, then we moved in together as Instrument and Gridplane.
In 2011, the three of us had pitched, won and delivered a body of work together for global brands and felt strongly that our shared vision could work as a single agency. We chose Instrument as the name, and in April 2011, formally merged businesses. For us, every moment of success or failure, every ounce of company culture, every company's fate, is driven by the values that we as partners espouse. It all trickles down, and it all drives the decisions that ultimately determine the reputation of the company. Every company's success is a direct reflection of the values of its leadership."
The partners: Tom Jucarone, partner/mixer and sound designer; and Peter Holcomb, partner/mixer and sound designer; and Marshall Grupp, sound designer, partner and COO.
Their background: These three have been working together for nearly 30 years.
From Marshall: "I had known my two partners, Tom Jucarone and Peter Holcomb, since 1986, when I began sound designing commercials. They were both mixers at Eastside Film and Audio, and for 12 years we spent many days and nights mixing spots that I designed sound for. Eventually it made sense that we should take our combined talents and open up our own creative boutique. Sound Lounge started in the fall of 1998, and from the start, we all believed that Sound Lounge needed to feel like our own living room. No dark rooms for us. No low ceilings. Never before were the owners the workers, and it made for a great team effort. We also decided from the beginning that all decisions had to be group decisions. Sometimes we have to make tough decisions, but it's always for the good of the company."