Creative Focus: SAN FRANCISCO ROCKET MEN

STEVE stone sits at a long, imposing conference table in Black Rocket’s bayside office at Pier 33 South, fidgeting in his chair. The creative director is not anxious to be interviewed. He’s waiting impatiently for a phone call from his wife to confirm she’s pregnant with their second child.
“We’re very excited,” he says with a grin, pulling his long, dark hair back from his face. “Work’s been crazy the past few weeks, and this would be great news.”
“Crazy” is an understatement. Stone, 36, and co-creative director Bob Kerstetter, 38, produce 100 percent of Black Rocket’s advertising. Truthfully, there are no other major creative players at this agency. These two are a 24-hour team, with Stone doing his best work by day and Kerstetter finding creative inspiration at night.
But Kerstetter is not to be found on this day. “We have no idea where he is,” Stone says. “He left us a memo saying he was ‘off the planet.'”
The two have worked nonstop since the agency was founded in 1996, and no significant responsibility has shifted away from them–three clients and $25 million in annual billings later.
The stress level has been running high for the pair, who have just returned from Southern California after finishing three TV spots for Tri-Valley Growers’ S&W brand canned fruit and vegetables. It sounds like a cake assignment, until Stone mentions an exploding 18-wheeler that veered dangerously off course.
“The truck thing was pretty scary,” says Stone about the shoot for S&W peaches. “The pulley for the stunt snapped, and the gasoline-filled truck went over the wrong part of the cliff.” Stone draws a diagram to re-create the situation. “These two guys here,” he says, pointing to two ink dots, “could’ve been killed. But luckily, nothing bad happened, and we got the shot.”
Making their own luck–and going crazy, too–is natural for Stone and Kerstetter, who first worked together at another Bay Area agency known for its offbeat advertising, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. At Black Rocket, their advertising for former client Eddie Bauer, and current clients Tri-Valley Growers, Yahoo! and Pete’s Wicked Ale, is known for being funny, memorable and often peculiar.
Where does the team find inspiration for their work? Not in their newly constructed office space, according to Stone. “We try to get out of here often,” he says. “Bob and I can’t resist going down to “The Wood” to sit in the sun and conceptualize.” (The Wood is a small wooden dock on the bay near Black Rocket’s office.)
Two days after Stone shares these thoughts–and finds out he is a father-to-be–Kerstetter reappears at Black Rocket. He and his family had spent their vacation in a houseboat on a remote western lake. “I needed the break,” he says. “It’s true I’m a bit of a psycho. I’m really passionate about my job, although I can’t figure out why.”
Kerstetter says working so intensely at Black Rocket has forced him to write “more visually.” He admits, “We don’t present boards anymore. We just present scripts to directors.”
Both Kerstetter and Stone emphasize that Black Rocket will continue to grow at a controlled pace, although 1998 may be the time to pitch more business and expand their creative team–just a little.
“Personally, I don’t want this agency to get so big that when I see flowers on somebody’s desk, I don’t know what or who they’re for,” says Kerstetter. “I want to come to work and say, ‘Oh, it’s this person’s birthday,’ or whatever. I don’t want to feel out of touch.” –Jane Irene Kelly