To Shape Ogilvy’s Future, Rick Boyko Stirs The Past
Rick Boyko just may be the hardest-working man in show business. His old-fashioned Italian ethic is a good fit when it comes to revitalizing the legacy of David Ogilvy, the man who was fond of saying, “Men die of boredom. They do not die of hard work.”
A year ago, with the blessing of chief executive Shelly Lazarus, Tro Piliguian, president of Ogilvy & Mather North America, named Boyko co-president of the $1.5 billion flagship New York office alongside Bill Gray, a top account manager. The move was strategic: reclaim the creative ethos of its legendary founder. The plan was to graft Boyko and Gray, making them equally responsible for all major policy and staffing decisions in New York. Boyko’s appointment marked the first time since the mid-’80s (when Norman Berry was president) that a creative executive has held the reins of the agency.
Adding the title of North American chief creative officer, Boyko, 49, is now partnered with Piliguian to improve the creative product and audit the talent across the agency’s nine-office North American network. How does one man manage to wear all these hats, yet make it home to dinner every night at 8:30 with his wife and teenage daughters?
The answer may have something to do with the discipline Boyko learned in the Air Force. It may also have a lot to do with his passion for advertising, and a gift for time management. “Rick is a rare individual who is an extremely talented creative, but has also exhibited a genuine interest in learning how to run an agency,” Piliguian says. “He would come into my office and pick my brain. He was curious about everything. By the way, it’s scary how incredible he is with numbers.”
Boyko and Gray are clear about what they want to accomplish. “The creative department has evolved quite a bit since I’ve come here, but the rest of the agency has operated as independent silos,” explains Boyko, who joined Ogilvy nine years ago. “Bill and I want to create a more collaborative culture.” Boyko and Gray’s objective is to take the quality of the creative product from best of category to award-winning, thus moving the needle for such blue-chip clients as American Express, IBM and Kodak.
The Ogilvy brass seems to be pleased with the early results of the pairing. “The partnership has been almost seamless. It’s very instinctive between the two,” praises Piliguian. The agency’s clients agree. “Ogilvy is one of the most egalitarian agencies,” says Carl Gustin, chief marketing officer at Eastman Kodak in Rochester, N.Y. “They’re not into power struggles and machinations.”
Piliguian is quick to point out, however, that this managerial petri dish should not be considered the beginning of a new, wide-ranging paradigm. “This situation may be hard to replicate because it’s rare to find a creative person like Boyko, and, of course, the chemistry between the two people has to be right,” he adds.
Boyko and Gray have worked closely over the past nine years on everything from American Express and Hardees to the Eastern Airlines pitch, when the agency tried to save the failing carrier with its “100 Days” campaign in 1990. Together, they consult on all major hires across all departments with David Ogilvy’s dictum as the driving spirit: “Talent, I believe, is most likely to be found among non-conformists, dissenters and rebels.”
“We both have equal veto power,” notes Boyko.
Since the beginning of the year, the duo has been intent on upgrading the talent pool and has made the process more democratic. “We asked creative directors if they felt they had the best account people and asked the account people if they had the best creative people,” Boyko explains.
For Gray, the honeymoon has been great and he holds high hopes for the marriage. “Neither of us would have suspected that we’d be as trusting as we’ve been with each other,” says Gray, who credits Boyko for not being bound to conventional wisdom. “He’s not married to the 60-second TV commercial as the only way.”
In fact, Bill Hamilton, Boyko’s former Ogilvy co-creative head, now worldwide creative director at J. Walter Thompson, describes his former partner as a “regular guy with advertising oozing out of his veins.” Hamilton remembers him as eager to tackle tray liners for Hardees as he was to leap into the next high-octane TV shoot.
Mindful of Lazarus’ concept of this vast agency being connected by “long hallways,” Boyko and Piliguian are working to create a seamless pool of interdisciplinary talent who can travel between offices, if required. When the agency’s Chicago office recently needed help on the Sears account, Boyko tapped the Houston creative pool for fresh ideas, which were eventually sold to the client.
Last month, Boyko restructured the creative department in New York to help him take on his North American role. He elevated five creative directors to executive creative directors:
Ross Sutherland and Michael Ward on the Ford corporate account, Jaguar, Kraft General Foods and non-Jerry Seinfeld American Express work; David Page and David Apicella on Kodak, GTE, Hershey and Seinfeld’s AmEx work; and Chris Wall on IBM and the agency’s pro-bono accounts.
Previously, Boyko had a dozen creative directors reporting to him directly. Abandoning the flat structure frees up Boyko and gives each of the elite five the opportunity, on a smaller scale, to be “the man,” he says. Boyko also plans to refurbish the office in Midtown Manhattan, which he says looks more like “a bad insurance company” than a vibrant, creative environment.
“For anyone who is an Ogilvy insider, this [delegation of authority] is an enormous step.
Historically, Rick has found it difficult to let go of anything,” explains Sutherland. “It’s been an epiphany to watch him let go.”
An art director by trade, Boyko started his career in 1973 on United Airlines at Leo Burnett, Chicago. In the ’80s, he made a name for himself at Chiat/Day, Los Angeles, working on less prestigious accounts, such as Mitsubishi and Home Savings of America, while others clamored to work on Apple and Nissan.
Boyko says he hopes to apply managerial techniques learned from his mentor at Chiat/Day, Lee Clow. “I learned most by watching Lee. He would hover in and out but not dictate and own,” he says. “I have to let people take over or I won’t be able to keep them.”
Boyko says there are no ghetto accounts at Ogilvy. Every piece of business, whether it’s a multimillion-dollar global client or a pro-bono effort, has the potential for stellar advertising. “Great revenue and bad work shouldn’t be an acceptable situation,” he says.
“When I became co-creative head [with Bill Hamilton], I challenged us to reach the same level as BBDO and I think we’ve reached that standard,” Boyko says, citing Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, Lowe & Partners/SMS, TBWA/Chiat/Day and Wieden & Kennedy as the industry’s creative pacesetters. “I’d hope that people are starting to think of us in that considered set.”
The agency’s key clients already do. “Ogilvy rates at the top in terms of creative big agencies,” says John Hayes, executive vice president of global advertising and brand management at American Express. “There is an emotional commitment to always do better. Shelly is the driving force behind that commitment and Rick is at the heart of it.” The agency handles an estimated $300 million in U.S. billings for the company.
In the early ’90s, the agency embarked on broadening the card’s upscale positioning and hired Seinfeld to appeal to the “everyman.” The Seinfeld spots, says Hayes, have changed
people’s perceptions about using the card in places they hadn’t considered before, like gas stations and supermarkets. “With every execution, we try to push barriers further,” he adds.
Recent memorable executions include a spot in which Seinfeld gallivants in the U.K., using his card to gain social currency, and another in which he teams with Superman. Though the agency’s work featuring the comic has won many creative awards, both Hayes and Boyko believe there is still fertile ground to till.
For Kodak, which spends an estimated $130 million advertising in the U.S., the agency has helped the brand appeal to a younger audience with ads employing first-person narratives of Gen-Xers’ adventures with UFOs and AMC Gremlins. Featuring the tagline, “Take Pictures. Further.” the strategy was a departure from the warm, fuzzy anthems of yesteryear. Recently, Ogilvy gave Cotton Inc., the trade group representing U.S. cotton producers and importers, a youthful texture with a stylish image campaign featuring celebrities such as Evander Holyfield and Ivana Trump.
“The brilliance of Boyko and his team is the ability to take different approaches for different segments without fragmenting the brand,” credits Kodak’s Gustin.
One account Boyko believes the agency has not received enough recognition for is IBM, which bills nearly $1 billion. Led by Wall and Steve Hayden, president of worldwide brand services on IBM, the creative team has crafted a smart, distinctive blue letterbox campaign, chronicling the travails of business people making the transition to the Web. The ads put Big Blue at the forefront of technology with the tagline, “Solutions for a small planet.” “I can’t believe we haven’t won more awards for IBM,” he says.
Yet Boyko’s most crucial brand polishing to date is the agency itself. When he joined Ogilvy in 1989, he was faced with filing off the rust of an illustrious brand that had, through the years, become a staid, complacent monolith. The agency had been bought by WPP Group, and the emphasis on the creative legacy of David Ogilvy, who made his mark by crafting indelibly witty and elegant campaigns such as “The Man in the Hathaway Shirt,” had been lost. “Now we’re refocusing on David and what he stood for,” says Boyko. “We’re lucky we have him as a platform.”
Boyko’s central role punctuates Ogilvy’s desire to make the work its priority. As D.O. once noted, “Who said that there’s one breed of cat which is an account executive, and then there are the creative people, and they are quite different? It’s nonsense.”
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