Ernest Lupinacci On The Spot
Termed the patron saint of freelancers by Joe Pytka, Lupinacci recently left his solo days behind to co-found New York boutique Anomaly. The 37-year-old creative spent two years apiece at Wieden + Kennedy’s Amsterdam, Portland and New York offices, working on Nike and ESPN.com, before striking out on his own. He landed a series of high-profile assignments as a freelancer but is best known for linking William Shatner and Priceline.com. Lupinacci says his favorite pastime is watching CSI with his wife, Stephanie, and two dogs: rottweiler Cookie and Chihuahua Snoopy.
Q. Why is now the time to join an agency, and why Anomaly?
A. I tended to work solo, and that was great, being very in control, but I started to miss the group vibe. The other thing was, there was business I probably could have pitched, but it would have been impossible for a client to say, “We’re going to give you this piece of business.” The thing about [partner] Carl Johnson is, he’s a phenomenal businessperson. I don’t think I’d start an agency with somebody who had never started an agency.
What would you be doing if not advertising?
My fantasy was always that I would become a movie critic and marry a restaurant critic, and we would date professionally. I still have aspirations of creating content. I’d love to develop a TV show. I’d love to write screenplays. It’s one of the reasons why I’m here doing Anomaly, because we view those things as real opportunities.
What was the best and worst thing about freelancing?
I don’t have a lot of negative impressions of having freelanced. The first big thing I did was the Priceline stuff with William Shatner, and that was an outrageous experience-to the point where I’m still in touch with William Shatner. I found myself in what I’ve been told is an extraordinary position, because if I went to work on something at Deutsch, Donny and Kathy Delaney briefed me. At BBDO, I would engage with Ted [Sann] or Don Schneider or Michael Patti. Most freelancers don’t get to see their work sold, let alone produced. I was very fortunate that it was almost like a fait accompli.
How did you get hired at Wieden?
I was 27. I sent them my book, and they asked me to fly up for an interview to work on ESPN. Dan [Wieden], who is the most interesting person I’ve met in advertising, started asking me, “Do you like to travel? Do you like excitement?” I was afraid that if I said I love to travel, he’d say, “That’s too bad, because you’re going to be stuck here in Portland.” After the fourth or fifth question, I said, “I’m such a nervous wreck, you’ve got to tell me where this is going, because I just don’t know what to say.” And he said, “We’d love for you to go work in Amsterdam.” I started laughing. I said, “Yeah, I’ll go tomorrow.” He said, “That’s funny, because we’d like you to be there in a week.” There was a brief in my mailbox at the hotel when I got in Sunday; I came in Monday morning and we cranked out this ad, and Bob Moore went out to Nike that afternoon. He called me at 4 o’clock and said, “Congratulations, you’ve just sold your first Nike ad.”
What makes Wieden unique?
Dan encouraged people to do the work they liked to do. There isn’t an in-house style. There are agencies that have a house style, and that’s what you’re going to get. Jim Riswold’s quote was, “Go and make glorious mistakes.” I’d bring him stuff and he’d say, “This is fine, but go do something unusual and extraordinary.” One time in New York, Stacy Wall said, “I’m giving you the unenviable task of creating 12 retail radio spots” [for a hot-dog client]. I’d just listened to Robert Evans’ The Kid Stays in the Picture on tape, and I said, “I’ll write the scripts, but you have to let me cast Robert Evans.” Stacy said, “I don’t know who Robert Evans is, but if you want to work with him that badly, I’ll assume he’s the right person.” If you brought an idea in, no one would say no, no matter how grand or insane it was. So you thought, “If I can solve this, the agency will marshal all of its forces to get it produced.” That’s an incredible incentive. Well, not only was [Evans] willing, he happened to be in New York. I had my picture taken with him, which I used as my Christmas card that winter.
What’s the smartest and the dumbest business decisions you’ve ever made?
A woman I worked with at Grey, Denise O’Bleness, had a lot of insight. She said, “Be careful not to mistake talent for experience.” And at points in my career, I was guilty of that. I know that at Wieden, I did things that drove Dan crazy. Fortunately, I worked with a lot of people who, rather than dismiss me, said, “Let me give you some advice.” Maybe the best thing I ever did was take some of that advice. Years ago I showed a spec book to Richard Kirshenbaum. I remember him telling me these things that were really insightful. I redid my book and sent it to him. He said, “I’m impressed you actually listened to what I said. A lot of people ask for advice and just say, ‘That isn’t what I wanted to hear.’ “
What inspired you to get into advertising?
I always thought I was going to law school. I was an incredibly practical child. I was constantly asking the time, and my mother said, “You’re 4 years old. Where are you going?” My family is very creative, and in high school, the art teacher said, “Why aren’t you taking art classes?” I was like, “No time for art.” In my freshman year in college, we were getting ready for some big party and I was making the T-shirts and banners, and one of the fraternity brothers, a business major, said to me off the cuff, “Why aren’t you majoring in marketing?” A bell went off. I [switched to] visual communications, and my grade point average shot through the roof, and I said, “OK, maybe I am supposed to do this.”
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