Isidoro DeBellis’ award-winning career started on a less than encouraging note. After graduating from the University of Windsor, Toronto, in 1985, where he majored in film and TV, the aspiring copywriter got a job at a Toronto-based agency. Three months in, the agency principal took him aside to offer some harsh advice.
“He told me I should get out of the creative part of advertising and try something else,” says DeBellis, who is known by all as “Izzy.” “Your ego takes a blow, but I realized we had a different interpretation of what creative advertising was.”
Today, DeBellis is the network cd for Kirshenbaum Bond + Partners, overseeing the creative output of all of Kirshenbaum’s businesses, including DotGlu and Lime. Prior to his new gig, the 44-year-old worked for agencies including Wieden + Kennedy’s short-lived Philadelphia office, Berlin Cameron (several iterations) and Ammirati & Puris.
Along the way, the pop-culture maven has collected his share of awards from Cannes, Clio and Effie, including a silver Lion at Cannes in 2003 for Mello Yello’s “Squeaky Toy.” That spot joked about the absurd ways a man could suavely attempt to explain unexpected flatulence while on a date.
Speaking from the set of a Starz spot the he’s shooting in Buenos Aries, Argentina, DeBellis notes that being let go from his first job didn’t hamper his career. He moved on to Saatchi & Saatchi, Compton Hayhurst, Toronto, where he worked as a junior copywriter on accounts such as British Airways, Milk-Bone dog biscuits and Orange Crush. In 1988, he went to Chiat/Day, Toronto. DeBellis, who enjoys the entrepreneurial challenges of a start-up, says, “They came to Toronto and they were the hot new agency. I won my first One Show Pencil there for the Nissan Micra. I still remember the headline on the ad: ‘Priced like a used car, but smells like a new one.'”
The father of two, who is uniformly described as “collaborative” by colleagues, transferred to the agency’s New York office in the early ’90s. Less than a year later, he joined the office of Wieden + Kennedy in Philadelphia. He spent two years there working on Subaru, ESPN and The Philadelphia Inquirer, among other accounts. After the agency lost Subaru in 1993, the office shut down and DeBellis — described in Where the Suckers Moon: The Life and Death of an Advertising Campaign as “Izzy the squeaky-voiced copywriter” — returned to New York to work at Wieden there.
“If getting into Saatchi was getting into the business, Wieden + Kennedy was my coming of age,” he says. “I probably learned more than I produced while there. The place doesn’t make you better, but it does create an environment where great can happen.”
Following an interlude at Ammirati & Puris in the mid-’90s, DeBellis landed at then-start-up Berlin Cameron Wright (now Berlin Cameron United), first as a senior writer and, eventually, a partner. He worked on accounts including the National Basketball Association, Reebok and Mello Yello. In 2003, the shop was named Adweek‘s U.S. Agency of the Year.
Avi Dan, former managing partner and CMO at Berlin Cameron United, remembers DeBellis as thoughtful, mature — and capable of doing a wicked impersonation of Andy Berlin, chairman of Berlin Cameron United. “People love working for him,” says Dan. “He didn’t really care that much for titles. If an account person was interested in writing and could write, Izzy was open to them writing.”
Last May, DeBellis joined Kirshenbaum as cd and was promoted to network cd in September. He’s known within the agency as being diplomatic, happy to give others credit and a good manager of talent. He’s most hands on with Mohegan Sun, and Wyndham Hotels and Resorts. A campaign for Mohegan Sun that launched this month turns famous pop songs, such as Rick James’ “Super Freak,” into dance numbers. The response from anonymous critics on the Internet has been, well, overwhelmingly negative.
But DeBellis and, more importantly, his boss, co-chairman Richard Kirshenbaum, pay no heed to the critics. “The client and consumer response has been overwhelming positive and we’re thrilled with it,” says Kirshenbaum. “We don’t care about some 21-year-old snarky, unemployed creative who has something negative to say about a campaign.”
That first, mismatched job has been safely put behind him — as has his first 30-second spot, a university assignment DeBellis hand-tinted with a yellow highlighter. “At the time,” he says, ruefully, “I’m sure I thought I was being clever.”
Education: Graduated from the University of Windsor in 1985 with a degree in film and television.
Background: Born in Toronto, Canada, in 1963, where he also grew up. Moved to New York in 1991.
Recognition: One Show Pencil for Nissan Micra print ad, 1988; Clio for NBA campaign “Bill Murray,” 1996; the Art Directors Club Cube for Nikon sunglasses’ “Look Better” print campaign, 1996; Clio for “The Washington Post” TV campaign, “In Today’s Washington Post,” in 1998; silver Lion for Mello Yello “Squeaky Toy” TV spot at Cannes in 2003.
Creative motto: “Never hire anyone qualified for the job. Steal from better sources.”