Jim Haven On The Spot

The co-founder of Creature in Seattle has worked at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners and StrawberryFrog, but he says nothing compares to running his own shop. A Portfolio Center grad and avid fly fisherman, Haven, 36, began his career at Borders Perrin Norrander in Portland, Ore. In the past two years, he and Matt Peterson have grown from having one client, the Professional Bowlers Association, into a $9 million agency that works with Starbucks, Pacifico Beer and Nordland Yachts. Over the holidays they earned national attention by sticking Starbucks cups to the roofs of Boston taxis. Q: What did you major in at the University of Puget Sound?

A: I was an English major. If I recall, it was an emphasis in professional writing, which has nothing to do with advertising, necessarily. It was more sort of journalism type stuff, and I kind of realized after a while that I really didn’t want to be a journalist.

Why did you go to Amsterdam?

It was a great opportunity to live abroad. I’d always wanted to do that. That’s where Matt Peterson, the art direction side of the agency, and I worked together [at StrawberryFrog]. We basically used that as a trial run to see if we were compatible. It was kind of fun when we started an agency because most people starting agencies, they’ve been partners forever. But for us it was even more exciting and interesting because we’d only worked together for three months. We keep surprising each other.

How did you like working in Amsterdam?

It was great. I think that what makes it quaint is sometimes what makes it annoying. It’s great to look at everyone riding around on bikes and everything, but when you’re riding your bike home in a snowstorm four miles in a 10-mile headwind, it’s not quite as fun. It was nice to have meetings in Paris. They have great boxed lunches over there. Here we just get a little sandwich, and there they have these fantastic lunches with salmon mousse and wine.

Why did you start your own agency?

The best way to do ads, sometimes, is to have your own business, because there are less filters. I think people’s opinions can definitely [add to] your ideas, but sometimes that can also strip a little bit of personality and soul away from it. Just like when you look at The Life Aquatic. I feel like that’s [Wes Anderson’s] most confident film. When I watch that, I see him getting the liberty to do work exactly as he wants it, because he’s sort of earned himself that right and reputation. I think when you own an agency, you can have that sort of experience, and hopefully give it to other people, too, without messing it up. But that’s the age-old problem isn’t it?

Where did the agency name come from?

We came up with the name in a bowling alley in France at a ski resort. We thought it was kind of funny, and we liked the fact that when you said it you could visualize it. And everyone had sort of a different visualization of what that creature was. It takes on a different form for every individual client. But mostly it’s just funny, hopefully.

What would you be doing if you weren’t in advertising?

Probably working at a gas station. There’s not many things a person like myself can do besides work in advertising. I have too short of an attention span.

Who had the greatest influence on your career?

I was fortunate to work with Jeff [Goodby] and Rich [Silverstein]. It seems obvious, but they taught me so much. One of the things they taught me was when they built their agency, how they surrounded themselves with really smart people that were, for the most part, like them. And hopefully in some ways not like them, too.

Who has influenced you most creatively?

I always really admired Woody Allen—his irony and his subtlety and his randomness.

What work are you the most proud of?

The Starbucks holiday campaign. It got into the mainstream world, and people were talking about it who had nothing to do with advertising. And it wasn’t because they were talking about a really funny commercial. I think it’s much harder to do things people talk about that are not giant TV commercials with a huge media backing.

What was the last ad you saw that made you say, “I wish I’d done that”?

[BBDO’s] FedEx one with the chimney sweeps. It just makes me laugh hysterically. Great soot technique. It’s the best soot advertising I’ve seen.

Which do you think is the most overrated campaign?

People are going to kill me for saying this, but I think the iPod stuff is a little bit overrated. I love my iPod, and I like all the good people at TBWA\Chiat\Day. I don’t know, I just—I don’t love it. It’s not doing much for me.

What’s your vote for the best agency out there?

Again, it seems so obvious—how can you deny what Crispin’s doing? I don’t think you can. I love robots, they’re doing that. They’re probably doing something with a frozen caveman, too, and I love those. It always feels like they’re getting to things before I can get them. I think they think like I do, and they’re living the dream.

What’s your biggest fear?

I’m afraid of mayonnaise. I just don’t like it. Some people try to sneak it in sushi and stuff like that. It’s totally not appropriate.