Q: What will you miss about the business?
A: The energy of going into a business pitch. It’s a feeling that’s really unlike anything else, and it’s hard to describe. There’s just a real rush you get when you have an idea, set it in motion and eventually see it propelled into millions of homes.
Why leave now for the halls of academia?
I’ve been in this business for 30 years. It’s been a terrific career, but there’s a great need to get this industry to participate in education in order to keep the talent pool continually filled with people who understand what the business is about and where the business is going.
How did you get into advertising?
My dad was in advertising in Southern California in the town I grew up in. So that was always what I wanted to do. I had four years in the Air Force as an illustrator in the communications branch. I went to junior college for a year and then took some advertising courses. I eventually went to Art Center [College of Design in Pasadena] for a year and a half but couldn’t afford to remain in school. So I got a job. As for the education part of what I’m going into now, when you’re in the role that I’ve been in for the past eight or nine years, you’re teaching all the time, you just don’t know it.
So it is a natural evolution for you?
I have something I can give these kids. They’re sponges, they want to hear what you have to say, they challenge you. If I help this school become the Harvard of advertising, that’s a bigger legacy than doing more ads for the next five years.
Does advertising need a Harvard?
For the past five years I’ve been speaking to raise the profile of Ogilvy at schools. I started to realize that there is a large gap in how people are being taught. You can check out one school with a fantastic program, you can conversely find a school with a horrible program, yet they’re still handing out degrees to work in advertising. There was no one school I could find that had the standard that the rest could be measured by. I would like to build a school that the industry would get behind and support the way a lot of other industries support institutions.
What are you most proud of during your time at Ogilvy?
When I came into this agency, it was an account-driven agency, and part of the challenge set by Martin [Sorrell] was to change that. Along with my partner Bill Hamilton, we slowly but surely built up a new talent pool. We attracted new people both senior and young, we focused on the work. That was the credo from the time we walked in: “It’s the work.” If somebody said, “What’s your biggest contribution?” I would say it was leading a team that brought back the culture of David Ogilvy.
Who most influenced your career?
There are about four people in my career that I look to. One was my father; David Kennedy when I was in Chicago at Benton & Bowles; and then Jay Chiat and Lee Clow. Those are the people that shaped how I look at things, how I challenge things and how I did my craft. And David Ogilvy. It’s funny I mention him last because I read his book when I was in high school. But I didn’t think much about it until I got here and I reread it as a manager and started to see the insights he had given. If there is any singular style to them, they were all, in the end, rebels. They all challenged the norm.
Is there any recent spot that made you think, “I wish I had done that”?
I’ve been going around speaking and using this one commercial a lot. When I saw it on the Olympics, I thought it was one of the best commercials I’ve seen in a long time, and that is “Move” for Nike, done at Wieden + Kennedy. That spot is as close to art as we can get. Conceptually it is a terrific idea that directly comes out of the brand’s philosophy. It is executed perfectly, from the film, editing, music—there’s not a flaw. If everybody can reach that level of art for what we do, we would all be happy.
How do you get past a creative block?
Get up and get out of the office, and go experience something in the arts, go to a museum, go to a movie, rent a DVD—expose yourself to some other form of art and free your mind of the problem you have. Usually what happens if you do that, the next morning when you’re in the shower, the lightbulb will go on.
What advice do you give creatives who are just starting out?
Find a place you like to work. Find a mentor, find somebody whose work you like and you want to learn from. I said this to my daughter, who started a job a while ago: Always be a sponge, and you have to be resilient—you can’t fall in love with your babies.
What are three words that describe you?
Passionate, honest and since you can’t just say “work,” it would be about the work.
Any three words that others would use?
Four words: pain in the ass.
Q: What will you miss about the business?