Roger Camp On The Spot

Though he entered the School of Visual Arts in New York to become a graphic designer, Roger Camp signed up for advertising classes by mistake. Camp, 37, recently named CCO of San Francisco-based Publicis Groupe’s Publicis & Hal Riney, never looked back. In addition to consulting, his jobs have since included stints at Publicis’ Fallon, Wieden + Kennedy, Cliff Freeman and Partners, and Camp/Arbues, a shop he founded with Eileen Arbues in 2000. Camp comes to Riney after it lost Sprint Nextel’s b-to-b in early February and it won, with his help, Altoids and Pinnacle Foods in 2006. —Interviewed by kamau high

Q: Why take the full-time CCO post at Riney instead of continuing to consult?

A: I had been at Riney [last year and] back in 2000, right before I opened my agency in San Francisco, when I was doing freelancing and consulting on the side. There was [mutual] respect, the sense that together we could take on the world, and it was proven out with the two wins [Altoids and Pinnacle]. You know when you meet somebody and you’re very like-minded in your approach and philosophy? Well, their vision was in keeping with mine. I felt that we had a connection.

What changes will you make to better prepare the agency for nontraditional marketing strategies?

They already have an online digital department that I think is fantastic. Of course, it’s going to be making sure that it’s as front and center as possible, making sure we leverage them as much as possible. You get a client like Altoids in the building that comes with its own host of opportunities and you flex those muscles.

Were you surprised that Sprint Nextel went into review?

I can’t comment because I’m so new to it all. I’d heard that parts of it were troubled, but I have no idea the extent of it at all.

How many layoffs will there be?

I haven’t figured it out.

What are you doing to help the shop attract new clients?

I think it’s a continuation of what we’ve done with things in the last two pitches. It’s what led me to take the job, which was the way we pitched [when I was consulting there] and won them. I realized pretty quickly after working with these guys that they’re incredibly smart, they are incredibly hungry. Everything you’d want out of a partner.

How do you plan to keep winning?

We’re going to pray a lot, go to church a little more often. It’s having faith in your partners, it really is. We’re going to continue to push, to do the things that led us to these two wins. I think the difference will be that I was working on a consultant basis. Now the challenge for me is getting in there, working with Jon Soto [Riney’s ecd] and building on the culture.

Can you compare its culture with some of the other agencies at which you’ve worked?

Fallon has a wonderful culture. It’s a Midwest thing, but you’ve got this wonderful creative spirit [that on the surface is] khakis and loafers. [Wieden], internally, is a cross between the Betty Ford Clinic and art school. Whenever an agency seems to be firing on all cylinders … internally you have this sense that the kids have taken over the school. It’s well-managed chaos. It makes you feel empowered. … [Cliff Freeman was the same way.] There was everything from hiding dead rats under people’s desks to hiding raw chickens behind books and computers. It was malicious and fun at the same time. I want to bring that to Riney. There should be a sense of being a rascal. You want to have a fiery competitive spirit among the creatives because it only helps push everyone to do better work. You can plan on some practical jokes.

You worked on Nike while at Wieden. What was that like?

Nike’s one of those rare clients where during the course of the presentation you kind of lose sight of who’s on the agency side and who’s on the client side. A lot of that is because of everyone working towards the same goal … kind of defending the brand, shepherding it. There’s a wonderful book that all new employees get at Nike that talks about how they are the keepers of the brand. It’s a very personal thing.

Which of your work are you most proud of?

The Brawny work at Fallon [“Brawny Academy”]. It was a foray into creating an entire online reality show. The fact is that it was episodic, on the Web and it was truly transformational for the participants. It wasn’t just your usual 30-second ad and then you’re out the door.

What’s your dream assignment?

I think to work with a client who is inspiring and collaborative. … They give you the tools to succeed and they give you the rope to go hang yourself. I think it’s happening now, making that push to dive deeper into [a client’s] business.

Can you elaborate?

To be able to have discussions not just about marketing, but different facets of the business. … What if we were going to go in and actually work on some new products with our clients?

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

Probably architecture or back to graphic design, if I opted right when I first started.

How do you get past a creative block?

It’s changed for me. In the early days I would completely shut out work. As soon as I hit that wall it was about getting out, going to a movie, fishing, going out into the world. As of late, I’ve turned to Google and YouTube, which is actually a strange transition. I think fundamentally it works on the same level. It gets rid of the problem and allows you to go out and find inspiration somewhere and that just happens to be on a computer screen rather than at the park.

Masterfoods’ Snickers and GM recently had to pull their ads after complaints. Do you think people are becoming too sensitive?

I think if you have a point of view you’re going to endear yourself to some and you’re going to alienate others. It’s inevitable. So it’s just trying to strike a balance where you’re not hurting anyone, you’re not trying to make light of a difficult situation, while at the same time you’re trying to create something that, if it’s good and has comedic value, it may be polarizing.

How can you avoid giving away an idea when you pitch an account?

Part of that is the cost of entry in this business. The only way to truly avoid that is if we all become Crispin and have clients hand us their business based on who we are. That’s the ultimate ad model. There’s no wasted money, you either give us your business and you know what we’re going to provide you with, or you don’t.

What do you think is the most disappointing creative trend lately?

The idea of pandering to the lowest common denominator. It feels desperate. That trend has been upsetting probably since the beginning of advertising but it’s something that still bothers me.

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

There’s been a series of them. I would credit them all to an agency that I think has surfaced as an amazing talent—Santo [in Buenos Aires, Argentina]. They’ve done some interesting things that have just come out for Coke. Everything they’ve done as of late has been really fresh and really interesting. The roster of clients that they have and the work they’ve delivered on them has been outstanding.

What’s the smartest business decision you’ve ever made?

Starting my own shop. It taught me responsibility. It opened my eyes to all aspects of the business. … And probably never getting all that comfortable, because generally when I get too comfortable, it’s time to shake it up again. I think there’s a constant hunger for the new, what’s kind of unchartered.

What about the dumbest decision?

I don’t know. I’ve never made any mistakes. It’s all been a relatively flawless career.

Who’s had the greatest influence on your career?

At different points there were different people. Early on, at the School of Visual Arts, I think the first person who I came in contact with that made me feel like [advertising] was incredibly challenging and fun was Sal DeVito [of DeVito/Verdi]. The beauty of Sal was he was this hard-ass teacher who, if he didn’t like what you’d done, would take it off the wall and light it on fire.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the business?

That the money is irrelevant. … [When I was young] I would offer to work in my downtime. I would offer to take on jobs. It’s always been about opportunity, it’s always been about a new chance to learn.

Name one person with whom you’re dying to work.

I would say Michel Gondry. He did the [films] Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep. He has an incredibly interesting way of solving problems.

You worked on Miller High Life while you were at Wieden. Do you think that the current High Life work is true to the brand?

My personal opinion is they should have never moved away from the High Life man. That struck such a chord and served them so well, and to me it was the absolute soul of that brand. The new work feels more like beer advertising. The beauty of that Miller High Life campaign, and we used to preach it all the time, was you weren’t selling the beer, you were selling the philosophy.