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Making All Clients Cool

'Brooklyn's Finest' discuss success no matter the task
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There's no such thing as an uncool client. At least, that's what HUGE executive creative director Joe Stewart believes. "There's no such thing as a bad project," he said today at Creative Week's "Brooklyn's Finest Creative Roundtable.

"Sometimes you have a jerky client," Stewart said. But, "your job is to make whatever you're working on cool."

He illustrated his point: "One of our clients is basically talking to students about paying back student debt, which [might seem] like, 'Oh my god, kill me,'" he said. "Try to explain to a 21-year-old designer, 'Make this look cool'... On the surface it sounds like the most horrible, atrocious project."

But these kinds of situations can yield positive results, Stewart said. "I really challenge everyone to not accept the notion of cool clients and not-cool clients. It's just not true."

On stage with Stewart at Galapagos Art Space: Andrew Zolty, creative director of Breakfast, David Schwarz, co-CEO of HUSH, Jonathan Hills, executive creative director of Domani Studios, and Michael Lebowitz, CEO of Big Spaceship, for a discussion moderated by Paul Woolmington, who is leaving Naked Communications after founding its New York office six years ago.  All five panelists are based in DUMBO—Creative Week has made the Brooklyn neighborhood a centerpiece of its programming this year.

The conversation covered a range of the digital advertising industry's topics du jour: talent, specialization, team structures, intellectual property, and creating products. "I'm super jealous of Zolty, his blimps, his photo printers," Lebowitz said, referencing an Instagram-printing device Breakfast created ahead of South by Southwest last year. Breakfast had originally tried pitching the printer as work to a client, Zolty said—the client declined, and the agency produced it on its own. "They called us up a week after, saying, "Why'd you go ahead without us?," he recalled.

Since then, Instaprint has come a long way, Zolty said, but earlier this year, Breakfast set up a $500,000 Kickstarter in a bid to mass-produce the device for consumers that fell short of that fundraising goal. The project's page now suggests it may try again if it can lower the price point—in the meantime, the devices are available as rentals for events.

Lebowitz, meanwhile, made the case that agencies get the proverbial short end of the stick when it comes to ownership of the work they create for clients. "We've all given away way too much for way too little," he said. "I still find it really funny that photographers, for instance, get better rights to the work that they create than we do." To address that, Big Spaceship is working—like many agencies—on developing its own intellectual properties. The shop recently held a 24-hour hackathon, Lebowitz said, that yielded quick prototypes for eight products. Among them is Traxi—a mobile app that does real-time cost-benefit analyses of data like traffic patterns to provide New York City travelers with  recommendations as to whether they should take a cab or hop on the subway to reach their destination at the best price-to-time ratio.

Schwarz noted the challenges and rewards of not honing in on delivering a single, specific service to clients. "We've had this problem but it's also quite a bit of a joy which is that Hush has always been sort of a multi-disciplinary thing and we've been putting our tentacles in everything," he said.