Carmichael Lynch's chief creative Jack Supple said his new No. 2, Jim Nelson, has a personal "brand character" very much like the agency's.
"He's quietly dangerous," Supple said. "He's been rolling along confidently for a long time."
Nelson, 39, who has been at the Minneapolis shop for 12 years, was promoted to associate creative director in 1996 and group creative director in 1997. His tenure, knowledge of the agency's culture and abilities to work across all the shop's brands were key to the appointment, Supple said.
Supple has been managing the 40-person department since 1999, when ecd Kerry Casey cut back to part-time. Casey left a year later.
Four years was longer than Supple intended to do the job (he never formally took the title), although he never launched an official search for a replacement. "I was going to do it until I found the right guy," he said.
About a year ago, Supple started throwing bigger challenges at Nelson, who managed three brand spots for Coca-Cola and led work on the agency's $40 million Northwest Airlines account. As Nelson handled each assignment with aplomb, Supple said he became more confident he had found the right leader.
"He walks in to brands now, and he can get them immediately," Supple said. "He can crack the code and know what they should and shouldn't do."
Tom Watson, director of advertising sales and promotion at Harley-Davidson in Milwaukee, called Nelson the company's "creative conscience" because he instinctively understands how to communicate the brand's essence.
"He understands our brand deeply and knows what's at its core," Watson said. "That understanding is invaluable in creating every level of our communication."
Nelson was one of six group creative directors at the agency. He will continue to oversee the shop's Harley account until he finds a successor, Supple said.
Nelson won the Kelly Award for Harley last year (as Casey did for Schwinn in 1993 before being promoted to ecd in 1997), but Supple said the promotion was not directly related to the award.
"Our creative leaders tend to win Kelly Awards. I can't stop them," Supple joked. "The real challenge in the business is to get great work out of other people."
Nelson's promotion was embraced by the staff.
"He's got his head down doing the work. It just makes you want to try so hard," said gcd Libby Brockhoff, who said Nelson is one of the top three creatives with whom she has worked.
Tom Camp, a writer who has worked with Nelson on Harley, said, "This job wasn't given to him. He's earned it. Everyone on the seventh floor has been soliciting his opinion on work for years."
Nelson said he plans to lay out his expectations for staffers and help them rise to the challenge. "I'm more of a helper than a killer," Nelson said. "I'm going to give people as much responsibility as they can handle.
"I have confidence in the people who are working around me," Nelson added. "I know where we're strong and where we can make things stronger."
Supple, 51, said naming an ecd will allow him to focus on the shop's overall creative vision.
"What I do is keep the whole place moving creatively," he said. "I can be the stir valve that helps keep everyone up to our creative standards."