Steve Stone is president and cd of Heat in San Francisco, a shop he opened in December 2004 whose clients include Condé Nast Publications, the Good For You division of PepsiCo and Walt Disney Co. (project work). Previously, Stone was a founding partner/ecd at Black Rocket, best known as the original agency for Yahoo!. Stone has also been a cd at Hal Riney & Partners and Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, both of San Francisco. The 39-year-old Ohio native lives in San Francisco with his wife and three daughters. He is passionate about restoring automobiles and won't drive any car built after 1969.
Q: How did you first get into advertising?
A: It's really weird, but when I was in high school I had a really intuitive and honest art teacher. She said, "Look, you're not a very good painter, but maybe you should think about commercial art or advertising." I think that was 11th grade. She helped me get a scholarship to an art school in Ohio, Columbus College of Art & Design. Two and a half years later, I had two portfolios.
What made you decide to leave Riney to form Black Rocket in 1996?
I think at the time I was sort of tired of working for the man. I worked at a bunch of different places with different disciplines and different personalities, and I felt like the ideal place would be one that sort of had a little bit of each of those. You get to a point where you have done all the Super Bowl commercials that you can. You have had all the awards, you have managed all the creative departments in the bigger agencies. But there is something missing, and that is having your own place. It's a pride thing. It's pretty rewarding.
Do you regret selling Black Rocket to Euro RSCG?
No, not at all. We needed to team up with a network that could help Yahoo! on a global basis. [Yahoo! was] already using our commercials and our advertising around the world, but we didn't have a way to manage that in other countries. We met with a bunch of the networks, and Euro seemed to be the best-suited at the time.
Is there any decision in your career you wish you had done differently?
I wish I had thrown more parties. That is one of those things you always regret not celebrating more. But I wish I would have started my own agency earlier; earlier than 10 years ago, when Black Rocket was new. There seems to be a myth that you have to be part of a large, established agency in order to be successful. At least, earlier in your career. But recently, with the growth of agencies like StrawberryFrog and Mother, that smarter clients certainly don't think that way any more. It's just a group of really smart people versus a group of really famous people.
You have been working in advertising since the 1980s. What is the biggest change you have seen during that time?
My hair. In '83 it was really short. And then it was really long in '93, then in 2000 it was really short again, and now it's just gray.
Why was it long in the '90s? Was it a grunge thing?
No, but if you look at everybody at Goodby in the early '90s, everybody had really long hair, and I think Jeff [Goodby] is the only one that never cut it. But really, the thing that has changed the most is that there are so many alternatives to reaching people now. In '80s and '90s, it was TV and magazines. The trick is finding the sweet spot between traditional and non- traditional advertising.
Why do you give your agencies names rather than call them Stone & Elder, etc.?
Using your name is sort of the old thing out there. It was cool in the '60s. But it's time to change. I have always wanted a place where people feel like they could be part of a bigger entity, to emotionally feel like they belong to something. When the partners' names are on the door, it's hard for people to feel a true connection that lasts.
What would you be doing if you were not in advertising?
I think I'd be working at a pizza place. I make a pretty mean pizza. I love to cook, and I would have figured out a way to make some money as a chef, which is really hard to do.
What is the last spot that made you say, "I wish I'd done that"?
I think I'd have to say I wish I had done the caveman campaign for Geico. I think it's flawless. I still laugh every time I see it.
Name three words to describe yourself.
Self-deprecating, chubby, focused.
Name three words others would use.
Loose, intuitive and prolific.
What's on your nightstand?
Three things: a book of love letters written by Frida Kahlo, Cartas Apasionadas. It is a book of love letters she wrote to her husband, Diego Rivera, her lovers and friends and family. And season two of Chappelle's Show. I got midway through the second disk. And there's a parts catalog. I have a '57 VW. It was my first car, and
my dad collected VWs, so I have a thing for them.
Has it been hypercompetitive for your new agency in San Francisco?
I think it is among all agencies, and it is as competitive as it ever was. I have never really known a time when it has not been competitive. That is sort of the fun of it. We just want to do better work for better clients. That's definitely the thing that gets me up in the morning.