As the author of GSD&M's U.S. Air Force campaign, Daniel Russ issues himself a well-earned military metaphor. "It feels like, after 25 years in flight school, I finally get to be the pilot in charge of a jet," he said. The jet he'll be piloting is R&R Partners in Las Vegas, which recently hired Russ as its new ecd.
Russ, who is 49 (or, in a phrase that recalls his years as a stand-up comic on the small-club circuit, "the 19th anniversary of my 30th birthday"), will lead creatives on R&R's "What happens here, stays here" campaign for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. "I've come to Vegas because I don't like to gamble," Russ said of his agency choice. R&R is "full of sharp people, and it's a forward-thinking company that feels like GSD&M years ago," he said.
Which is not to say he doesn't love his old firm. "[GSD&M president] Roy Spence taught me one of the most important things in the world," Russ recalled. "He said, 'If we try to be like 'them,'" meaning the more famous mainstream agencies, "we'll just be a worse 'them.' Let's be a better 'us.'"
After wandering through a few small shops in the South in the early '80s, then crafting ads for Kraft and Oscar Mayer at JWT Chicago, Russ found himself at The Martin Agency in Richmond, Va. He went to GSD&M in 1990, where he eventually managed the Wal-Mart creative team, leading to one of his fondest achievements: the "Real People" campaign of '00 to '06. "We filmed real associates, real customers," he said. "It has to be one of the most copied retail campaigns I've ever seen."
But for Russ, who studied to be a rabbi in his teens, changing agencies pales next to changing history. He founded the Peace Council for pro bono work, earning eight One Show awards in nine years. One ad he created to save the Civil War battlefields of Manassas, Va., from a developer was read in Congress: "If we pay tribute to the 4,200 men who died here with video, frozen yogurt and prewashed jeans, then we're the ones who are dead."
That led to a Congressional reappropriation of land, and the battlefield was won.