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The Best Creatives You Don't Know

  • September 16, 2002, 12:00 AM EDT
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"They had the right vibe," says Modernista! co-founder Lance Jensen on recruiting former Arnold mates Will Uronis and Shane Hutton. "They get their stink around things," he says, describing their contributions to the 2-year-old Boston shop's creative product, "set the mood right."

Whether you call it a "vibe," a "stink" or simply talent, each creative brings to an agency a unique DNA—the experiences, the imagination and the way of seeing the world—that separates the stars from the rest of the crowd.

The skills required of the craft are a given. So is the chemistry. Without it, no partnership survives the copywriter/art director marriage, and no creative director inspires. It's the special little somethings, the carefully chosen details added to an execution, the gentle or not-so-gentle touch with which a creative director shapes an idea or leads the troops, the ability to bring enthusiasm and optimism to the daily chore of making ads to sell product. It's all the ingredients that make a good ad great.

Whether these creatives go on to launch their own shops or just produce the next ad that makes you say, "Damn, I wish I had done that," expect to hear their names again. Eleftheria Parpis

Guy Seese - Cole & Weber/Red Cell

A decade ago, Guy Seese walked into Cole & Weber hoping for an internship. Without a portfolio to prove that his skills matched his drive, the aspiring art director left with directions to the local ad school and a subscription to Archive. At 32, Seese is now executive creative director of the $140 million agency's Portland, Ore., and Seattle offices, the West Coast hub of WPP's Red Cell Network. "It's poetic justice," says the burly Alaskan, whose self-deprecating humor is as much a trademark as his bushy goatee.

When he hired Seese last November, says Mike Doherty, president of Cole & Weber/Red Cell, "we were looking for someone to provide the next generation of leadership." Since then, "the caliber of work is outstanding and is much more consistent," he says. "He's definitely set a standard."

Seese's circuitous path to Cole & Weber began on the lawn of local adman Jim Walker (now president of Sedgwick Rd., then known as McCann-Erickson Seattle). After graduating from Washington State with a communications degree, Seese was mowing lawns for the summer. A friendship with Walker's 8-year-old opened the door to a meeting; Seese didn't get a job, but Walker let him use Mc Cann's computers after hours to work on his portfolio. "I love kids, and Lucas was the glue," says Seese, who has two of his own, newborn Aja and 2-year-old Gia. "I believe in fate. I be lieve in luck. I believe that if you have the right skills and learn the right lessons, the opportunities will be presented to you and you'll have the wherewithal to take them."

The son of an architect and an interior designer, Seese was "encouraged not only to be creative, but to prove a profit." Advertising was a logical choice. "I ended up drawing to get attention. I wasn't all that athletic," says Seese, who sold his first logo to a local library in the fifth grade. "Now that I'm a small giant, people can't miss me."

He landed a job at Hammerquist & Saffel and later moved to Chicago to join the Leap Partnership. It was during his three years at Messner Vetere Berger Mc Namee Schmetterer Euro RSCG in New York that Seese produced his most visible work, for brands such as Evian, Volvo and Intel. He landed his first role as creative director at New York boutique Mad Dogs & Englishmen.

"I went to Red Cell after Mad Dogs to leap-frog five years into my career," says Seese. "It's an opportunity to run an agency, put my stamp on the work—make it fun, make it smart, make it beautiful—and make people want to be a part of that work." Along with agency clients including Nike Retail, WatchGuard and Classmates.com, Seese also works on the network's overseas accounts.

"He's got guts, passion and intelligence," says Lee Daley, Red Cell's London-based CEO/chief strategic officer. "He's one of the greatest humanists I've come across. He ... has this unique working-class Alaskan sensibility that he won't give up until he gets it right."

Andrew Keller - CP+B

He would have been Dr. Keller if he'd done better on his MCATs. Or if his grunge band had taken off, he'd have been a bass player. Then Andrew Keller took some personality tests, which concluded that he should go into advertising—or become a flight attendant. Opting for the former, the 32-year-old associate creative director at Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Miami is now second in com mand of the shop's well-received BMW Mini campaign.

"I really wanted to be a rock star," he says. "Who doesn't when it comes down to it?" Instead, the Atlanta native and son of an oncologist enrolled in the Portfolio Center in his hometown. Keller was hired at CP+B in 1998 after a two-year stint at two small agencies in Port land, Ore., and promoted to associate cd two years ago, six months before he and Alex Bogusky presented the Mini pitch. His portfolio includes a campaign for Planet Out doors that followed campers in urban settings and an edgy animated campaign for fast-food chain Checkers.

A performer in plays and concerts from an early age, Keller says he actually likes "that nervous feeling and the potential to fail miserably" that he gets before a pitch. His acting abilities have also helped him develop what Bogusky identifies as one of his greatest talents, "method advertising." "You totally immerse yourself as the target," Bogusky explains. "You change your personality to the personality of the one you're going to advertise to." For a campaign for Women Outdoors (a subsidiary of Plan et Out doors), for example, Keller says he lit scented candles and listened to Indigo Girls CDs to "get into character."

Keller guides four core creative teams on the Mini account, though he often opens up briefs to everyone in the department. He's now at work on a new Mini outdoor campaign. He also contributes to other accounts, including Molson, led by his partner, copywriter Bill Wright.

A father to 15-month-old twin boys, Keller hasn't given up on his rock 'n' roll dream. "I want to form an AC/DC tribute band," he says with a laugh. - Mallorre Dill

Mimi Cook & Margaret Johnson - Goodby, Silverstein

Several months ago, Mimi Cook and Margaret Johnson found themselves in Elizabeth Taylor's Bel-Air estate, surrounded by an art collection that included a Picasso and a Van Gogh, a few Oscars and tiny red shoes from her preschool days. The agency team was there to discuss the launch of Taylor's newest fragrance. Before they knew it, the conversation had turned to a story about her fifth husband, Richard Burton, and a Cartier diamond gift.

Although Goodby, Silverstein & Partners had little fashion experience and only one member of the lead pitch team had cosmetics experience—Cook, a copywriter, had worked on Clinique at crosstown San Francisco shop Publicis & Hal Riney—the duo won the business in January and will launch the as-yet-unnamed fragrance (owned by Elizabeth Arden) this holiday season.

Cook and Johnson, who teamed up at Goodby a year ago, have had back-to-back successes on some difficult assignments. Their first work together was a funny SBC campaign that used the line, "Why risk it? Stick to the one you know" to keep phone customers loyal; they won the Arden assignment and followed that up by cracking the agency's first work for Anheuser-Busch client Michelob.

"We have a lot of really great creative directors, and to shine in that environment, you have to do something different," says Jeff Goodby, who promoted the team to associate creative directors in May. "They've done that so far."

Before he hired her three years ago, Goodby had tried to recruit Cook several times. "Once I got someplace, I needed to make the most of it for my own satisfaction and see what I could do there," explains Cook, 40, whose credits include an animated Levi's Jeans for Women campaign from Foote, Cone & Belding and Saturn's "Tourist Attraction" out of Riney. Johnson, 33, is a six-year Goodby veteran who studied journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill but turned to art direction after a summer design course. A teen-targeted print campaign she produced for Nike apparel is one of the shop's most requested reprints, according to Goodby.

Goodby describes Johnson as "gentler and more circumspect" and Cook as "more powerful and in-your-face," but they tackle work in the same way, they say. "For the first time, I'm working with someone who really thinks visually and verbally," says Johnson. "I work that way too."

"There is no preconceived notion of where my job ends and her job begins," says Cook, who began her advertising career in the media department at TBWA\Chiat\Day before moving into the role of copy typist, which she de scribes as "Copywriting 101." "It makes it a lot more fun."

Their first campaign for Michelob Light, three black-and-white spots tagged "Nice finish," breaks nationally next month. "They feel like little truisms about life," says Cook, a Berkeley resident and mother of two. "Any time you can reflect back something that is a true emotion in a 30-second piece, that is the most exciting thing I can do in advertising—to find the little nuggets that are previously unspoken but everyone has experienced in some way."

Goodby says the duo's work doesn't really fit into the agency's mold, and that's a good thing. "I've had really great luck putting them on brand new projects that are very unlike what the agency does," he says. "That's what's key for them in the future." - E.P.

Yan Elliott & Luke Williamson - Mother

This London team made its directorial debut last weekend with a spot for local radio station Kiss 100 that features a real rat race. On the day after the shoot, art director Luke Williamson and copywriter Yan Elliott recapped the experience. "You cannot train a rat," says Williamson, who has partnered with Elliott at Mother for four years. "People say they're intelligent. It's rubbish."

The two ultimately managed to coax the vermin around a miniature model of London, portraying Kiss 100 as an escape for harried nine-to-fivers.

Elliott and Williamson are cautiously optimistic about the spot, but say that doesn't mean they'll be leaving Mother for a directing career. "[Creative directors] Robert [Saville] and Mark [Waites] are good at giving creatives space and respect," says Williamson. "At many other agencies, we would have had to leave [in order to direct]. Here we've got the best of both worlds."

No doubt. Their credits include the "What's the worst that can happen?" Dr Pepper campaign—featuring people who try the soft drink and get publicly humiliated—which won two Lions at Cannes last year. Their sense of the ridiculous is also showcased in a hilarious West Side Story spoof pitting fans of Batchelors' Super Noodles against health-food eaters, and a campaign for Egg bank that skewers American ads, showing preposterous gimmicks such as trained goats that purport to solve viewers' financial problems.

To Waites, the team's strength lies in the amount of fresh ideas he gets. "The most valuable thing they do is come up with something that you would never in a million years come up with," he says. "Yan in particular just never stops writing."

Elliott's first job was as an art director at GGT in London, where he met Saville, who recruited Elliott to Mother in 1998. When Elliott's partner left, Saville suggested bringing in Williamson, an apprentice to a typographer ("It was very old-school," says Williamson).

"When I met Luke, I realized I was an appalling art director," says Elliott. He decided to team with William son and switch to copywriting.

"I didn't want someone who had been in advertising for years—some people will come up with a concept that works fine in the advertising world but doesn't strike a chord with people watching telly," Elliott says. "So I was very interested in Luke."

"In other words, he could bully me," Williamson retorts.

Their quick and quirky sense of humor shows in their work. "We like to muck around and have fun," says Williamson. "You can't take yourselves too seriously if you're a washing powder or a packet of noodles."

For now, the two are handing back the directing reins. Harry Nash's Ringan Ledwidge directed a new Super Noodles campaign last week and Hungry Man's Bryan Buckley will again direct the next Dr Pepper spots. But Elliott and Williamson do not plan to let their newly developed skills go to waste.

"We'll just annoy them," says Elliott as Williamson demonstrates. "You sure about that shot? You've got the right lens?" - M.D.

Will Uronis & Shane Hutton - Modernista!

As Modernista! copywriter Shane Hutton tells the tale, his career at the Boston boutique began with a tempting e-mail. "Come over here, Luke," wrote shop co-founder Lance Jensen. "Join the Dark Side. Lord Vader."

For Hutton, it was indeed a dramatic decision. He would be leaving his agency home of four years, Arnold, and a coveted position as copywriter on the Volkswagen business to help build a crosstown competitor. Art director Will Uronis would follow him to join forces with another Arnold defector, Jensen.

"Basically, I was about to tell my father [Arnold chief creative officer] Ron Lawner that I'm leaving home," says Hutton, 31, who joined Arnold after stints at Toronto shops Ogilvy & Mather and Roche Macaulay & Partners. "I said to myself, 'If I let this opportunity go away, will I have opted for the road more traveled?' That's not the way I've lived my life."

"It was the right time for me to try something new," adds art director Uronis, 31, who began his career at Arnold in 1992 as a stat person. "I did most of my growing at Arnold."

Both had worked with Jensen on Volkswagen—though each had a different partner—contributing to some of the shop's best work for the brand, including the "Turbonium," "Synchronicity" and "Milky Way" spots. "We knew we just let go of the lifeboat," says Hutton, describing the leap of faith the pair took in going to the startup. "We're in a gold-feathered nest here. What are we doing jumping out? You've got to learn to fly, I guess."

At Modernista!, their first project was what turned out to be a successful pitch for the launch of General Motors' Hummer H2. "It's been one of the most difficult assignments of my career," says Uronis of the challenge of introducing a new brand soaked in history. "We really wanted to make it look special. Visually, we took a stance on more of a fashion feel. It's a luxury item, and we want to make it look beautiful."

After exploring the idea of creating all-CGI commercials (not possible, either technologically or financially, says Hutton), the team decided on the Icelandic duo The Snorri Bros. to direct three commercials, shot in Iceland and Toronto. In the launch spot, which broke last month, Iceland's dramatic glaciers and black beaches serve as the rugged terrain testing the limits of the bright yellow H2. "If you can, maybe you will," teases a super as the visuals pull out to an image of the earth and the tag, "Hummer. Like nothing else."

Describing Hutton and Uronis, Jensen says simply, "They are Modernista!" He says one reason he and partner Gary Koepke didn't name the agency after themselves was that they didn't want it to be just about them. "We wanted it to be a place where people could make a shop the way they want to make a shop," he says. "We don't have to step on a lot of things. They have free rein. They are as important to this place as Gary or me."

Expect more from the duo next month, when Mod ern ista! breaks H2 work that Hutton will loftily describe only as "a new kind of project for an advertising agency to give birth to." -E.P.