Agency vet Edward Boches is turning Mullen into a destination shop
Don't ever call Mullen executive creative director Edward Boches "Eddie." Even "Ed" will provoke a prompt, tart-tongued correction. Boches takes his name and work seriously. His intense, perfectionist attitude has paid off in his 16-year career at the agency just north of Boston that boasts scores of creative kudos and a varied client list--Swiss Army Brands, Monster. com, L.L. Bean and Nextel--that would be the envy of any shop on or off Madison Avenue.
Some colleagues refer to him-- jokingly, of course--as "Prince Edward." On any given day, no one at the agency is more driven than the 45-year-old Boches. "Edward doesn't take one [vitamin] pill in the morning to get started, like the rest of us. He takes the whole bottle," says agency founder Jim Mullen, who hired Boches for a job in the agency's PR department.
"I have an intense work ethic," Boches says. "I don't have a high tolerance for those who don't care. [To work here], you have to care--and care a lot."
Six months ago, Mullen chief creative officer Paul Silverman handed the day-to-day responsibilities of running the creative department (80-plus employees) to Boches. "Face it, I'm 58 going on 59, and in advertising, that's like 159," said Silverman at the time. "We want this business to last, and this is the next logical step."
Since then, Boches has worked to make the department his own, promoting a half-dozen staffers, recruiting a dozen more and overseeing the birth of smart creative. His goal? To help Mullen become a serious player--a diversified agency that strives to produce work that "is unavoidable, almost impossible to ignore that forces people to look at a product or service in a way they've never thought of."
A buyout in April by the Interpublic Group of Cos. has also moved Mullen--a $300 million agency located in woodsy Wenham, Mass.--into advertising's major leagues. The 296-person shop is now run as an autonomous unit of The Lowe Group in New York.
According to sources, Lowe bought 80 percent of the agency. But like agency president Joe Grimaldi, Boches held onto a share in the shop. Privately, Boches concedes that keeping some ownership gives them incentive to grow the agency and, in theory, garner greater rewards down the road.
With the new financial structure in place, Boches says he's committed to producing work that will secure Mullen's position as one of the "top three" destination agencies--where the most talented people in the business want to work in the U.S.
Mullen's distinctive crimson-colored Swiss Army campaign, a Super Bowl spot for Monster.com and its first work for L.L. Bean, tagged "Start here. Go anywhere," places the agency securely among "the top 15, maybe the top 10" destination agencies, says a Boston-based creative recruiter. Boches is also building a strong reputation as a "presenter," according to sources.
For example: Jeff Taylor, CEO at Monster.com, says Boches swayed him with his "high energy" and "strong personality" in fall 1998, when the company began an agency search for a Super Bowl project. Looking for a shop to cast the job board as a career resource, Taylor was willing to dump a sizable portion of his ad budget on a Super Bowl buy.
It was Boches' Super Bowl debut, and everyone was feeling the pressure. "At times, it wasn't pretty," says Taylor. "We had different ideas. Mullen was going for the impact and stopping power. We were wrestling with [wanting] a spot that was more reflective of Monster's brand."
The agency came up with two campaigns. The completed spot, featuring kids finishing the line "When I grow up " was, in Taylor's view, a compromise--but a good one. "He can be swayed, but it also showed that we were both listening and learning," says Taylor, who recently named Mullen agency of record for Monster.com. Plans are under way for a Super Bowl follow-up.
"Edward's confident. He knows what he likes," says copywriter Roger Baldacci, now an associate creative director at Fallon McElligott in Minneapolis, whose first "real job" in advertising was at Mullen.
"You had to work hard to make sure you knew your stuff because he did. He has a strong opinion. That's what you want from a creative director," says Baldacci, adding, "He's the kind of creative director--and I know people who don't like this in a CD--but he's a guy who leads by example."
"Even five years ago, when I was freelancing at places like Goodby, people would ask about Mullen. It has mystique. And now, there's a lot of good stuff happening there," says native New Englander and award-winning copywriter Kara Goodrich, who rejoins Mullen next month after a stint at Fallon. "Edward seems to be re-energizing the place as a real creative powerhouse. He's excited, and it's infectious."
Boches, a rebellious teen who mouthed off to teachers in high school in Haverhill, Mass., graduated from Boston University with a film degree. After stints as a newspaper reporter and in public relations, he grabbed his first agency job at Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos in Boston where he met Grimaldi. When Grimaldi left the shop to join Mullen, he recruited the 29-year-old Boches.
Before long, the PR letters that Boches wrote attracted Silverman's attention. "He was a better writer than most of my copywriters," Silverman says. "I wanted to put that energy to work for me."
Boches assumed the transition from flack to copywriter would be a piece of cake. His first ad--a freebie for the Beverly (Mass.) Police Department that was art directed by John Doyle, now executive creative director at Publicis & Hal Riney in San Francisco--won a One Show pencil. "It was easy," Boches says. Still, he realized there was a clear difference between creating no-pressure pro bono ads and work that paying clients would buy.
He hit his first "home run" in 1989: a small-space campaign for Smartfood, a white- cheddar popcorn packaged in black bags. The snack rewrote the rules before selling out to Frito-Lay. The campaign focused on the outside of the bag, not the popcorn itself--at that time, a groundbreaking idea for the food-product category. "Every time I look at any work in the category--whether it's for snack foods or beer or soft drinks--it's all about personality and attitude," Boches says.
Dozens of executions for Smartfood using '50s-style photography and crude drawings in thought bubbles ran the gamut from racy to topical. One ad showed male and female office workers seated side by side at a table. A package of Smartfood inhabits the bubble above the man's head, while the woman is thinking about his skinny frame clad only in boxer shorts. Boches' personal favorite: Vice President Dan Quayle and wife Marilyn. She thinks Smartfood; Quayle's bubble is empty.
Boches continues to distinguish himself with clever campaigns for Money magazine, Digital Equipment Corp. and pro bono causes, such as the World Society for the Protection of Animals.
Meanwhile, Silverman has worked on various accounts, winning accolades for his work on Timberland, U.S. Trust and steering the BMW account for the tumultuous two years the agency had it. From the day he arrived, "Edward was always second in command," Silverman says. "He was always formidable: in energy, in ability, in the quickness of his ideas."
Mullen's first work for Northern Light Technology, a search engine based in Cambridge, Mass., broke last week with the tagline: "Just what you've been searching for." Coming up for the holiday selling season is the first work for hifi.com, a unit of Cambridge SoundWorks, and Comp USA.net, the online unit owned by electronics retailer CompUSA.
Now the biggest challenge for Boches as creative chief is "overcoming the fear that if I don't do it, it won't get done. I've had to work hard to get to the point where I'm not always imposing my ideas on others. One thing I've learned from Jim [Mullen] is to get out of the way, not be heavy-handed. I want to build a place that is all about the work."
And please remember the name: It's Edward.
Back talk from Boches
Worst advice you ever gave: Don't put kids in a commercial; it's been done.
Best advice you ever got: Beware of take-out sushi.
Most recent book read: Nicholson Baker's The Everlasting Story of Nory.
Favorite pastime: Being dad to a 3-year-old.
USGA handicap: 2.
Ad you wish you had done: "Litany" spot for The Independent.
Career if not advertising: Dispensing balls at a driving range.
Pet peeve: The use of "their" as a singular pronoun.
Worst moment: Asking "What assignment?" following a new-business pitch to Lotus in which the work was not only poorly received but didn't answer the assignment.
Best moment: Reading the reviews of Monster.com's "When I grow up" spot the day after the Super Bowl.