New Kastner CCO on the Appeal of Moving from a Big Agency to an Indie Shop

By Patrick Coffee 

jamie reillyLast month we learned, via MediaPost, that Los Angeles indie agency Kastner & Partners (best known as Red Bull’s longtime AOR) had appointed a new CCO.

The agency recently made it official with a release announcing the hire of Jamie Reilly to run the shop’s creative department. The most interesting part of the story, though, is Reilly’s history: after beginning his agency career as an art director at Deutsch LA and freelancing for Saatchi & Saatchi and other shops, Reilly spent almost nine years at TBWA\MAL, the West Coast Apple-only agency that has, at times, seemed nearly as secretive as the client itself.

He then joined 72andSunny as a creative director in January 2013 before leaving at the beginning of this month to join Kastner.

We wondered what sort of trade-off could lead an experienced creative to leave a big name for a smaller, less-established shop.

Today Reilly gave us his take on the transition.

Could you talk about how your agency experience led you to your current position?

I was the Chiat/Apple team’s first digital hire back in 2004; the Apple group included about 40 people when I started there, right around the time the client released the iPod. The agency grew from 40 to about 350 in its Los Angeles office when I left to go to 72andSunny.

The thing that defined my experience with Apple was a very close relationship with the client because the agency was built to serve them. It was an unusually tight relationship with this one brand.

At 72 I worked primarily with Target, and we built a department to service Google as well. For me, the common thread is working for agencies/operations set up to partner with specific brands.

In the case of Kastner, Red Bull was started in one of our [Austrian] offices and the agency has been with them for 25 years. We know the brand inside and out.

Did Kastner offer you the job while you were still with 72andSunny?

Yes, they did. Part of the appeal was the way in which the agency works.

It’s currently about the same size that MAL was when I started, and the team wants to grow.

I loved 72andSunny and I think that what they’ve done is very inspiring. But this position gave me an opportunity to figure out how this agency could follow the same path.

When I arrived at 72, I felt that they’d already experienced that growth; there’s a bigger opportunity for me to influence the culture here.

So you won’t primarily work on the Red Bull account?

No. We are working on several large projects for Red Bull at the moment, but we also shot two recent campaigns for Adidas Golf. Our other large clients are OtterBox and LifeProof.

Red Bull is the reason for the agency’s existence, so we will always have a close relationship with that client.

But as CCO, I’m overseeing all the creative at the agency and I’m really wearing two hats: part of winning new business is bringing the creative ideas.

What cultural differences have you noted during your agency experiences?

I definitely experienced some culture shock in going from MAL to 72, especially after working there for 8 1/2 years; they have a very regimented way of doing things. But every place is different. I learned valuable lessons at both agencies.

Here at Kastner, people are used to doing things in certain ways — but there’s room for growth and improvement and people want to do good work. (That’s true of all places, really.)

It’s strange to go from one employer to another that’s roughly one-tenth the size, but it’s also nice to be somewhere where I know everyone’s name again.

So there’s something to be said for joining a creative shop while it’s still growing?

There’s value in both. The big agencies can get very cutthroat in a way that encourages paranoia without promoting good work. At a certain point in time, when an organization gets so big that you don’t know everyone, various elements of the community begin to break down.

At a smaller agency, you still have personal accountability and you feel more invested in the group. When this agency succeeds it feels like all of us have succeeded, and we promote the fact that the ideas are our ideas.

AgencySpy readers often complain about campaigns having too many credits, but there’s an effort at such agencies to make everyone feel involved rather than focusing on auteurship.

This way of working is very collaborative, and it’s difficult for some people. But I prefer to feel like I’m working with the people in the office rather than that the place is filled with thinly-veiled political battles. It’s a way to avoid the minefield of teachers’ pets, et cetera.

I want to be in a place where people are primarily interested in making the work better rather than furthering their own careers.

And that’s the sort of career advice you would give contemporaries?

The best advice anyone gave me was to find a place where you can do good work. Right now, I feel like that Kastner is that place.

The creative staff is hungry and the only limiting factor is my ability to convince others that the work is great. It’s a nice kind of pressure.

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