10 Chief Creative Officers Who Are Inspiring Breakthrough Work at U.S. Agencies

They've risen to the top of their profession, running creative departments at some of the U.S.'s most respected agencies. As part of Adweek's Creative 100, here are 10 chief creative officers who are leading by example, mentoring younger staff and churning out some of the most compelling advertising around.


PJ Pereira

Chief Creative Officer
Pereira & O'Dell, San Francisco

Pereira's genius lies largely in long form, from his Red Bull film "Unflinching Triumph" (made at AKQA in 2006) to Pereira & O'Dell's expansive, emotive work for Coca-Cola, Skype and Intel (whose episodic gem "The Beauty Inside" with Toshiba won a gold Clio and three Cannes Grand Prix in 2013). Pereira has also gone long—really long—in print, penning a trilogy of best-selling fantasy novels in his native Brazil. Yet he also knows his way around shorter work—like his series of amusing 15-second ads for 1-800-Contacts.

"I am very fortunate I get to tell stories for a living, especially when these stories make the world a little bit better," says the onetime computer programmer. "That may take form of a book that helps with religious tolerance in Brazil, a short film that helps young people embrace their homosexual friends in Latin America—where every day someone dies because of the issue—or a big production that inspires adults and kids all over the world to embrace their creativity. I guess that is the ultimate professional luxury."


Gerry Graf

Chief Creative Officer
Barton F. Graf 9000, New York

Graf told the Clio Awards in 2013 that he'd been afraid to open his own place three years earlier, after years of running big-agency creative departments. By now, though, it's clear the decorated creative's grand experiment is paying off. He's been steadily adding clients and staff and producing more varied work than ever. His trademark quirky humor is still evident for clients like Little Caesars, Kayak and Tomcat ("Dead Mouse Theatre" was a highlight for a guy who once worked as an exterminator), but Barton F. Graf has churned out more epic work, too, like the YouTube-conquering Clash of Clans ads.

To the father of three, it's a great time for small creative shops to poach big clients. "They realize nobody has to watch their stuff anymore," he says. "There's always been a Nike or some other client that embraced creativity. But it was more about 'How many times can I pound this into your head?' The idea means something now."


Margaret Johnson and Eric Kallman

Executive Creative Directors
Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco

On paper, Johnson and Kallman couldn't seem more different. She's been at GSP for 19 years; he joined last year. She's a visually driven designer; he's known for award-winning comedy. But they're bound by quite the common purpose—taking the reins of one of the country's most venerable creative shops. (They may technically be ECDs, but they function as CCOs.) If their styles are complementary, so is the recent work they've loved making. Kallman points to three social media efforts—#SignMyTweet for Xfinity; a live game show on Periscope for Doritos; and the Sipsters campaign for Sonic. "The stuff I've been most excited about recently has all been on social media," he says. "Small, focused teams working with short timelines and modest budgets have been making a big impact."

Johnson singles out a Sonic TV spot that almost didn't get made, in which Kevin Durant comically daydreams of candy slushes at the free-throw line. "It read extremely weird on paper—poking fun at the Nike-esque 'I'm a serious athlete' genre. The kind of weird that makes clients nervous," she says. "On a shoot day for another spot, they finally gave us 10 minutes to capture it. Once we cut it, the client finally saw what we loved about it and decided to put serious media dollars behind it, airing it during the NBA Finals. Kevin Durant was trending on Twitter during a finals he wasn't even playing in." Johnson adds: "Never give up on an idea you love. As a creative, your job is to produce work that your client would never have thought of. Stay on it like a rabid dog until you get it made. Your client will thank you later."


Greg Hahn

Chief Creative Officer
BBDO, New York

Hahn looks like a rock star, and in many ways he is one—the virtuosic multi-instrumentalist of BBDO New York's creative product. The soft-spoken leader—a longtime collaborator of global CCO David Lubars dating to their days at Fallon—was made New York CCO in 2013 and leads the office's often brilliant output for clients like Snickers, HBO, AT&T, GE, FedEx and Lowe's.

"The thing I'm most proud of this agency for is the overall range of interesting work that's being done here," he says. "It's one thing to have one or two showcase accounts, or to do good work on a few random small projects, but to do it on a larger scale across the board is a whole other challenge. And that's a testament to the entire agency. There's a spirit here that everyone is on the same mission. All our energies and all our discussions can be centered around, 'Is this making the work better?' " So, how does he run such a large and accomplished department? "It comes down to focusing on the day-to-day opportunities and the tasks at hand, while keeping an eye on the larger picture," he says. "There is a saying, 'How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.' Which I find both true and disgusting."


Mark Fitzloff

Executive Creative Director
Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Ore.

While he's undoubtedly among the industry's most talented creatives, Fitzloff prefers to assume otherwise. "I believe in the motivating power of doubt and insecurity," says the W+K leader. "The best creatives I know truly think they suck, and that is why they don't. It is certainly a cruel and unloving philosophy to subscribe to, but it seems to hold true more consistently than anything." Among Fitzloff's work that hasn't sucked over the years: the Old Spice campaign, which he dreamed up and ran for four years, along with potent, high-profile work for Levi's, Nike, Chrysler and P&G.

After 18 months in a global role, Fitzloff recently returned to "his dream job" of running the Portland headquarters. "Like any piece of great creative, there are literally hundreds of people who can rightfully claim co-credit, but the success of W+K Portland is what I strive for above all else," says the Wisconsin native and father of two. "When we achieve it, I feel like I'm on top of the world. Of course, when we don't, I'm pretty awful to be around."


Leslie Sims

Chief Creative Officer
Young & Rubicam, New York

Sims took the CCO role at Y&R New York in January after 17 years at McCann, but already feels like part of the family after an intense six months of "drinking from the fire hose." The Clemson and Portfolio Center grad, best known at McCann for the award-winning Nature Valley Trail View digital campaign, now leads some 150 Y&R creative staffers on accounts like Xerox, Dell and Campbell's. Sims believes the level of passion is evident in any piece of work. "You can always tell when a team had fun coming up with an idea," she says. "And then there are ideas you can tell were just really hard work, and that the team banged their heads against a wall to fit everything in and hit a bunch of markers."

Of her general approach to the work, she adds: "It's so important to not just be on brief. You have to take a step back and really be honest and say, is this legitimately interesting? Is it something people would seek out or emotionally connect with, or does it provide any actual new information or true utility? If the answer is no, it really doesn't matter how on strategy it is. Especially when our clients' brands are out in the world competing for attention with things like Pharrell's '24 Hours of Happy.' "


Joe Alexander

Chief Creative Officer
The Martin Agency, Richmond, Va.

Alexander has seen a lot in 23 years at The Martin Agency, but it's what he hasn't seen that motivates him. "Don't be afraid. Fear is good," he says of his creative philosophy. "That means you are way outside your comfort zone and trying something new. When Martin is at its best, that's what we create, and that's what consumers respond to." Case in point: the Emmy-winning "Clouds Over Cuba" work for the JFK Presidential Library, and Geico's "Unskippable" pre-roll campaign, which earned Martin its first Cannes Grand Prix last month (and which is "maybe the best Geico work we've done since the cavemen," says Alexander).

Alexander says his job as CCO is to "set an expectation for great work. Recruit and retain the talent you need. Then get out of the way. By that, I mean don't disappear. Be available, walk around, hang out. Don't be some mysterious figurehead. I was a working creative for a long time. I know what it's like to be in the trenches and grinding it out. I can relate. I think my teams know that and respect that." Lately, the father of three daughters—who started his career as a copywriter in Minneapolis—has been working on a book for Martin's 50th anniversary. "It's fascinating to see the transformation from the '60s to now," he says. "It only makes me more excited for the next 50 years and what's possible."


Pete Favat

Chief Creative Officer
Deutsch North America

No wonder Deutsch got Taco Bell to go head to head with McDonald's at breakfast time. Conflict is at the heart of Favat's highly strategic creative approach. "First and foremost, we need to create work that is original and shareable. That mission is central to everything we do," says the former Arnold CCO, who joined Deutsch LA as CCO in 2013 and became North American CCO this year. "Clients pay us to say something that people care about. That's why putting tension into work makes people pay attention. Any great story needs an antagonist and protagonist to get people to engage. I like work with an arresting quality, work that's pushing against something. All art needs resistance."

Favat also points to VW.com, Target's Imagine Dragons commercial break on the Grammys and New York's digital efforts for PNC Bank as examples of great recent Deutsch work. "When it comes to creative, the strategy is the idea," he says. "I've always said you should make the strategic box as small as you can. The quickest way to get to good creative work is a great strategic idea. We've spent a lot of time coming up with creative executions from a small box strategy and it works." Despite his love of tension, it's not all about conflict. "I send a congrats letter to parents when I promote someone," Favat says. "I thank them for raising such an awesome person who has made an impact on our company. Nothing makes me happier."


Andreas Dahlqvist

Chief Creative Officer
Grey, New York

Dahlqvist famously grew DDB Stockholm almost tenfold to 130 people in his seven years there, and learned the indelible value of culture—which he now applies to Grey's 500-plus New York creative department. "There's nothing more important to an ideas company than its people and the culture that surrounds them, so that's a big focus," he says. "The best agency moments I've been part of have always inspired a feeling that anything is possible when you come in to work, that sense that you can't wait to see what we can come up with today."

Anything does seem possible at the creatively surging Grey these days. Just look at the Cannes Grand Prix-winning Volvo "Interception"; the "Gun Store" stunt in New York City; or upcoming Pantene work, themed "Strong Is Beautiful," that Dahlqvist is particularly excited by. "I see big forward motion on the client side, real openness and need for new thinking," says the Swede, who was CCO at Commonwealth/McCann before Grey. "I'm very curious to explore what creativity can do to further drive business."


Jae Goodman

Chief Creative Officer
CAA Marketing, Los Angeles

"Think like a marketer, but act like a producer." When clients follow Goodman's credo, they end up with content that goes well beyond advertising and thrives in the entertainment space. The success speaks for itself—Coca-Cola on American Idol; Neiman Marcus' "Make Some Noise" campaign about women who rock; Cadillac's innovative product integrations with Doug Ellin and Entourage; and, of course, the celebrated branded content work for Chipotle.

"We're proud of the strategic and creative caliber of the work. But much more importantly, all of [these campaigns] and more led to impressive business results," says the former Publicis & Hal Riney ECD and onetime Wieden + Kennedy copywriter. "The work we're most proud of is all the work that worked."


More of Adweek’s Creative 100:

Check out all the honorees by category:

30 Copywriters, Art Directors and Creative Directors
10 Chief Creative Officers
10 Digital Innovators
10 Branded Content Creators
10 Viral Content Creators
10 Commercial Directors
10 Visual Artists
10 Celebrities and Influencers

You can also browse the full list alphabetically or follow the entire Creative 100 on Twitter.

This story first appeared in the July 20 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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