Ann Hayden

Hayden spent the bulk of her career at Saatchi & Saatchi Business Communications (formerly Rumrill-Hoyt) in Rochester, N.Y., where she started as a junior copywriter and left 16 years later as CEO. In mid-2000 she moved to New York to become executive creative director at Young & Rubicam, where she oversees creative on the AT&T, Computer Associates and MetLife accounts. Hayden, 50, also has tried her hand at screenwriting, but her passion these days is painting. That is, when she’s not working on the new $200 million integrated consumer and business effort for AT&T. Q. Before you were in advertising, you had a lot of odd jobs. What was your favorite?

A. I don’t know if this was after college or summers, but I was a restroom attendant for a while at some park in Buffalo. It was great, because it was at this field where little kids could play football. And they could come in at halftime. The rest of the time it was totally empty, so I read novels. It was like a dream.

What was your first ad?

[An early campaign was] Black Horse Beer and Ale—15-second TV spots inside a brewery. It was like: “Introducing Black Horse Premium Ale. So inviting, so exciting, so satisfying, there’s only one pleasure better.” I was at a Thanksgiving Day party with my father and his friends, and they were talking about advertising, and they said, “Ann, you wouldn’t do anything like this, would you? It’s in really bad taste and really sexist.”

What work are you most proud of?

[In the past year], “Talk is good” [for AT&T]. When you think about everything the phone companies are competing for, it’s nice for one to stand for something bigger: We’re helping people communicate.

AT&T’s new consumer campaign is all about the ‘&’—how did you come up with that?

It was funny, because we’d been looking for a while to try to name the coming together of these services for people, and one day we just said, “Oh my gosh, here it is—right between the ‘AT’ and the ‘T.’ ” It was one of those things when, as soon as we saw it, we said, “How simple is that?”

What’s the dumbest decision you’ve made?

There have been so many! Years ago, as a group creative director, I had my first chance at a special client relationship with a very important client. I didn’t use the account team enough for their skills handling that relationship, because the client liked to call me. And I was flattered, because I was younger. They’d call more and more—one request after another that did compromise that set of work, a campaign that ran over a couple of years. I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. I didn’t have enough help from my teammates to figure out how to handle it. It was the best lesson I ever learned: to make sure I’m part of a team.

What’s the most disappointing creative trend you’ve seen lately?

The amount of chaos in the advertising breaks on all the cable stations is outrageous: response pieces for things that have nothing to do with you, once in a while a brand piece thrown in, once in a while a national advertiser. The way we’re buying television is a little crazy. Nobody’s thinking about the poor consumer watching it. We’re making it hard for ourselves.

Do you think product placement is alienating consumers?

I think it’s going overboard, and I’m getting cynical as a consumer about what I am looking at. As we find new ways to communicate with people, we should find ways that are honest and meaningful. I don’t think we should keep throwing everything at them just to raise our names as an advertiser. But I also think there has to be more disclosure. I love guerrilla work—I think it’s fantastic—but it should be clear that it is advertising when it needs to be. When you’re sending people into bars talking about beer, there should be some disclosure. What I’d like is not to have it be overlegislated—I’d like for us to have integrity in our own industry.

Besides Y&R, what’s the best shop around?

Saatchi has a good, consistent product that’s underrated. They have so much P&G, and I think they do a really good job that’s more about whole ideas and not just advertising.

If you weren’t in advertising, what would you be doing?

Wouldn’t it be interesting to run a church? I go to St. Bart’s sometimes, and when I see what it’s like to communicate with people and help bring them together and have a life thinking about what existence is and have people be good to each other, I like that idea. I’m not very religious though, so it’s a problem! I used to think I’d be making movies. Lately, I would say I’d be a visual artist.

I hear one of your pastimes is fly-fishing?

I used to be interested in not just fly-fishing but a lot of different kinds of fishing. We have a house on the eastern shore of Virginia, and we fly-fish off the dock. But my own obsession has switched to painting.

Read any good books lately?

There’s a great book called Matisse on Art. Even when [Matisse] was older and not well, he was still really creative—and simple and joyous. You don’t have to suffer to be a great creative. I read it all the time.

What advice would you give someone starting out in the business?

Stuff that helps me—I need to hear it every day: Learn to listen and to open your mind to what others tell you. After you’ve listened to everything and been open to it, find out what you think and what you believe in and what makes you different, and stay true to that.