The Best Creatives You Don’t Know 2004

Whether you’re working at a large agency or a small one, on a sexy national sneaker account or a local restaurant project, if you’ve got the creative chops, you’ll get noticed. The 10 young creatives profiled on the following pages have all put their talents to the test, maneuvering through the relentless obstacle course that is the creative process to put together the beginnings of an impressive body of advertising. And all of them have done so within the first few years of their careers. Some worked their way into some of the nation’s best creative departments after toiling in other agency disciplines, even in unrelated industries. Others worked personal connections to slip their portfolios under the doors of creative directors. What brought them to advertising was a love of communication and art and the desire to take part in the public discourse. What propels them forward is their talent, resilience and untiring work ethic. It may seem impossible at times, but these art directors and copy- writers are proof that it is possible to create standout work as a young member of a creative department. We predict that as their careers advance, we’ll be hearing a lot more about them and the work they create. —E.P.

Kris Wixom, Alisa Sengel Wixom
Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco

The way Jeff Goodby sees it, he gets more than his money’s worth out of the husband-and-wife team of art director Kris Wixom, 26, and copywriter Alisa Sengel Wixom, 27. Since they’re together all the time, Goodby chuckles, “you can expect them to think about [their work] more than other people.”

Affectionately dubbed “the creative team that also has sex” in a holiday video created by fellow creatives Adam Chasnow and Margaret Johnson last year, the Wixoms have proven the power of their partnership. Since joining Goodby in August 2002, they have lent their talents to AT&T, the “We know drama” print branding campaign for TNT, the Web-based “Rejected Ads” campaign for Budweiser and two luscious commercials, “Vanilla” and “Strawberry,” that are part of Goodby’s first work for Häagen-Dazs.

“They are driven to be innovative and different,” says Goodby. “They are so driven that they sometimes do things that are impossible to sell, but that’s a good sign.”

Collaborating with Goodby, Steve Dildarian and Todd Grant (who is now with Publicis in Seattle), the Wixoms developed an entire campaign out of the idea of fictitious rejected ad concepts. The spots show stick-figure storyboards that illustrate various idiotic ideas; Dildarian and associate creative director Mark Wenneker provide voiceovers of an agency team discussing the concepts. “Everyone hoped originally it would make it to TV,” says Sengel Wixom. “But it fits really well with the [rejected-ideas] concept that they are online and not on TV,” adds Wixom. “It gave us freedom to be any length. Steve and Mark were so funny together, we just hated to have to cut them down,” notes Sengel Wixom.

For the Häagen-Dazs ads, which broke in June, the Wixoms traveled to the jungles of Kuala Lumpur and Taman Nagara in Malaysia to produce “Vanilla” and to Spain to film “Strawberry.” “It was a life experience,” says Sengel Wixom.

The two met in an introductory advertising class at the University of Texas in Austin, after each had become disenchanted with their chosen course of study. Wixom, who grew up in Dallas, was studying chemical engineering; Sengel Wixom, who grew up in Houston, was studying to become a nurse. “It was really painful. I didn’t have enough passion for it,” Wixom says of his science studies. “It’s kind of funny. Both of our counselors at UT tried to talk both of us out of taking this intro-to-advertising class,” he says.

In a class of 500, the two found each other—they were living together within six months, and married in June 2003—and direction for their future. “It felt so much more my thing,” Sengel Wixom says of advertising. “It was pretty easy to cross over.”

They admit they first teamed up creatively out of convenience. “There are a lot of late nights, a lot of overnights, working on campaigns,” says Sengel Wixom. “Luckily, we just happened to work well together, so we kept going.”

After graduation, they freelanced for a while and later joined Lyon Advertising in Austin. “We worked on everything,” Wixom says. “We were able to work on fun things and do good work that kept our book moving along.” A year later, they were offered a job at Goodby in San Francisco. “It felt like we won the lottery,” says Sengel Wixom.

During their first few years together, they tried to limit their conversations about advertising to the office but soon realized that wouldn’t work. “You can’t help it,” says Sengel Wixom. “You think about stuff all the time because advertising is everywhere. You can’t help but live and breathe it.”

The Wixoms are working on new efforts for Adobe and Diamond Nuts. “The sky’s the limit with them,” Goodby says. “They are well-liked and eager. I hope they are here for a really long time.” – E.P.

Scott Trattner
Deutsch/LA, Marina del Rey, Calif.

According to Scott Trattner, conceptual art and advertising aren’t all that different. “In conceptual art, the idea is what’s important, and how you execute the idea is less important,” the 33-year-old art director explains.

He should know. After attending the San Francisco Art Institute as an undergraduate, he earned a master’s degree from UCLA in fine art, with an emphasis on conceptual art. After working for Los Angeles design collective Fullerene from 2000 until last year, Trattner, who was born in L.A., got restless. “Coming up with ideas, for me, is always more challenging than making something look good,” he says. “For me, advertising offers that.”

While at Fullerene, Trattner was impressed by Deutsch’s Mitsubishi ads, which used cutting-edge songs like Wise Guys’ “Start the Commotion.” “Seeing that stuff was thrilling,” he says. Through a neighbor of Deutsch/LA executive creative director Eric Hirshberg, Trattner finagled a meeting. Hirshberg says his book was “visually stunning but needed work. … Two months later, a completely new portfolio appeared on my desk that showed a lot of effort and completely addressed the comments given. I hired him quickly after that.”

Trattner’s art and design background helped him land the job. “He’s a guy who came through visual culture, not advertising, so he has a unique vantage point,” says Hirshberg. For example, in Trattner’s Old Navy spots, “the way the graphics work is so nontraditional and so fresh,” says Hirshberg.

In the Old Navy pitch in 2003, Trattner and partner Craig Ghiglione came up with the idea for “The effects of feel-good fashion” in spots that show teens waxing enthusiastic about mundane tasks like yard work. “There are so many long hours [during a pitch] that little things like getting dinner become fun,” Trattner says. “We were actually talking that way: ‘Are you kidding? I can’t believe it. Dinner. This is incredible!’ Then it was just like, well, maybe that’s the idea—people getting really excited about mundane things because you feel so good about the clothes.” The graphic elements came from Geoff McFetridge, a designer Trattner whom admired. Trattner describes the look as “hand-drawn warm animation style.”

Trattner has also worked on Mitsubishi and Coors’ Mexicali beer. In his spare time, he surfs and spends time with his wife, Sharonne, a former music producer, and their 2-month-old girl, Ever. He also designs T-shirts, deejays friends’ parties and helped art direct the latest issue of BIG. “He’s a guy I can see being successful at any number of things,” Hirshberg says. “He has very wide-reaching talent.” – M.A.

Jason Bagley, Brad Trost
Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Ore.

Jason Bagley and Brad Trost traveled very different paths to Wieden + Kennedy, where they have created the Nike Air Huarache “Evolution” ad as well as Moviefone’s TV and print campaign, since teaming up in January.

Copywriter Bagley, 32, was feeling stifled in his job creating high-tech trade ads at Euro RSCG DSW in Salt Lake City, when a local ad club sponsored a talk by Wieden creative directors Jed Alger and Tim Hanrahan. Inspired, Bagley approached the duo and stayed in touch, sending them work and asking them to critique it. “[Hanrahan] would give me feedback and be honest with me that I needed to push it further,” Bagley recalls.

When he finally realized he had to create spec ads to be considered at better creative agencies, he worked on his book for seven months, then sent it to the independent. “They called 24 hours after they got it,” Bagley says. “I was totally and completely shocked.”

Trost, on the other hand, had been freelancing for three and a half years as a designer in Wieden’s design studio; he initially moved to Portland after his wife got a job teaching design at Portland State University. Considering a switch to art direction, Trost, 30, freelanced as an art director on Nike. In January, he began working on the introduction of the Nike Air Huarache, collaborating for the first time with Bagley on “Evolution”—the first TV spot for both.

The pair started working on the ad on Bagley’s second day at the shop. It shows a shoe morphing, stop-motion style, into different permutations of Nike footwear. The duo, inspired by time-lapse photography in nature shows, were responsible for the spot’s streamlined look.

“Some of the early cuts were cool, but you didn’t get the sense of this thing transforming—it was more like quick shots of different shoes,” says Alger. “In subsequent cuts … they found a way to make it feel like organic growth. As a cd, I love to know I can rely on these guys to really execute things in a professional manner.”

After Nike, Trost, an Indianapolis native, was hired full time as an art director, working with Alger and cd Danielle Flagg on Moviefone, where he was again paired with Bagley.

The Moviefone effort, which began rolling out in June, highlights the duo’s strengths: Bagley’s “dry sense of humor” and Trost’s “great eye,” says Alger. The ads show geeky characters performing everyday acts—like drinking a latte or standing in a store—while thinking, via voiceovers, about “[Bagley and Trost are] extremely soft-spoken,” says Alger. “These guys have extremely strong opinions; they’re just able to present them in a way that isn’t [confrontational].” For example, they were able to convince Moviefone that instead of cutting to black and showing its logo at the end of the spot, they could insert it as a label that’s stuck on the ad—a device they extended to print. “They took the initiative to sell their idea to the client,” Alger says.

Bagley, currently at work on more Moviefone print and outdoor pieces, is the voice of the duo. “He’s kind of a joker,” says Trost—named a “Young Gun” by the Art Directors Club this month and now developing work for an undisclosed Starbucks brand—of Bagley. “Brad is a man of few words,” Bagley adds. “I’m the more outspoken one. But people don’t realize what a great sense of humor he has.” – M.A.

Crystal English, Quentin Shuldiner
Venables, Bell & Partners, San Francisco

Losing a job at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners isn’t usually described as making up a good day. Yet for art director Crystal English and copywriter Quentin Shuldiner, that fateful occurrence in 2001 was a career-defining moment.

“It was the best possible thing that ever could have happened to us,” says English, 29, who has a degree in international affairs from Georgetown University. The art director had spent the last year working with Shuldiner at the fabled San Francisco shop, but when layoffs left them without jobs, they didn’t have to go far to find new ones. “We walked across the street the day after,” says English, who started as an account coordinator at Goodby before making her way to creative services. Shuldiner, 28, who has a degree in dead languages from Brown University and studied at Creative Circus, started at Goodby as a proofreader.

The team was hired by independent Venables, Bell & Partners, founded by two former cds at Omnicom Group’s Goodby, Paul Venables and Greg Bell. “We figured we could start them on a freelance basis and oddly enough, they talked us into hiring them right out of the gate,” says co-founder and co-cd Venables.

The pair dived into projects for clients like HBO (Oz and Six Feet Under DVDs) and Animal Planet. “It was like [going] from a place where we were small fish in a big pond to big fish in a small pond,” says the Vietnam-born English, whose father was in the foreign service.

Yet the team’s greatest opportunity came from Napster. To relaunch the online music-file-sharing service, the team created a cat character from Napster’s logo who’s on the inside track to the coolest music communities. In an online series using Flash animation that extended to TV, print and outdoor, the cat breaks out of jail, is shot, recovers, signs with a record label and performs with various artists.

The effort won two gold Cyber Lions at Cannes, a bronze Pencil at The One Show Interactive Awards and a silver Cube at the ADC Awards, among other honors. Currently working on more projects for HBO, as well as new business, the team—two of 10 members of the shop’s creative department—has a bright future, Venables says. “They have amazing creative talent and tremendous taste and impeccable judgment,” he says. “But they understand they are solving business problems as they unleash those things. They’re a microcosm of our larger agency world.” – E.P.

Molly Sheahan, Marty Senn
Fallon, New York

Art director Molly Sheahan and copywriter Marty Senn have forbidden their boss, Ari Merkin, to call them “M&M.” “But Lord knows I try,” says Merkin, creative director of Fallon in New York. Still, Merkin admits that while they’re both just 27, the pair have shown a maturity that doesn’t jibe with a childish nickname like that.

“I understand the temptation for creatives to want to do the wackiest work they can,” Merkin says. “But Molly and Marty have the discipline and maturity to work on stuff that requires an older sensibility.”

They joined Fallon last October, the first hires Merkin made after joining the agency’s New York office. Merkin says he was struck by the “cleanliness of the concepts” in their books, specifically the Athena award-winning “Look deeper” ads for The New York Times, including one of a woman in a burkha, that Sheahan art directed at Bozell (which she joined after dropping out of medical school). Senn, whose father is an account executive at Fallon in Minneapolis, previously worked at Mullen in Wenham, Mass., on Nextel ads with Dennis Franz, and at Publicis in the West in Seattle.

At Fallon, Sheahan and Senn made a name for themselves on Virgin Mobile, including a promotion that involved Wyclef Jean throwing a party in Havana, Minn., for a tie-in with Dirty Dancing II: Havana Nights (a TV spot showed limos driving through the snow). They also created print ads aimed at parents that featured family portraits and ironic statements (“I can’t stand paying for overage charges on our family plan. I’m not even her real father”) as well as an ongoing TV campaign depicting the life of Ross Widmoyer, a passionate ringtone composer.

They are also bringing Fallon’s long-running “Red Border” campaign for Time magazine outdoors for the first time in a wide-ranging campaign—outdoor spectaculars, bus shelters, decals on storefronts, peepholes at construction sites, etc.—set to launch in October. “They have a great range of voices,” Merkin says.

While Sheahan and Senn had never worked together before Fallon, they quickly found their groove. “We have a good cop, bad cop thing,” says Senn, a Minnesota native. “[In meetings], she can be like, ‘I just think this is right,’ and I can do an OK job backing her up with how it might really be good for the client. She has a charming, forceful way about her, and I try to be the appeaser.”

“I get more heated about certain things, and he brings me back down,” admits Sheahan, who is from Portland, Ore.

“They have ‘future creative director’ written all over them,” Merkin says. “Their sensibilities, talent and work ethic are all pretty admirable.” –M.A.

Travis Sorge
Saatchi & Saatchi, Torrance, Calif.

“We were blessed by the advertising gods,” says Travis Sorge, copywriter at Publicis Groupe’s Saatchi & Saatchi in Torrance, Calif. The 30-year-old Sorge, art director Dino Spadavecchia and executive creative director Harvey Marco, with director Baker Smith, were shooting a commercial for the Toyota Tacoma in Valencia, Calif., that required footage of the truck being shoved off a cliff. Three were tossed. “They are very good stunt machines,” says Sorge. “They fell in the right place, flipped in the air, and no one got hurt. It was pretty great.”

The resulting spot, “Girlfriend,” a first-person-told tale of a woman who seeks revenge on her neglectful boyfriend by pushing his truck off a cliff, won a gold Lion at Cannes and a silver at the Clio Awards, among other trophies. “You can be reduced to a toddler by the color of a piece of metal,” says Sorge of the moment he learned the spot won at Cannes.

Footage of “Mike” showing off the truck with his pals cuts to the girlfriend talking to the camera as she films her allies pushing the truck off the cliff. “This is what I think of your precious 4-by-4, hang-out-with-your-stupid-friends-all-day truck,” she exclaims. Her delight turns to horror as she watches the vehicle bounce unharmed on the beach. Sorge says the brief was simple. “Tacoma vs. what? Who will rule the world?” he explains. “We came to the conclusion that the toughest opponent was a 125-pound, 5-foot-6-inch female.”

Sorge, who’s working on a PSA project for the End Hunger Network, joined Saatchi in October 2001 after meeting agency cd Matt Bogen at Los Angeles-based ad workshop The Bookshop, where Bogen was a guest instructor. “I always liked his work and apparently, he wasn’t offended by mine,” says Sorge, a San Diego native who studied psychology at UC Davis and UCLA and was a supervisor at a psychiatric residency before turning to advertising. “It was tough emotionally—I couldn’t leave my feelings at work,” says Sorge, who ended up employed at a brokerage firm in L.A. while working on his portfolio. “I decided I was going to make my vacation my vocation.”

“He’s had a pretty good year,” says Saatchi L.A. CCO Steve Rabosky. “He’s certainly got the work ethic and the talent. He’s like anybody with a couple of years in the business: You swing a lot and miss a lot, but when he certainly hits the thing, he does pretty good stuff.” – E.P.