The Best Creatives You Don't Know

Names: Colin Nissan, Sean Farrell
Agency: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Fransisco
“Birthday,” in which an unearthly little boy predicts the future, is “one of the best ‘Milk’ spots—ever,” says Jeff Goodby. That’s high praise coming from the chairman and co- creative director of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, which has produced more than 10 years of award-winning work for the California Milk Processor Board. And not to mention that the spot won a gold Lion and a Clio this year.

In May, Goodby promoted the spot’s creators, Colin Nissan and Sean Farrell, to associate creative directors. “They haven’t stopped learning,” he says of the two, a team at the shop for five years. “Every year they get better and better. A lot of people their age hit this wall where they go, ‘I’m cool, I know everything.’ “

The pair—one of the most sought-after copywriter/art director teams in the country—”have a rare combination of amazing creative ability and maturity,” says creative director Harry Cocciolo, who worked with Farrell and Nissan in a victorious pitch for the AT&T Wireless account. “They make my job easy.”

Art director Farrell, 31, aspired to be a painter as a student at Syracuse University until his father, an art director at Ingalls Advertising, convinced him he’d need a job with a paycheck attached. Conversely, Nissan, 33, a University of Massachusetts communications grad, started out more business-minded—his first job was in account management at Mullen—before deciding he was meant to be a creative.

The two first teamed up at Clarke Goward in Boston in 1996, joining Goodby nearly a year apart and then spending a year asking to be reunited. Once back together, they immediately created a gold Lion-winning campaign, “Laurel Lane,” the 2000 effort for Pacific Bell’s DSL service that pitted neighbor against neighbor for Internet access. “It solidified us as a team,” says Nissan, a “character-voice guy” who reads and records his scripts to present to clients on tape. “No one messed with us after that.”

Six months ago, Nissan left San Francisco for New York, where his girlfriend is studying at Columbia. The team says collaborating cross-country has proved easy so far. “We know each other so well now—this arrangement would have been tough with anybody else,” says Nissan. “It’s been seamless,” Goodby adds.

The pair’s most recent work broke last month, a Discover Card spot in which a dad who’s paid for various sports lessons finds that his son is actually best at chess. They’re now in production on their first AT&T spots, directed by Shine’s Scott Hicks. The work will add a new flavor to their comedy-heavy portfolio. “This is a little more of the serious side of us,” says Farrell while location-scouting at Universal Studios.

The next step, Goodby says, is for Farrell and Nissan to land a piece of new business they can oversee—and, of course, to “do good work that everybody is jealous of.”

Names: Tim Gillingham & Kevin Dailor
Agency: Arnold, Boston

“It was a happy accident,” says senior copywriter Tim Gillingham of his pairing two years ago with senior art director Kevin Dailor at Arnold in Boston. “I’m a son of an English lord, and Kevin is poor white trash from Florida,” adds the British-born Gillingham, laughing. “There seems to be some strange chemistry between us.”

“They seem to have the same biorhythm,” echoes their boss, Alan Pafenbach.

Whatever the formula, the pair’s visually captivating ads for Volkswagen have made them leading talents in what Pafenbach calls the shop’s “varsity team.” Their biggest success, “Squares,” won a slew of awards this year, including a bronze at Cannes, two golds at The One Show and a silver at the Clios.

Their greatest asset, say Gillingham and Dailor, is that they both think visually. Gillingham’s credo: “If you can say it visually, you say it more powerfully.” Plus, the copywriter points out: “You get out of the time-wasting process of actually having to write anything.”

After attending the School of Communication Arts in London and doing a short stint at Saatchi & Saatchi there, Gillingham took a trip to the U.S. in 1991, met his wife and moved to Connecticut. He toiled in “some horrible and hopefully now defunct” shops there before moving to Holland Mark Martin Edmund in Boston and, four years later, to Arnold. Also in 2000, Dailor, a graduate of Atlanta’s Portfolio Center, returned for his second tour of duty at Arnold after three years at Saatchi & Saatchi, San Francisco.

Pafenbach paired them up a year later. Their first collaboration produced “Vacation,” a commercial in which a contest winner foolishly chooses a beach vacation ruined by rain instead of a Jetta, which was followed by a spot in which a Jetta owner, seemingly stuck in traffic, impatiently honks to get out of an assembly line.

The ideas, Gillingham and Dailor say, are more likely to come from their respective 5:15 train rides to suburbia than from burning the midnight oil. “We’re boring middle-age losers,” cracks Gillingham, 35, who landed in advertising after a “highly unsuccessful career” as a travel agent. (“That was hideous,” he adds. “I sent old ladies on holidays, knowing they wouldn’t be around next year to go on them.”)

“Squares” was originally intended to gently remind consumers of the hard-top Beetle while a splashier launch supported the introduction of its convertible. “It was a classic case of a sleeper hit,” says Pafenbach. Dailor, 40, adds that when he saw the final cut, he felt as though he were watching a 1970s Stanley Kubrick art film. “I didn’t know how it was going to be accepted in the mainstream,” he says.

They followed up “Squares” with the June introduction of Volkswagen’s Touareg, a print campaign later adapted into TV spots that cleverly contrasts the power of the carmaker’s SUV with its other cars. Now the pair is busy developing a Passat campaign.

All the work adheres to their guiding principle: “We try to keep it as simple and pure as possible,” explains Dailor.

That simplicity comes in many forms, Pafenbach says. “Everything they’ve done has been different from what they’ve done before,” he says. “When we put them together, good things happen.” Names

Four years ago, Publicis & Hal Riney’s Mark Sweeney created a monster with an insatiable appetite for advertising. Sweeney, along with former partner John Emmert and cd Mike Mazza, developed the Sprint Guy, the trench-coat-wearing X-Files type who makes it his mission to rid the world of the disservice that cellular does to the public. With tongue firmly in cheek, the ads have served up comical scenarios of miscommunication at the frenetic pace of about two or three spots a month.

Names: Erin Alvo & Mark Sweeney
Agency: Publicis & Hal Riney, San Fransisco

“Typically a creative team comes up with a big idea like that and starts to lose interest,” says agency president and ecd Kirk Souder of Sweeney and his partner, art director Erin Alvo. “Their work has gotten better throughout the years.” Souder, who promoted the two to group creative directors on Sprint consumer business this spring, considers the campaign one of the agency’s “most successful case histories,” in part because it so seamlessly balances branding and retail objectives. “It’s rare to have a creative team be able to do that,” he says.

“It eats spots,” says 11-year Riney veteran Sweeney, 38, of the estimated $400 million account. “It demands a lot of creative.” He teamed with Alvo after the first round of the campaign broke in 1999, and the two have been in production on the brand ever since. “Once you step onto that production machine, you’re in it,” says Alvo, 41, who joined Riney in 1998. “We stopped counting after 50 of them.”

Among the highlights from the Sprint campaign, which won them a D&AD pencil this year: a husband brings home Shamu instead of “shampoo”; a wife picks up a soap opera star instead of “soup from the store”; a husband “brings home Charo” when his wife asks to “go hiking tomorrow”; and a grandmother “flours the kids” when her daughter asks, “How are the kids?”

“Most importantly, we think the same things are funny,” says Alvo, a Parsons School of Design grad who started out on fashion and beauty accounts at New York’s AC&R and later worked on BMW motorcycles and Dime Savings at Burkhardt and Christy. “We laugh a lot.”

They also have fun on set, especially when working with celebrity talent such as Charo, whose spot debuted in February 2002. “We just looked at her, and you could tell she had to get that little coochie out,” chuckles Sweeney, a film buff whose favorite movie is Hope and Glory because “it’s everything about fathers and daughters and friends.”

Sweeney, who launched his ad career in the mailroom of FCB healthcare subsidiary Vicom after graduating from California State University at Chico, is a “great observer of people and culture, and can reflect that back in a lot of the advertising,” says Mazza, group creative director on Sprint business-to-business. “I think that’s why a lot of people have responded to it. [Sweeney and Alvo] are good at identifying those little things in life that we all relate to.”

The team, who also produced the Replay TV campaign that paused live action, is still on the Sprint treadmill—a new campaign is due in November—but also helping out with new-business efforts for Riney. They say their next goal is to do the same thing all over again: create a brand effort that has staying power. “We’d like to give a company a likable personality,” says Alvo, “and offer up big ideas that can be executed against for a long time.”

Names: Peter Rosch & John Hobbs
Agency: Bartle Bogle Hegarty, New York

“We hate advertising, but we love what we do,” says Peter Rosch, half of the team known simply around Bartle Bogle Hegarty in New York as Rosch and Hobbs.

That dichotomy fuels some of the unconventional creative choices Rosch and partner John Hobbs have made in their year-and-a-half tenure at the New York shop. They’re the team behind BBH’s first Levi’s work—the silver- and bronze-Clio-winning “Dangerously low” campaign that felt more like cinematic shorts than advertising—and its Rolling Stone print ads filled with hand-written rants about the music industry, which picked up a silver Lion this year.

Expect to see a lot more from BBH in their style, says ecd Kevin McKeon. “More and more of the work that defines us will have their creative stamp on it,” he says. “They are one of the brightest stars at the agency right now.”

“It was one of those cosmic things,” says Rosch, a 30-year-old copywriter from Dallas, about getting teamed with Hobbs at J. Walter Thompson in New York in 2000. Hobbs, 36, an art director from Detroit who once aspired to be a car designer, was in production on a Lipton Brisk spot when his partner left. “I came back [from production] really crazed, and [Rosch] was this calm guy who got it,” says Hobbs, who came to JWT from Doner. “I liked the fact he’s not this traditional ad guy.”

Rosch had gravitated to advertising after a “falling out” with the University of Texas’ music department. He still plays drums, in a band called West, and co-founded a record label, Two Dupes Records. Before JWT, he put in time at Young & Rubicam and the Cartoon Network in Atlanta, and Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners and BBDO in New York.

While they hit it off immediately, their nine-month-long Lipton assignment never got produced. “That was a special time in my life,” quips Rosch. In mid-2001, they quit JWT to freelance. BBH group creative director Thomas Hayo, who knew Hobbs from JWT, recruited the two for what was intended as a brief gig helping the shop with ideas for Levi’s.

When the agency recommended their concepts, they had a job. And they say they’ve found a home at BBH, which encourages their creative experiments. Among those are a book concept for Levi’s that wasn’t produced and a comedy-improv-style radio campaign for that breaks next month (they threw out suggestions to comedians and recorded their riffs). “If you have a good idea that’s outside the boundaries of the job, you are certainly encouraged to pursue it,” says Hobbs. “That’s something that we haven’t found at other places we’ve worked.”

Name: Steve McElligot
Agency: Ground Zero, Los Angeles

“My dad’s Jeff Goodby, so I changed my name to McElligott,” deadpans 30-year-old copywriter Steve McElligott, whose father, Tom, is the legendary creative who co-founded Fallon McElligott Rice in 1981.

“If you are ever going to believe it’s in the genes, then those are the genes you want,” says Ground Zero co-founder Court Crandall, who saw a rare maturity in McElligott’s student portfolio and snapped him up after he graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University’s Ad Center in 1999. “He came in and made an almost immediate impact on the place.”

McElligott has lent his quirky humor to several notable efforts, including the ESPN “College day” campaign that turned into a two-year effort of nearly 20 spots, and ads for comedian Jay Mohr’s short-lived TV show that won a silver Pencil at this year’s One Show. “He’s a fantastic comedy writer,” says Crandall. “Steve has already amassed a stronger television reel than his dad had. Not bad for three or four years in the business.”

Though McElligott says “advertising seeped into my psyche at a young age,” his first instinct was to take a different path. “I tried to avoid it for years,” he says. After studying English at Colorado College, he worked as a producer at a local news station in Roswell, N.M. “I tried to put in as many mutilated-cattle and alien sightings as I could,” he says proudly. “It didn’t take long for me to see that maybe television news wasn’t the most responsible vehicle for me to stretch my creativity.”

Crandall cites McElligott’s campaign from 2000—featuring a dim-witted blonde who competes against the cable station’s site with her own—as one example of creative stretching. “The best thing you can do for your company is have big thinkers rather than good advertising people,” he says.

Currently developing an X-Games campaign for ESPN, “Do you smell smoke?” anti-smoking spots for the California Department of Health and a Partnership for a Drug-Free America campaign targeting early-teen users, McElligott claims the ad-making process can be tortuous for him. “Whenever I’m working on something, I find it phenomenally painful and wake up screaming in the middle of night,” he says. “I don’t know if I’m compensating for incompetence, but if you really want to do work that persistently questions methods and techniques, it’s hard. You’ve got blood coming out of your fingers when you’re writing.”

Has his dad helped him deal with the angst? While “he’s been terrific and supportive in everything I’ve done,” McElligott says the two never actually talk shop.

His father’s influence, however, has been felt from day one. “Like it or not, I’ve been a student of advertising since I was born,” says McElligott. “I was the only 4-year-old on the block that kicked the TV when the Doublemint twins commercial came on.” Ask Kat Morris’ colleagues at Crispin Porter + Bogusky to describe her and you hear “persistent.” And also “tough.” And “insane,” but in a good way. And then, from Alex Bogusky: “She’s an animal.”

What does he mean? Well, for one thing, the relative newcomer to the Miami agency is not above telling its executive creative director to “fuck off.” But that’s fine with Bogusky, who prizes her work ethic. “She just stays at it, and I can send her back and back and back, and it’s not a problem,” he says of the 25-year-old. That tenacity propelled Morris’ rise from intern to staff art director in August 2002.

Since then, she’s made sure to get her hands on as much work as possible, pitching in on campaigns for Molson, Florida’s “Truth,” Compass Bank, Virgin Atlantic and, most recently, the Mini Cooper, for which she art-directed “Mini Mavericks.” The novelty print ad consists of perforated cards in which the cars are illustrated as ’70s-style souped-up hot rods. She’s now at work on a Telluride Ski Resort campaign and just completed two national “Crazy World” spots for the “Truth” campaign.

“The only thing I give a shit about is doing a lot of work,” says Morris in her straight-up style. The Ocean City, Md., native, a University of Delaware graduate, is teamed with Ronny Northrop, a pairing that had a shaky start due to their 14-year age difference. “It’s made things interesting,” Northrop says, but adds, “I think it helped our dynamic, especially on things like ‘Truth’ and Mini, where we’re talking with younger people.”

Bill Wright, an acd who has worked with Morris on Molson, Compass Bank and Virgin Atlantic, says her youth is not reflected in her craftsmanship. “She’s an old-school art director—her work is very crafted and very finished,” he says. His only concern? “She never goes home,” he says. “She’ll do well if she doesn’t burn out in the next eight minutes.”