David Angelo On The Spot

David Angelo, chief creative officer of davidandgoliath, is struggling to keep his New Year’s resolutions: to quit smoking and play more golf. “It’s been a very trying time,” says Angelo, 43, who was ecd at Cliff Freeman in New York before moving to L.A. in 1999 to start his own shop, with Kia as the founding account. Clients including Outback Steakhouse, Barcardi, Universal Orlando and Dillard’s have since signed on. And last year, hard work, optimism, a trusty yellow shirt and a lucky black rock helped Angelo retain the $270 million Kia business after a six-month review.

Q: Your partner Skip Sullivan recently left the agency. Were you surprised by that?

A: For some time, Skip had wanted to spend more time with his family and help his wife grow her garment business, and quite honestly, how can you blame him? It’s an admirable thing to do.

Why aren’t you replacing him?

Fortunately we have a strong management team already in place with Mike Braue and Ruth Amir. They have been instrumental in developing the non-Kia side of the business for the past five years.

What was the scariest point of the Kia review?

The day it went into review. We never had a piece of business in review, and when it’s your main piece of business … When it’s your own company, there is so much more genuine emotion attached to a review. We figured, if they don’t go with us, then it’s a blessing, and if they do go with us, it’s a blessing. They picked us, so I truly believe there is a new beginning at Kia. We’re ecstatic as hell.

What did you learn from the review?

It enabled us to look at the landscape. We’re still trying to figure out who we are.

Who are you now?

We’re scrappy, approachable, extremely passionate and fun to be around. I like to believe we’re an agency that truly lives up to its name.

And you feel that you have?

It’s a tough name to live up to. We’ve got this six-foot slingshot in the agency. It’s menacing and reminds me everyday why I’m in this business. I’m in it to win it, to take on any challenge that comes my way—to go up against some of the biggest agencies and prevail against all odds.

What’s up with the good-luck charms?

I have this black rock that I keep as a source of inspiration. A great idea can be small as a rock, but it can bring down Goliath. If you truly believe in yourself, anything is possible. My wife gave it to me. And my lucky yellow shirt—I’m 16 and 0 with it. I wear it to all important meetings.

How did you get into the ad business?

I’ve always been interested in art. I had a scholarship to the Academy of Art College in San Francisco. I was also pretty crazy back in high school. Two months before graduation I got kicked out. I joined the Teamsters, like my dad, and loaded trucks for 10 years. At a certain point, I decided to revisit the Academy of Art College and take the long road. I wanted to finish school and prove to my parents and myself that I could do it. I graduated at the top of my class.

Who has had the greatest influence on your career?

One is Bill Bernbach. I wish I worked back during that era when they were revolutionizing the business. The second would have to be my wife. I know that sounds cheesy, but midway through the [Kia] pitch, you know, going through hell, I get a card in the mail from my wife. And it’s just a very simple card with a quote on it that reads, “If you’re going through hell, keep going,” by Winston Churchill. I kept it on my desk, and I kept telling all my employees, “Listen guys, if you’re going through hell, just keep going.”

What work are you most proud of?

I think it goes back to the [New York] lottery campaign [created at DDB New York]. The premise was so simple and so true. It’s timeless, and it was all about a line that evoked so many emotions, “Hey, you never know.” I still say it. People were saying it when we were in the midst of the pitch, “Hey.” Also, our Bacardi and Cola campaign. I think it’s one of the freshest ideas out there. It pokes fun at the whole liquor advertising [category].

What was the last ad that made you feel, “I wish I had done that.”

There’s one spot that to this day I still remember, and it didn’t get the accolades it should have, but the Nike spot where Lance Armstrong was resuscitating an elephant. It’s epic. It’s true to the brand, and it has imagery that stays with you. I love everything about that spot. I love the music. I love the imagery. I love the heightened reality of it.

What’s the smartest business decision you’ve ever made?

Starting my own agency.

What about the dumbest?

Oh, there really are no dumb decisions. There are no mistakes. They’re just lessons learned, you know?

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

Bust your ass. If your not 100 percent committed to this business, don’t bother. Stay out for all our sake.

Give me three words to describe yourself.

Passionate, approachable, resilient.

How would others describe you?

Hard working, difficult, huggable. I do a lot of hugging around here lately.