David Baldwin On The Spot

Baldwin, a partner and executive creative director at Havas-owned McKinney + Silver in Durham, N.C., has worked at top shops on both coasts. From his early days at Della Femina & Partners in New York to his stints at Hal Riney & Partners in San Francisco, Cole & Weber in Portland, Ore., and Deutsch in New York, Baldwin, 42, has helped create ads for Audi, Travelocity, Dr. Martens, Ikea, Saturn, the New York Mets and Polaroid, among others. A copywriter by trade, Baldwin is president of The One Club board of directors and plays guitar and sings for his ad band, Pants.

Q: What would you be doing if you weren’t in advertising?

A: I would be in advertising. I’m really doing what I want to do, and the fact that I sort of brought music into my life again with [in-house music group] Pants and things like that—it has been unbelievable. When I was a little kid, I had two things I wanted to do. My mother worked in an advertising agency —she was a media director at an agency in El Paso, Texas—and I’ve been a musician since I was very small. I wanted to play music and be in advertising, and I’m doing both.

What role does music play in your creative process?

Being plugged into the music community helps you stay alive. I write a lot of songs. It is very similar to advertising. You need a great idea, and you have to execute it.

How does North Carolina compare to places like New York and San Francisco?

It’s awesome. The quality of life is incredible here. I’m living in the Garden of Eden. I get to go to the big cities but live in this wonderful, very affordable place. Durham is awesome. It’s a very funky, culturally rich town. It is an enlightened area with some brilliant people. What’s not to like?

Who has had the greatest influence on your career?

I’ve worked with some people I consider the smartest in the world, [like] Jerry Della Femina, [who taught me] a lot. I learned the wonderful street bluster of the business, of just being street smart and going with your gut. I worked for Donny Deutsch for a while back in the ’80s. I learned a lot from Donny. I think he’s a really smart guy.

What work are you the most proud of?

I hope I’m proud of the next thing I do. I don’t like to look back. I have done a lot of work in my career that I really love, but that’s yesterday. The industry is being reborn, and we are just trying to help deliver the baby. It is the most fun time to be in the business.

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

In the last three years, we have made an interesting decision at McKinney. The industry seemed to be contracting all around us. We, instead, made a conscious decision to invest in the business and new people. We were hiring people without business. We said we were going to go win business with those people, and we did. That was a fun business decision.

And what’s the dumbest?

How thick is the magazine? You swing and miss, but always swinging is the important thing. You can only hope to learn from the dumb things you do.

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

You are responsible for your own career. You have to follow what you want to do. [The advertising] business is great, and you can do anything you want. You can’t get that in a lot of other businesses. Find something that you want to do, and do it.

You are on the advisory board of Creative Circus. What do you think is the current state of advertising education?

Advertising education is in the same state as advertising—it’s being reborn. We don’t care where an idea comes from or the media it is in. It’s all about connecting with people. They are teaching people how to think. We can teach them how to execute.

Besides your own shop, what’s your vote for the best agency out there?

That’s like asking me what is my favorite Beatles song. There are too many good agencies to pick one. I consistently get chills from Wieden + Kennedy’s work.

Name the last ad that made you think, “I wish I had done that.”

The Starbucks ad “Glen,” with the band Survivor. That’s a great spot. I remember seeing that and falling out of my chair.

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

This isn’t a new trend, but it flabbergasts me that it continues: brands taking music from pop culture and just dropping it into an ad and thinking, “My job is done.” There are so many wonderful songs and nuggets of cultural gold that get sort of destroyed. We should use music correctly.

What are you trying to accomplish with the Travelocity campaign?

We wanted to reverse their fortunes. We wanted to do work that was the talk of the online travel industry. [Group creative directors] Philip Marchington and Lisa Shimotakahara had a news story about gnomes in France being kidnapped and the Gnome Liberation Front Web site. We thought, what a great spokesman for a travel brand.

How much life is left in the gnome?

He is just beginning. It continues to gather steam. The gnome will never die. He’s immortal. He’s all-powerful. Don’t screw with the gnome.

What is your biggest fear?

Not balancing my family and work properly.