First Mover: Jeff Kling

The celebrated copywriter on why Fallon's best work may be ahead of it


Age 45

New gig Chief creative officer, Fallon

Old gig Executive creative director, Wieden + Kennedy, Amsterdam

Known for Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man” campaign, Miller, Jaguar, Nike work

Why the fascination with Cecilia Giménez, the elderly woman who was in the news for destroying the Spanish church fresco?

Her restoration attempt required a lot more than idle good intentions. She brought reverence, devotion and probably love to a sincere effort to restore this work. She’s north of 80 and she got paint on her hands. How many 30-year-olds follow through on casual plans for the evening, let alone make good on their creative ambitions? She invests herself totally and gets smacked for it. I hope she knows her humanity is beautiful. Her act edifies us like art seldom does, and I hope Jesus has her back. I want to hug her.

You studied German and English at Duke. How did you get into advertising?

It was a perfectly useless degree. I leaned on a friend who is in the business and asked him, “What should I do with it?” He said, “Oh dude, you totally have to go into advertising.” So pursuant to his advice, I put together a book, scheduled some interviews, and one thing led to another. I lucked into my first agency job at Wieden + Kennedy.

You’ve had two tours of duty in Amsterdam. Hard to leave?

It’s much easier to leave a place when you hate it and your options are shut down. We love it. The only reason we’re leaving is because we think we have an amazing opportunity for me in Fallon and the family in Minneapolis.

A lot of people think Fallon’s best creative days are behind it.

People are generally pretty bad predictors of the future, so it remains to be seen whether Fallon’s best creative work is in its rearview mirror. I aim to make sure its future is as brilliant as its past. I realize that’s a shit ton to live up to. I think I can tell pretty quickly when I’m in the presence of people with whom I can accomplish great things, and I felt nothing but phenomenal energy from everybody I met at Fallon.

Work on Fallon’s reel you like?

I’ve always been bad at keeping up to speed about who’s doing what work. As part of my ongoing program to stay naive just like a consumer is, I let a lot of work find me. One such thing that found me a long time ago was a PBS campaign called “Stay Curious” (2000) by Errol Morris. I was absolutely floored by how awesome it was.

What’s your management style?

Style strikes me as a ‘70s hair word. I don’t think people like being managed. People like support, they like trust. They like understanding and guidance. I approach these things like, “OK, whatever qualities I have as a human being, I’m going to throw the full weight of them behind the people I now work for.” They’ll know what it’s like to have my complete support and know they have a new and, I hope, a pretty powerful ally to help them do work that will amaze all of us.

Big influences on you as a creative person?

I’m going for maximum pretension in my response on this one and say Ben Shahn, the amazing American artist who mastered several art forms. He was a Harvard professor who wrote an essay called “The Shape of Content.” It’s about where an idea leaves off and its execution in media begins. He wrote it half a century ago, but it talks about the themes this industry struggles with today.

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