John Doig Hears ‘Ring of Honesty’

Ogilvy Veteran Replaces Mike Sheehan as CD at Hill, Holliday
BOSTON–Looking to revive a storied ad career that spans continents, an array of big brands and an aborted entrepreneurial venture, John Doig has joined Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos as creative director.
A New Zealand native who for 20 years served as creative director at Ogilvy & Mather, Doig, 49, succeeds Mike Sheehan at Boston’s second largest ad agency.
“I’m not walking into anything that’s broken. This is [a place] with a spine and an inheritance that’s pretty big,” Doig said last week. “I’m here because of the heritage . . . and to make the kind of advertising that is based on essential human truths.”
Doig most recently operated creative consultancy Yellow Card in New York, which he said he has shuttered. He co-founded the shop in 1994 with partners Jeff Schur and Tim Elliott after the trio left Earle Palmer Brown, Bethesda, Md. Its one notable client, the Mercedes-Benz Retailers Group of Southern California, left the shop earlier this month.
“He’s got a huge brain, a huge heart and a huge appetite . . . He’s an extraordinary talent,” said Elliott, who now serves as managing director at Foote, Cone & Belding, New York.
Despite his own admitted shortcomings as a business manager, Doig said it was Hill, Holliday’s entrepreneurial spirit that attracted him to the agency. He also wanted to get back to creating advertising like the shop’s “Real life, real answers” campaign for John Hancock, which he said “rings with honesty.” When Doig uttered those words to agency president Fred Bertino at a dinner meeting, Bertino said he knew he had found his man.
Doig, a relative unknown to most in Hill, Holliday’s creative department, is legendary in some ad circles. He is credited on campaigns for Hershey’s, Owens-Corning, Mercedes, Concord watches and Roy Rogers.
Among some of his best-known work, however, is a series of TV spots created in the late 1980s at Ogilvy for AT&T that used a “shaky camera” technique and portrayed business as dark and inhospitable. Dubbed “slice of death” advertising at the time, the campaign’s premise was simply, “If you’re not buying an AT&T phone, you’re putting your business at risk,” Doig recalled last week.
Doig joined Ogilvy in 1970 in Melbourne, Australia, returning to his native New Zealand the following year when the agency opened an office in Auckland. He then left for Southeast Asia to serve as creative director at Ogilvy Hong Kong. He became creative director of the New York headquarters in 1983.
Lured by the promise to work on Mercedes, Doig left Ogilvy in 1990 to serve as creative director at McCaffrey and McCall in New York. Saying he was ill-suited for the culture, Doig left for EPB in 1992 and was reunited with Ogilvy alum Elliott.
At Hill, Holliday, Doig is reunited with yet another Ogilvy graduate, June Blocklin, who joined last year and now works as director of client services. “She’s one of the best account people. She’s very smart and has a strong point of view that she’s not afraid to share,” Doig said.
Still, Doig expressed the desire–echoed by both Blocklin and Bertino–to rebuild strategic planning at Hill, Holliday. That discipline has been left to individual account directors since the 1995 departure of vice chairman Jack Sansolo.
Regarding the courtship that led to Hill, Holliday, Doig said that after about 30 seconds with notoriously persuasive chairman Jack Connors, “I knew I was not going to get out of this very easy.”