Marty Orzio

“What keeps me up at night is not the thought of winning a Cannes Lion,” says Orzio, a mild-mannered Clark Kent type. “It’s building a place.” Indeed, his two Lions (for Mercedes ads created during his 12-year stint at Lowe) casually double as bookends on Orzio’s desk at BBDO in Chicago. Orzio, 47, arrived last March as chief creative officer after a year spent writing an as-yet-unpublished book on creative management. Orzio had followed Mercedes to Merkley Newman Harty but left in 2001 after Andy Hirsch and Randy Saitta became co-presidents. At BBDO, he’s revamped the 22-person department, helping to win the office’s only two pitches in 2003: the $20 million Jim Beam Brands account and YMCA’s $6 million business.

Q. What inspired you to get into advertising?

A. I was a schoolteacher. I taught English. I got married, and I realized I had to figure out a way of finding something to do with writing and whatever my strengths are. I would call people and ask what they did for a living and could they describe it to me. Somebody said advertising. And I remembered one commercial from my childhood, the Volkswagen commercial “The Funeral.” And I thought, “That was funny and creative at the same time. Maybe I can do that.”

Why did you want to leave teaching?

I couldn’t afford my wife’s shoe fetish. You get married, and you start to think about somebody other than yourself. I was also discovering that teaching was frustrating, because you couldn’t see something through and it was always the same thing.

Do teaching and being a creative director intersect?

We’re programmed to think that when you reach a certain point, you have to become a creative director. And most creative people are not capable of managing. You go from expressing yourself and concentrating on an idea in your head to helping others express themselves. You’re supposed to lead a team. The principle to teaching is similar, because it’s all about discovering something. There’s a quote I remember from teaching: “Every time you teach somebody something, you deprive them the chance of discovering it themselves.” It sort of applies to management, but for some reason it’s never applied to advertising.

Who influenced your career the most?

Dennis D’Amico, who did a lot of the Timberland and MCI ads years ago. You’d show work to him and he would be quiet for the longest time. His silence told you he was thinking about what he would say to you so you would get there on your own. It was his hesitation that made you want to succeed for him so badly. It was an amazing lesson.

What work are you most proud of?

Personally, it’s being involved in the Mercedes work. Managerially, it was forming the team that worked on Lipitor. It was a pretty small group that worked very intensely and was really respectful, and I think we all keep in touch with each other now. It was the best work ever done in that category.

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

I don’t know that I completely realized it at the time, but leaving Merkley. Because you’re not going to succeed unless there’s a unified vision. You get caught up in trying so hard to understand other people. And people can only change to a certain degree. The purest and the simplest state that you can find yourself in is always going to be the best.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

Its humanity—the lack of it. It’s an industry plagued with short-sightedness. Everything is built around delivering the next assignment. It allows for bad management in the name of expediency. You don’t have a point of view about anything—take care of the work on your desk, as opposed to putting it in a more meaningful context. It’s the root of why this industry hasn’t gotten the respect that other industries have. Nobody can do what we do, but we’re whores. It’s always short-term.

How will you know you’ve accomplished what you set out to do at BBDO Chicago?

When people are dying to work here. When it becomes known as a place that will do everything for somebody to succeed.

What’s your dream assignment?

Working with a client where there’s mutual respect. That’s all. The more respect there is, the more dreamlike it’ll become. Mike Jackson, who was the CEO of Mercedes-Benz, was one of those rare individuals.

You’ve said that when you hire, it’s not just about the portfolio. What do you mean?

There are two kinds of creatives. There’s the creative person who has a Rolodex of ads they’ve memorized and they’re students of advertising. And then there’s people who are genuine creatives, who have to somehow express themselves. But within that is the ability to express themselves in a way where they enjoy getting a reaction from people. That’s the person I’m looking for. They make better collaborators. They make better nurturers. They make better listeners. And they make better advertising, because they’re more attuned to what other people—namely the consumer—is going through. I don’t want to just hire someone with a great book. I want to hire someone with a great book who’s—as pompous as this sounds—highly evolved as a human being.

What was your biggest adjustment coming to BBDO?

Slow down. You can’t do everything overnight. When I was in high school, I ran too much too often, and I got myself injured. We were in a situation at Merkley where people had different visions of where it could go, and it wasn’t realistic. But in coming here, it was as if I put all of those things together. I took my time. And I made it very deliberate in what I was looking for. And I got lucky.