Michael Folino On The Spot

Michael Folino calls his journey to advertising “the typical mailman in Los Angeles to advertising story.” Last month, the 41-year-old marked the most recent chapter in that story by filling the long-vacant chief creative officer position at DDB Chicago. A veteran of Wieden + Kennedy, Fallon and TBWA\Chiat\ Day, Folino was most recently CCO for Dailey & Associates in Los Angeles. He spent last summer creating a mobile short-film series, Head and Body, for MTV. He hopes to bring similar integration to the Omnicom agency’s blue-chip client roster, which includes McDonald’s and Anheuser-Busch.

Q: What appeals to you about your position at DDB?

A: It’s like playing in the World Series. They have a national stage. There’s not a lot of places that afford you that opportunity that want to do great work. Having brands like this and having an agency that wants to do truly great work. Bob Scarpelli wants to do truly great work.

DDB has a roster of brands that have been doing well-received work for a long time. What do you bring to them?

If this place has brought me in to help with anything, it’s to make sure they’re doing integrated ideas. The MTV work that I did with Jeff Labbé, the Head and Body stuff, it’s the type of thing we’d like to do more of here. I think I can bring that kind of experience here.

What are the agency’s strengths? weaknesses?

They’ve done a wonderful job making their brands popular. If anything, they’ve asked me to make sure they’re doing great work in every category. They want to make sure they’re doing great print ads and great Web ads. They want to do something great that hasn’t been invented yet.

How do you deal with inevitable compromises that come with working on deadline?

My philosophy is to try and make them not feel like compromises. That’s how you win. If the compromise is showing, then you haven’t worked hard enough for your client.

What is your creative philosophy?

Not doing things that are a cliché. One of the things I learned at Wieden is to quit referencing other ads. You’re not going to reach originality by quoting and referencing other ads. You have to make your references in other art examples throughout the world. Film, culture, music or fine arts.

Who has influenced you the most creatively?

Doing this job now, the guy I look up to the most is Dan Wieden. What amazes me is his compromises never show. More importantly, he allows a multitude of different voices to come through in the work. It wouldn’t hurt if we all tried to be a little bit like Dan.

What was the last ad that made you think, “I wish I had done that”?

I was a little late seeing it, but I was a big fan of the History Channel work. A lot of people use humor to sell television, but it was serious and it was profound. I like what they did on TV, and I liked the guerrilla work they did around town. The line was, “Know where you stand.”

What is the most overrated campaign?

Probably anything I’ve ever done. I know my faults and flaws. I don’t enjoy my own work as much as other people.

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

I would say leaving the post office for advertising. That was a pretty good one.

What would be the dumbest?

I can honestly tell you I can’t think of anything I’ve done that I regret. Even if it seemed dumb, there was something to learn from it. I think some people questioned me when I took the job at Dailey, but I don’t regret that for a moment. You don’t get to work with 25 different clients and jump from being a creative director to a chief creative officer and learn how to manage so quickly. It was wonderful to learn how to pick up new business. I don’t regret working at the post office. It was a hell of a lot different than the people you meet in college. There were Vietnam veterans, people who came from the Philippines. It was a great mix. Those are the people we’re writing Super Bowl ads for.

What is your dream assignment?

I’ve had a lot of dream assignments. Nike was my dream, and it came true. This MTV assignment was a dream, and it came true. I don’t know what the brand is, but I would like to do something that’s not a commercial—that’s just beloved by people, and they don’t even realize it’s an ad. My dream assignment is to do the thing that hasn’t been invented yet.

What’s your biggest fear in life?

Personal fears for my children. As long as I get to do something creative, I’ll be happy.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

I hate ads where the strategy is showing. It’s inelegant; I think there’s some laziness there.

What was the most important thing you learned from your parents?

My mom was a teacher’s aide. One of her pet peeves were teachers who just stayed at their desks and didn’t walk around. So every now and then, I like to walk the classroom and see what the creatives are doing. That’s how you find out what’s going on, how people are feeling, how you can help.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve discovered at DDB Chicago?

Just how damn nice Bob Scarpelli is. I keep waiting for him to show some sign of not-niceness. I think he may have to kill a hobo once a month to get it out of his system.