Q&A: Martin Agency’s John Norman

John Norman, a 43-year-old art director who most recently was co-ecd at Wieden + Kennedy, Amsterdam, joins The Martin Agency — our 2009 U.S. Agency of the Year — as co-chief creative officer this week. Sharing the title with president Mike Hughes, Norman assumes the day-to-day management of the agency’s creative department and brings with him a design background and global experience the agency hopes will take its respected creative product to new heights.

He’s worked on brands such as Coca-Cola, most famously the award-winning “Happiness Factory” effort at Wieden, and Hewlett-Packard, including its “Picture Book” and “+HP” campaigns, when he was a creative director at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco.

Here, the Dallas native and father of four discusses his new beginning in Richmond, Va.

What was your perception of The Martin Agency before getting this job?
Everyone loves The Martin Agency. Just like every agency, they have their standout, blue-chip accounts, the ones that made them famous. And they really want to keep pushing creative more and more and more.

How do you feel about Mike Hughes naming you as his successor?
It’s a huge role. He’s going to be inducted into the [One Club Creative] Hall of Fame this year, so his shoes got bigger. I’m looking forward to being his partner. I’m going to partner with him for a while before we make the transition.

Why come back to the U.S. now?
The timing connected with me personally. I’ve been [at Wieden] for five years. I’ve kind of seen it all through this office, and I’ve seen every type of situation, I think, that you can imagine. Now I look down the line and think what’s next for me?

What made you think Martin was your next step?
I get to play with a little bit higher stakes. What I liked about HP [when I was working at Goodby] was that it was a big account. It’s a big, giant global account and I’ll get my teeth back into that a little bit. And take what I’ve learned along the way in management and apply it to a bigger agency. They want to create a change and they want to have a new influence. Not necessarily to change everything, but to build on what they already have, which is really exciting for me.

How will you approach that change?
I’m not any golden boy. I’m going to come in and learn from them and they are going to learn from me, and we’re going to make it an experiment. There are going to be some rough spots and there are going to be some really great, bright spots.

What do you bring to Martin?
What I really like is visual storytelling. They do have a need for their client base to expand globally, and visual language travels across borders more than verbal language. They’ve created intellectual property with Geico, the cavemen and the lizard, so they understand what that is. And I’ve done that along my career, pulling from my design background. For me there is a real compatibility there.

How will that compatibility influence the creative?
It’s taking a fresh look. They have been such a strong writing, conceptual agency forever. They are known for wit and humanity, and I think that combined with a strong visual influence can be pretty potent. That’s what I can bring to it. If nothing else, I know I will bring that influence to the agency. And I’ll learn a lot from them, too. There is some brilliant talent there that I’m dying to get to know.

What did you learn from your five years at Wieden, and how will you apply that to your new job at Martin?
The biggest thing is just how to deal with people and how to get the best out of a job or project without one taking it over too much, letting people own things. I think the biggest thing is the process of managing creative. At Wieden [Amsterdam] we did so many global brand platforms, the “Coke Side of Life,” EA Sports, Nike World Cup, a lot of global brand thinking and ideation. I can pull in that influence. The biggest thing I learned in five years, I think, is what not to do.

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