On the Spot: Steffan Postaer

During his 16-year career at Leo Burnett, Steffan Postaer, 40, was best known for his “Curiously strong” Altoids work. A year ago, he switched gears, becoming chief creative officer at b-to-b tech shop Leo Burnett Technology Group. The 4-year-old unit, rebranded LB Works in January, now has a wider focus, with an emphasis on emerging brands.

Q. What was the hardest part about moving from Burnett?
A. Getting over my own insecurity and fear of dealing with [the clients] because of my own inade qua cies—I’m not good with stereos, I don’t know how to plug which thing into which thing. And I was terrified I was getting into a world that I had no understanding of.

Q. How did you get over it?
A. I had an epiphany. Jeff [Jones, LB Works’ CEO] said, “You know what would be a great thing to do? Some of that neat stuff you talked about for Leo Burnett. Why don’t we make this agency what you’ve always wanted Leo Burnett to be?”

Q. Where do you draw the line between LB Works and Burnett?
A. If we’re going to get a packaged good, it has to be something unusual or provocative. An interesting liquor, a slick vodka or an exotic whiskey. It’s an emerging entity in a space that has its own issues and problems.

Q. How did you get into advertising?
A. I was a music critic. I criticized a rock band in college in my column and the guy came up to me and said, “If you think I like playing Foreigner songs, I don’t do it because I like to. I do it because that’s the only way girls will pay $2 to come see us, and I have a kid to raise.” I felt like a total shithead. I decided I never wanted to be a critic again. And my dad [Larry Postaer of L.A. shop Rubin Postaer] was in advertising, so I just shifted my interests there.

Q. Who are your mentors?
A. My father and [former Burnett chief creative] Ted Bell. My father is the Cal Ripken of advertising: consis tency, consistency, loyalty. I learned from him consistency of an idea is better than a flash in the pan. Look what he’s done with Honda. He’s kept it simple, and the adver ti sing has been consistent. Ted taught me how far you can get with charisma and passion and enthusiasm. The guy loved being around the camera to see the ads through, and he loved commanding a meeting.

Q. Is there competition among the Postaers? [Brother Jeremy is group creative director at GSD&M.]
A. We’ve all discovered our own niche and had success. We were competi tive as little boys, but less so as you age.

Q. Who’s your favorite ad character?
A. It ain’t the “Can you hear me now?” guy, that’s for goddamn sure. That catch phrase is the one that’s driving me crazy—because everyone does do it, but to codify it freaks me out. I like the Maytag repairman. The world needs more happy charac ters, especially now. You should put that in there because if I offend my co-workers with some of my other saltier quotes, that will redeem me.

Q. What would you change about your job?
A. The drama: the unnecessary drama that seems to always find itself in every project. Careers seem to ride on every single ad or idea. I wish we could take the pressure off what we do so that we could do it in a more devil-may-care fashion.

Q. How do you get the best work out of people?
A. A bit of healthy competition. I like to have a mated pair—that’s what I call an art director and a writer, I used to collect tropical fish—but I also like to sprinkle a third fish into the aquarium. Maybe it’s a planner, maybe it’s a new guy, maybe it’s an extra writer or an art director to see how that affects the fierceness or the intensity of the work. Often if you add a third fish in with the mated pair, the colors intensify. It can get out of hand. You can get gang bangs. I manage that.

Q. What do you do when you’re not working?
A. I’m a runner and a writer. I’ve got four novels on my hard drive. And I run six miles a day. And I probably drink too much.

Q. What’s one thing you would change about yourself?
A. I wish I could relax. I’ve tried every thing chemically. I’ve talked to lots of people. I feel like the motor’s always running too fast. I wish I could lighten up and enjoy the great things that have come my way.