Teaching an Old(er) Creative New Tricks

CHICAGO At 54, Kerry Feuerman is on the older side for someone picked to lead a creative department. So as the new creative director at Fallon in Minneapolis—an agency that has been ahead of the curve when it comes to adapting new technologies to marketing—he admits he’s going to have to get up to speed very quickly on a variety of media.

“I’m not an early adopter,” said Feuerman, shortly after his appointment at Fallon. “But I can look at the lay of the land and see how things are changing.”

Feuerman’s words ring true for many of advertising’s most prominent creative leaders, most of whom grew up in the age when television was king. These creatives are employing different tactics to stay current. Many are setting regular appointments with their interactive departments to familiarize themselves with the latest technology. Others are implementing various management practices to better incorporate new technology into their own departments. And many are looking to the younger generation to provide guidance.

“I used to think you could noodle something out on a pad and have someone else execute it on a computer,” said Jeff Goodby, 54, co-chairman at Omnicom’s Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. “But now I believe you have to understand technology just to know what’s possible.”

Jack Supple, the 54-year-old chairman of Carmichael Lynch in Minneapolis, said he meets regularly with the Web developers and designers at his agency to get a better feel for what’s out there (like how GPS technology can be applied to Harley-Davidson’s marketing).

Other agencies are also implementing internal programs to ensure that people are aware of what’s available. At DDB New York, the agency’s “wall of opportunity,” which was originally used for creative briefs, is now a place where creative staffers can post articles and ideas about emerging technologies, said Lee Garfinkel, chairman and chief creative officer of DDB N.Y. In addition, Garfinkel, 50, has set up multitasking “SWAT teams” familiar with new technologies to keep him and the rest of the agency abreast on what’s out there.

Interpublic Group has an “emerging media lab” in Los Angeles, giving staffers and clients access to the latest media. At IPG shop Mullen, chief creative officer Edward Boches has implemented a 20-person “digital disruption group” that’s responsible for getting every department thinking digitally about every client.

“It’s almost impossible for any one person to be up on every new technology,” Boches said. “We’ve tried to create a culture of sharing, teaching, experimenting so that people don’t have to spend their lives trying to keep up, but have easy access to people and resources that reflect everything that’s going on.”

And nearly every one of these creative leaders is turning to a tried-and-true practice: surrounding themselves with young people. DDB Worldwide creative chief Bob Scarpelli, 53, has pointed to Michael Folino’s familiarity with new media—Folino produced a series of ads last summer to be viewed on cell phones for MTV—as one of the reasons he tapped the 41-year-old to be his successor as chief creative officer of DDB’s Chicago office.

“Every advertising generation in 10-year segments has hired young,” said New York creative recruiter Susan Friedman. “The former creative directors aren’t kids anymore.”

Of course, they still have something important to provide—namely, experience. “Sometimes, young people with this technology can be like a golden retriever puppy in a room full of rubber balls,” said Supple. “They need someone to focus them.”

Plus, many of these creative leaders are parents and cited their teen and college-age children as barometers to keep them current. “Nothing keeps your more current than kids,” said Rob Feakins, ecd at Kirshenbaum Bond + Partners in New York.

But there’s no substitute for firsthand experience—which is why, according to Feakins, people need to get their hands on new media. “You have to get a digital camera and do iPhoto. You have to get a podcast,” he said.

Regardless, today’s creative leaders believe that all of the new technologies are not turning them into dinosaurs, but rather forcing them to think harder and smarter about what they do every day. “It’s one of the most inspiring times to be in advertising,” said Garfinkel. “In the past, we did things two-dimensionally. Now we can use our brain in three dimensions.”

—with Deanna Zammit and Eleftheria Parpis