Tom McElligott, Steve McElligott

Like his father, Tom McElligott, Steve McElligott was “an English major who needed a job.” Tom, a founder of Fallon McElligott Rice in 1981, applied his verbal skills to phrases such as “Diary of the American dream” for The Wall Street Journal in the 1980s before retiring from advertising in 1988. Two years later, the agency shortened its name to Fallon.

Steve, 32, won a Silver Pencil at the 2003 One Show for his spots advertising Jay Mohr’s former ESPN Mohr Sports show and is considered a rising star at BBDO in New York, where he works as associate creative director on FedEx Kinko’s and DirecTV.

Steve says he became intrigued with advertising at a young age when he happened upon his father’s rubber stamp that printed the word “bullshit.”

“I just stamped the word ‘bullshit’ all over myself,'” he recalls. “I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.” Then there was the wind-up penis that another creative had on his desk. “You would wind it up, and it would just walk all over the desk.”

By contrast, he says, “I would see what other kids’ parents did for a living. They just looked like they wanted to die.”

After graduating from Colorado College with an English degree, Steve briefly entertained a career in broadcast news, working at a station in New Mexico. But taking the long view, he saw that he would have no control over his career. “I just pictured myself 20 years from then with the helmet hair.”

With a master’s degree in advertising from Virginia Commonwealth University, he started his career at Ground Zero in 1999, where he created humorous spots for ESPN’s College GameDay. At BBDO he has recently worked on FedEx spots promoting its Nascar sponsorship under the tag “Every day is race day.”

Steve says the hardest part of his career has come when clients push mediocre concepts or withhold approval for an idea he considers outstanding.

From his father, he learned that “it takes a lot of effort not just to do great work, but to sell it. There are many layers [of approval], and it can really be disheartening,” he says.

He also learned that sharing the last name of a creative is not a ticket to a lifetime career.

“If you suck, it shows,” he says. “No amount of nepotism can fight a lack of talent. You don’t want to be Sofia Coppola in Godfather III.”

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