Two Weeks at CP+B

It was 6:45 a.m. sharp when I picked up the phone. Actually it was 3:45 for me, as I’d just flown in from San Francisco. It was my first day at Crispin Porter + Bogusky, and I didn’t want to be late. Alex Bogusky spoke as if it were any other workday. Except today was Sunday.

Our conversation was not about advertising. Alex was taking me to ride motocross. When I had visited CP+B a month earlier, I noticed the extensive modes of transportation—skateboards, scooters and several bicycles—that lined the halls. I also learned Alex shares my passion for motocross. We agreed to meet in front of my hotel at 7:30. I was glad to get out of the room. Corporate housing has a way of adding to the sense of displacement one gets when relocating. Alex pulled up to the hotel in a large four-wheel drive filled with his collection of dirt bikes. On the drive, we discussed the riding in the area. Track conditions. Who rode in the office and who was out on injured reserve. Only when we reached the track did I feel the pressure: I was riding Alex’s brand-new CRF450, it was 104 degrees, and it was just my first day as a senior art director.

I quickly found out that Alex’s talents do not lie exclusively in advertising. The boss took me on that first day.

I’d started my career at Butler, Shine & Stern in Sausalito. There, I watched CP+B follow a similar path of taking small youth brands and making them famous. As the sixth person hired, I grew to love the raw nature of small agencies. We worked crazy hours, but it felt more like a family than a job. From there I went to Odiorne Wilde Narraway + Partners. At the time, I was a die-hard downhill mountain bike racer. I admired CP+B’s work for Shimano, GT and Giro. Later, I watched the “Truth” campaign shock the ad community. After three years I became a creative director. It is a classic tale. I had a beautiful house, a beautiful wife and plenty of toys. There was one problem. No matter how hard I tried, the creative coming out of the office died more horrible deaths than I could take.

I put my book together and sent it to CP+B. After Alex offered me the job, my wife agreed to meet me a month later, and I left San Francisco. So here I am. Miami. It is lush, with exotic trees and billowing clouds. With all of the sun, you would expect everyone in the office to look rested and tan. But they aren’t. They’re in here, a giant movie theater that has been converted into an agency. It has a raw, unfinished look to it, which I like. This theater projects hundreds of ideas on the walls day and night. People sleep here. They have sex here. But mostly, they work here. It’s part Hemingway, part chaos, and it works.

Why? Passion is one reason. People are handpicked to do things differently, to think differently. From planning to the studio, people actually care. The other interesting thing about this place is the system itself. Page 13 of the employee handbook says, “A good idea can come from anywhere, from any person in any department at any level.” I didn’t see this philosophy in action until my second week. Right before a large presentation, I went over to Alex’s office to show him some work. There, waiting to show ideas, were interns, studio artists and people I’d never even seen before. I was amazed. It was the “swarm” mentality Alex had mentioned on my first visit, where more than 160 people ranging from the brilliant to the eccentric to the demented make things happen day after day.

There are 29 people I see consistently. I see them on weekends. I see them at 3 in the morning. I see them in my sleep. They are the creative department, 13 teams strong. Most of them have fancy titles, but that doesn’t seem to mean that much here. Even I have a fancy title. And then there’s Alex, who’s able to run the circus smoothly without setting the big top on fire.

It didn’t take me very long to figure out what Alex had in mind for this creative department: To form an army of people who support each other and push to make the clients famous. Of course, along the way creatives have the opportunity to do the same for themselves. That’s the beauty of it: a roster of fantastic clients who want nothing more than great work.

Fourteen days in, CP+B is everything and nothing I expected. It feels like a small office, but it’s not. It feels very casual, but it’s the hardest-working place I have ever experienced. Multiple teams work on the same assignments, yet everyone is producing work. It is an anomaly: On the outside, South Beach and the tourists of Coconut Grove. On the inside, a collection of people from all over the world completely focused on advertising.