Ty Montague

For a college dropout, 41-year-old Montague has come a long way. Most recently, the onetime mechanic helped to establish Bartle Bogle Hegarty in New York and, since 2000, has guided high-profile campaigns for clients including Nike, ESPN and Brand Jordan as co-creative director at Wieden + Kennedy’s Manhattan office. For Sega, he helped to create “Beta7″—a blog by a fictional game tester who claimed ESPN’s NFL Football title had a bizarre effect on him—which won Wieden the first Yahoo! Big Idea Chair award for nontraditional campaigns at last month’s international Andys. Q. What would you be doing if you weren’t in advertising?

A. Before I got into advertising, I was a mechanic and I ran white-water rafting trips on the Rio Grande in New Mexico. When I came to New York, I was a bartender. If you can find a pattern there, let me know. One thing I can say is that I’d probably be building or making something. That’s the thing about the business—creating something from nothing—that I find really satisfying.

What inspired you to get into the business?

I got into advertising completely by mistake. When I was a bartender, I met somebody in the business who looked at me and said, “You belong in advertising.” They introduced me to the head of personnel at McCann Erickson, and that person gave me a job stuffing insertion orders in envelopes in the media department. That was 1984.

How did you end up as a creative?

I realized [the creatives] were having a way better time than I was, and found a person in my department who was putting their junior portfolio together. And they introduced me to a woman who was teaching classes out of her house, giving one-on-one tutorials in copywriting. I am now married to that woman [creative consultant Dany Lennon of The Creative Register in Westport, Conn.].

Was the viral campaign the first thing you considered for “Beta7”?

In our original presentation we said, “The traditional way to do this would just be the television and the print. We don’t believe the traditional approach is the right way. Here’s the back story, the deeper part.” They immediately saw the value of the recommendation.

How involved was Sega?

They were less involved in the creation of ideas but very involved in the approval process, which needed to happen essentially 24 hours a day, seven days a week to keep the story line going. We knew the beginning and we knew the ending, but we didn’t know the middle. We knew we were going to let gamers themselves tell us what they were finding interesting and, in essence, guide the story. And the client allowed us that flexibility, but they did that by sitting as a member of the team and watching it unfold in real time.

How does BBH compare with Wieden?

It’s amazing—both agencies are trying to do the same thing, and they approach it in very different ways. BBH is extremely rigorous and disciplined in their approach. Wieden + Kennedy tends to be a little more organic. I don’t feel like I’m doing anything differently here, it’s just the culture is a little looser.

How do you and co-cd Todd Waterbury work together to steer the creative product?

We are extremely like-minded. Todd and I share a real interest in the business side of our clients’ businesses. Both of us approach communication from a very strategic place. Creativity for creativity’s sake is not something that interests either of us. We look at the strategy first and then the execution.

What’s the smartest business decision you ever made?

Starting my own business [Montague &, launched in Norwalk, Conn., in 1994]. That experience is invaluable anytime you want to put yourself in the chair your client sits in.

What’s the last ad that made you think, “I wish I’d done that”?

I try to not look at any ads, because the last place you’re going to find real inspiration is advertising. But if I had to pick, I’d say the work I most admire is the “Truth” campaign.

Besides Wieden, what’s your vote for the best agency out there?

Clearly, Crispin is leading the way. What I hope is that there are a number of agencies not famous yet who are going to pick that ball up and run with it. There aren’t enough creative agencies right now, and I think there’s a growing client realization of that.

What advice would you give someone starting out in the business?

Don’t worry about creating ads. Worry about creating communication that moves people in some way, and you’ll find that sometimes it’s going to be an ad. But if all you think about is doing ads, you have a limited future.

You just got your pilot’s license. What do you like about flying?

You can’t think about anything else—it takes all of you. And it’s opened up a completely new universe of experience and information. Boredom is the thing I hate most. It also is a way of recalibrating. It’s very easy in our business to get things out of perspective.

Who’s one person you’re dying to work with?

There isn’t a person that I know of—the thing that interests me about my job is that I get to meet people who I’ve never heard of. The directors I most want to work with are young, hungry and new—not the big names.

Give me three words to describe yourself.

Always looking for a rule to break.

And three words other people would use?

Gotta ask them.