September 14, 2017

We call him Bill, and he loves all things “cool” (especially using the word). Our Executive Coolness Creative Director has worked in advertising for more than 25 years, breaking into the industry in Chicago at Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, Foote Cone and Belding, and Campbell Mithun Esty. He has produced work for many well-known national and international brands including Gatorade, Coors, Sears, Windex, Boeing, Wilson Sports, Craftsman Tools and Mattel.

Bill’s love of cool is thanks to two people: Elvis and the “King of Cool” himself, Steve McQueen. His favorite Steve McQueen quote: “When a horse learns to buy martinis, I’ll learn to like horses.” He also loves spending time with his daughter and son, and he’s an avid soccer fan.

1. What has digital technology given to advertising? What has it taken away?

Speed of getting your message out there and the ability to target the consumer in a more focused way. Digital technology has also forced creatives into figuring out a way of getting a brand's message delivered in short, concise bits. Now, that last bit also falls into your question about "What has it taken away?" I believe we have adopted digital in the advertising world at the sacrifice of messaging and storytelling. Imagine asking a person you've never met to tell you about who they are and what's going on in their life in a tweet, 140 characters. It's not going to happen. How can you position your brand to someone at the bottom one tenth of my mobile screen? It's a shame, but we have to adapt to it. I do love the explosion of video; it's everywhere and there is such great stuff out there from all sorts of people from all over the world.

2. Design is a very trendy space – trends are constantly changing and evolving, and sometimes even regressing back to an earlier time. What is your favorite design trend? Least favorite? 

Ok, I don't know if it's a "trend" that's coming or going, but I love white space, negative space, whatever you want to call it. When you can isolate an image or a graphic or even a word and make a powerful statement, it doesn't get any better than that. I'm also a huge fan of using typography as an element, not just words. There's something you can say (or even create an image) with type that can be beautiful, emotional, bold, funky, funny or even heart rending. When I first got into this business, it was at FCB Chicago, I'm this green junior art director who thought I could design, but I found out real quick what true design was through an older, senior art director. I'd walk into his office and see him looking at ads upside down. You're no longer reading the headline; you're looking at positive negative space. He was my mentor, taught me never to look at what's there on the page, or the screen for that matter. Look beyond that and look at what's in between the words and image.

Least favorite ... I think this might play a bit into the first question a little. I love using images to sell a brand, but I see a lot of advertising today that uses imagery as the message. No headline, no body copy, no call to action, no nothing. I look through Archive—which I love—and I see ads that I have absolutely no idea what they're saying, or what they're selling. Again, I've done my share of that, and in today's world sometimes we have to choose, depending on the platform or medium, do we use images, words or both to convey our message? It's tough to create meaningful messaging, but somehow we continue to do it, every single day.

3. What is your favorite aspect of building a campaign for a new client – the research, concept development, or execution phase?

For me, it's the conceptual stage and the actual presentation of those ideas to the client. After 30 years in the business, I still love hunkering down and throwing ideas out, starting with that proverbial "blank page." I don't get too many chances to do that anymore, but I see that fun and passion for new ideas in the teams we have at 6AM, and that's a helluva great thing. I once heard the international director of a global brand tell me, after a presentation where I had him standing with me shouting out the new tagline, that he'd "buy anything I had to sell." I always thought that was the biggest compliment I've received about my presentation skills. You have to be passionate about what you've created, what you're telling the client they need to produce to represent their brand. If I'm not excited about the work how the hell are they going to be?

4. A lot of design is subjective. How much communication does the design team have with a client to ensure they understand your design recommendations?

That's a little like telling a joke: Humor is so subjective. What I think is hilarious may be just plain dumb to you. In today's world, we have a tendency to not spend enough time actually sitting down with our clients. I think we do a great job of staying in touch with our clients, but with agencies and companies running leaner, it's not always easy or conducive to have teams sitting down with the client. I love and hate email at the same time. You don't know how many times I've had to email clients asking what they meant by an email when responding to work that they're reviewing. We like to build and maintain relationships with all our clients, and you can't do that if most of your contact is electronically. It's a lot easier to tell a client what, and why, you designed something when you're face to face. 

5. What is the most unexpected aspect of being a creative director that people are surprised to find out?

That we still, occasionally, come up with ideas. My job is to oversee all the creative that comes out of 6AM, make recommendations of what the client sees and what ideas we will recommend to move forward with. I work with the creative teams on their ideas, I’m asking are they on strategy, are those ideas the very best they can be? I work with our Strategy and Client Director on all sorts of things, every day. But, the thought that I can still come up with an idea that sells is surprising to some, both to clients and sometimes within our office! C'mon, I ain't out of the game yet...

6. How does 6AM think differently?

Well, for one, I advocate people not thinking at all. Just kidding, although the easiest thing to do in this business is overthink something. These type of questions really make it hard to not be clichéd. We "think out of the box," or "we approach everything first from a blah blah blah..." All of us at 6AM just really don't stop thinking if it's the best. What if we didn't know what the target had for breakfast? What if the brand actually has nothing that differentiates itself from its competitors? We have access to an enormous amount of data today, which we constantly use, but what if we didn't? What would we say, what would we show? The people here think like no one I've ever worked with before, I love 'em. We do make each other crazy at times, but isn't that part of the fun?


About the author: Craig McHugh
Post tags:6AM creative

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