We think of brands like we do humans. When people walk around the street, they don’t change their persona for each person they meet.
Please give us a brief bio of yourself.
I was born in Brooklyn, NY and raised in Plano, Texas. I’ve lived in San Francisco for 13 years. I came up studying fine art, advertising and the history of film. I fell in love with advertising early in college—I was never one of those guys who struggled with knowing what I wanted to do. I had this path; it’s changed a bit—it’s taken multiple turns for the better.
If there are any pivotal experiences/decisions you could point to that helped shape your career, what would they be?
I took a step back early on in my career and witnessed how marketing and advertising is the ultimate luxury for any culture. When I was in college at UT Austin, I moved to Prague and worked at MARK/BBDO. I was one of two English speakers in the whole office. This was in 1994, about five years after the Wall fell. It was really early, and one of our jobs was to teach people in this culture what “advertising” was. This was a pivotal experience for me—and an interesting lesson to learn.
Then in 1998 when I was working at DDB Dallas, I helped form a creative exchange program. I went to DDB Sao Paulo, Brazil. This gave me a different perspective on the industry in general: how people approach work, and also, what mediums people in those communities respond to. It wasn’t a big TV culture—it was a lot of magazines, a lot of outdoor. It was at the time when Web work was up and coming. I think some of the first banners won Cannes Lions that year. It was an interesting time to be down there.
Overall, I think throwing yourself into uncomfortable situations and changing your perspective is incredibly valuable. I think I’ve done that throughout my career, even when it didn’t necessarily involve moving to another country.
What software could you not live without?
How many projects does your company juggle at any one time?
I’d say… 15 to 40. To me, this is the strength of Evolution Bureau, that we’re able to juggle a lot of projects at one time—from small to big —and work in a limited time frame. We have the ability to react and keep up with fast-moving clients like Facebook and Zynga. We don’t have a big infrastructure that we need to update daily: When it comes in, we take care of it and get it back out. We’re not cumbersome; we’re a nimble organization.
What area of web design lacks the most?
Writing! I think web design is pretty solid, but I think the writing needs some work.
Has winning FWA awards helped you in any way?
Definitely. We’re incredibly proud of every piece that’s been featured by the FWA, and obviously being included in the Hall of Fame is a huge honor.
To me, every piece of work that’s documented on a list or site helps make the case that it exists. Other people will come along and reference it and learn from it—and like it or hate it—the fact that it’s out there is what’s so important. Plus, the FWA is such a credible site, there’s this cache with it that feels like you’re being applauded. The global reach is huge. Companies all over the world are familiar with our work because of the site.
When dealing with major clients, how difficult is it to meet the needs of such wide target audiences?
We think of brands like we do humans. When people walk around the street, they don’t change their persona for each person they meet. So for brands, it’s really about setting up a structure, a personality and a consistent voice and tone that is honest and has transparency. We give the campaign characteristics that can appeal to a lot of people even though we may be specifically targeting one audience. The work doesn’t have to be polarizing and turn some audiences away. The work that we do has to have broad appeal because there’s no limit to where your work can go. You definitely have to focus on your target audience, but respect other groups in the process.
What did your very first site look like? Is it still online?
It is online—not that I’m going to direct people to it. It was very boxy and utilitarian. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it was well-designed, but the work on it was good. It served its point. Too often, in my opinion, people spend too much time on their site, and the design gets in the way. Sometimes the design is better than the work on the site.
Are there things you do OUTSIDE of work to ensure that you are in the right mindset to be creative and/or successful in whatever you are doing?
I’m on the board of an organization called Creative Growth Art Center [http://creativegrowth.org]. It’s the world’s largest and oldest arts center for 140 adult artists with disabilities, and it’s here in Oakland. It’s the most inspiring place for me outside of work. EVB built their website.
Creative Growth is not about rehabilitation through art. It’s about a group of artists whose art changes lives, including their own. Distinct points of views and styles come out effortlessly. It is the purest form of art I know.
Have you been a part of a campaign that was rooted in digital and THEN reached over into other consumer touch points? Did this happen organically or was it a part of the plan from the beginning?
Absolutely. With Juicy Fruit in particular, the Serenading Unicorn and Sweet Talk were digital initiatives we launched, and then we supported them with out-of-home and in-pack aspects, like a SnapTag.
And we did the Westfield LOLiday card app, a digital initiative with a natural extension to retail. How do you get holiday shoppers to engage with a specific mall brand? Westfield visitors got a little perk, an augmented-reality app that let them insert a photo into silly seasonal scenarios to create comical holiday cards to email to friends and post on their Facebook pages.
We see everything we do as a social initiative—all of our work is designed to live outside the physical realm. All media drives back to the social aspect of the campaign. 26:00
The web is getting out of the web. Do you find that thinking in digital solutions alone hinders you? Do you feel the urge to solve the problem using all mediums necessary?
Digital is definitely where people are engaging with brands, so we like launching things in that space. That said, no one is not thinking about other mediums.
The web has absolutely left the web. To me, people engage with Facebook when they’re away from their computer. They’re out in the world, taking pictures—it’s a very real-life technology. So, yeah, we don’t do things that people have to sit in front of their computer to engage with. It’s “digital” in the sense that it’s accessible everywhere. It’s portable—we’re trying to keep up with where people are.
Of all the websites you/your company have produced, which one are you most proud of?
I’d say Jameson 1780: I think it did the rich heritage of the brand justice and allowed the person to engage with Jameson in a new way. We thought it would be interesting to bring Dublin in 1780 to life in a Google map type way. We allowed people to explore this world and solve the mystery of who stole the barrel of Jameson. Turns out to be one of your Facebook friends. You uncover a series of clues as you interact with some unsavory characters that populate the city. While the whole experience ultimately allowed you to take part in a Jameson legend of your own, it really raised the question “How well do you know your Facebook friends?”
What are your views on design/graphic school. Do you think someone can get into the field without educational experience in a school environment?
I think the school environment is incredibly important. Being around peers, presenting work and having other people kill your ideas. Seeing bad ideas—and good ideas—produced next to you. I think that environment is more important than the skills you learn in those classes. A lot of what we do, it’s a lot of salesmanship, it’s generating ideas, positioning it the right way and selling it through—convincing somebody that they need to spend money doing something. Those are things that are hard to pick up on the street if you haven’t had that experience. The competitive environment of school is great practice—seeing work celebrated that you didn’t think was great, having that opinion, it’s all really good perspective. 43:00
If you were a student entering this industry or an aspiring FWA award submitter, what advice would you give them?
Keep it simple. The competition is wide open right now—the best agencies in the world aren’t necessarily doing the best work. The tools students have are not much different from the tools we have as professionals. They have the opportunity to develop good, simple ideas and make them ready for production. I’ve seen student portfolios: “and then we’re gonna get a blimp, and then we’re gonna shoot these films and then we’re gonna get this celebrity to do this…” and I’m like, “Whoa, you need $8 million to get your idea off the ground.” That’s never going to happen. Come up with a good idea that’s doable on a limited budget and you’ll be invaluable to agencies.
I hired an EVB team that had three ideas in their portfolio I wanted to do. One was a piece of punctuation they invented to denote sarcasm in social media. It was so simple—I could execute this tomorrow—yet brilliant since so much meaning gets lost in written communication.
It all goes back to the idea. Otherwise, we’re all just spending too much time making things look pretty.
How difficult do you find employing the right people in a world where everyone calls themselves a web designer?
It’s pretty easy to find out how good a person is. There’s the portfolio and the in-person meeting, and if they don’t match up, you know there’s something missing. I think web designers’ toolkits need to be pretty broad, you need to have your own point of view. I stress that EVB designers have a tonal range just like the writers, so if we’re doing something that is a period piece, like Jameson 1780, you’ve got to be able to tap into that voice. And if we’re doing something light and colorful and fruity for a Wrigley brand, you reflect that tone. Designers also need to have a real understanding of development and web design. Because everything moves so quickly today, they have to get to the answers so much faster than they used to.
How do you keep your finger on the pulse of the latest web trends?
We have a very collaborative culture here, and we share work with each other. It’s always about learning from what’s been done and making it better. We have a tradition of getting together on Fridays to show off work and explain why we think it’s good, or why it’s bad. It’s a good place to pick up on new technologies, new design, innovative ways people are doing things. And FWA.
There must be a project that you have always dreamed of doing, what is it?
Everyone wants the opportunity to write “Just Do It” for a company. You want to define the brand, the big project everyone wants to do… define the brand, create the movement and support it across all mediums with amazing work for years to come.
There can be emotion behind any brand, and what the web and social media have done is bring these fans together. It’s an opportunity for brands to give their digital presence a little purpose. That’s the challenge for every project we do. Why are they there? What are they doing? Let’s give them that purpose and make them proud to be part of it.
What does the future hold for your company, or you as a person?
EVB is a 50-person agency; we’re growing daily. As the company gets bigger, I want to be able to approach projects as nimbly as we do now, and with as much energy. As we get bigger, we’ll continue to focus campaigns around the social aspect—that’s how we’ll continue to break through. We have an amazing culture—people like working here, the creative is good—so I’m not rushing to make too many changes there. Fresh, fast, smart, quick and well produced are among EVB’s core values. I don’t ever want us to become rigid or stuck in the way we do things.
I think this is a really exciting time to be in advertising. There are no longer 6 or 7 great agencies in the world. There are 30, big and small. It’s EVB’s chance to break out and compete creatively on a global scale. We’ll continue to work with innovative clients and produce innovative work. And more importantly, we'll continue to have fun making stuff. Gotta have fun or else none of this is really worth it.