PJ was also named in Advertising Age’s “40 under 40” (2007) for his bold creative strategies. He has received more than 60 international awards during the last 10 years and has served as President of juries at Cannes Lions, London International and One Show Festivals. As part of our Egotist Briefs series, PJ spoke with us about creativity in San Francisco, how he approaches creative, and how technology fits into advertising ideas.
Give us your take on creativity in San Francisco these days:
San Francisco has this natural passion for innovation, a natural geekiness that makes me feel at home. It seems like every dot.com bust or recession, great creative people leave for other cities or other professions.
Why should a kid who’s about to graduate be a creative at an agency in San Francisco?
I actually see the opposite direction this time. The best San Francisco agencies are hiring, bringing more people… in critical areas such as Interaction Design you just can’t find enough talent! AKQA is growing like crazy. I hear great things about Butler Shine & Stern, and Venables is also in a great moment. There are new players like Dojo… And of course, there is Goodby, Silverstein. So if people are leaving to other cities or professions it’s either because they don’t have enough work to compete for jobs in these agencies or because they are too scared. Either way, the problem is not with the Bay Area market, you know?
Pereira O’Dell hasn’t been around for too long, but you’ve obviously made a big splash on the SF ad scene. What’s your secret to great creative?
I can’t say we have a secret for great creative. Not that I even believe there is one. But although we are doing some interesting things, I think we still have a lot to learn, a lot to grow as creatives. All we have right now is big ambitions and a lot of energy to work very, very hard. We read where you said, “I take a lot of pride in creating creative cultures more than anything.”
What kind of creative culture have you set up at Pereira O’Dell?
I’m not sure there is a “kind” of creative culture. Either the culture celebrates and rewards creativity or not. But it takes a long time to get it rooted enough. Usually 4-6 years. Before that you have to remind people every day that this place is about ideas, excitement, innovation… until this mentality is really solidified, you are always two weeks of losing it if you don’t pay attention enough.
You’ve excelled at both the digital and traditional side of advertising. From a fundamental creative standpoint, what are the differences between the two?
There used to be a difference. Traditional advertising was a push kind of message, you had to find a great way to tell a story about the attributes of a product or a brand. While on digital, because it’s mostly an on-demand medium, advertisers have to think of a story that is interesting where a brand can play some role, THEN find how far you can push the attributes. But that was in the past. Now everything is on-demand, even TV. So the ability to tell great stories and the knowledge of attracting people to your content have to merge. I don’t think there is a difference anymore.
These days we see lots of shops rushing to use trendy applications like Foursquare or augmented reality. Where does technology fit in the creative process?
Technology is one of my favorite sources of inspiration. Some people use art, others use culture… I am a geek, I use tech things. But as of with any kind of inspiration, it should be treated as such – a possible spark to a story you want to tell. But if you cant turn it into some sort of storytelling, it becomes just gimmickry. I’m using the term in a very broad sense, though. For me, Nike Plus, for example, is a great storytelling device – it’s just that instead of the brand being the center and the author of the story, it’s the platform that holds stories about it’s consumers.
What are the key traits that make a good creative person?
Being curious. Jealous. Working harder than the others around them.
Where do you get your creative inspiration from?
Technology is a big source for me. But I’ve been training myself to observe people more. Learn more from their little things… so if you see me stalking someone in a supermarket or a park, it’s just research.
What annoys you most about the advertising you see every day?
Bad craftsmanship. I hate the idea of writers that can’t write. Art directors that can’t design… there should be more love for the craft than we have today. We, as an industry used the quest for the holy “big idea” as an excuse to get lazy on the executional side of what we do.
Give us three nuggets of advice that every creative should hear.
1. Don’t fight for money, fight for opportunities to do greater work.
2. When you have the awesomest idea and a client kills it, don’t get mad. Come up with something even awesomer, that they can’t kill.
3. Go to business school or at least learn to enjoy reading business books. It really helps when you understand the kind of bigger problems that clients have to solve for.