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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > creatives >  David Angelo
David Angelo
dasml David AngeloChairman, Chief Creative Officer
You’ll like David, he’s quite a talker
Those were the words of David&Goliath Executive Creative Director Colin Jeffery, as we concluded our tour of the El Segundo ad agency. I had already met the staff, and had enough info to begin one of our popular agency profiles, but David Angelo, D&G‘s Founder, Chairman and CCO, had just became available, and I figured it would be great to get his thoughts on this agency he created.
It turns out Colin was right, and David and I chatted in his office for well over an hour before we got anywhere near discussing his career and his agency, and even then we drifted off on many tangents (I do shoulder some of the blame for that, and the rest can go to the fine, fine bottle of Cazadores we had between us.)
Knowing that we’d both be in Cannes the following month, we decided to continue our chat at that time. We met for a late breakfast on the terrace of the Grand Hotel, and talked about how he got his start in the ad game, what it was like to build an agency in Los Angeles, his thoughts on the Clintons and why Cannes was extra special for him this year.
Even when we stayed on topic, this heavily awarded creative and AAF Hall of Achievement inductee is still quite a talker.
ihaveanidea: Since this is all about you, why don’t you start with how you got into this business.

David: I grew up in San Francisco, in a big Catholic family of seven. I went to Catholic school, and I studied art throughout my school days. I thought I’d become an artist. But then in my senior year of high school I got expelled for drugs. I was booted out of school a month before graduation, and I lost all of my scholarships, all of my grants, everything. I ended up going to continuation school, but the whole experience was really disheartening. I stopped caring about art, and I became really apathetic about going to college. My father was a Teamster, and he helped get me a job in the Teamsters Local 853, loading trucks during the graveyard shift. It was a job, and I really didn’t care about what I was going to do with my life.

I’ve always had this theory in life, that it’s all about meeting certain people along your journey. I guess I call them messengers. These people were put there by luck or some divine force or whatever to help you, and if you recognize them, you’re sure to advance in life. The first messenger in my life was this great big Samoan named Eddie Lopez, whom I worked with on the loading dock. He knew about my past interest in art, and he somehow could see that some part of me buried deep inside wanted to pursue an art career. But he also knew that there was no way that I’d be able to so to school, work a labor intensive job and study all at the same time. After convincing me to give it a shot, Eddie made it all possible. I would come into work and study in some back corner of the warehouse, while Eddie would take my workload upon himself and load the trucks for me. Years later, I graduated with honors from the Academy of Art College. That wouldn’t have been possible without Eddie’s help.

Back when I was in school, I was really inspired by the great Volkswagen and Chivas ads created by Doyle Dane Bernbach. Of course I had absolutely no idea the ads were done by DDB, or who DDB even was or what they stood for. But I did love the ads, and I started my schooling trying to emulate what was great about those ads: powerful ideas focused on simple human truths.

“I was shocked and amazed to be starting my career at a place I idolized without knowing how great they really were.”

When I graduated college I flew to New York and went to this agency called DDB Needham I still hadn’t put two and two together yet and got an interview there. I was hired right away, and when I walked out of the executive creative director’s office, I looked up at this wall and saw all of the ads that inspired me throughout college. I was shocked and amazed to be starting my career at a place I idolized without knowing how great they really were.

Within my first year in New York, I got a huge break. My creative director decided to give me a huge chance, and he threw my partner and I a huge bone, a brief for the New York Lottery. We worked late into the night and came up with the Hey, you never know campaign, which won a ton of awards, and I believe the tagline is still in use today. After about a year of those accolades, we received a call from George Stephanopoulos, who at the time was a communications director for the Bill Cinton/Al Gore ’92 campaign. It turned out that the success of the New York Lottery campaign made them want us to help create a campaign for Clinton’s presidential run. Fast forward a few months later and I’m walking down these railroad tracks in Hope, Arkansas with Clinton, James Carville and other big names, and I’m feeling totally like a fish out of water, not even really understanding why I was there. I didn’t know anything about politics or political advertising. We created the spot that aired nationwide on the eve of the election. I wouldn’t say it was the greatest ad, but it was talked about at length in the New York Times and on CNN, and it just launched my career.

After that I ended up going to TBWA\Chiat\Day New York as an associate creative director, which was surprising considering I hadn’t been in the business for more than a few years at the time. Then I came out to Los Angeles to become creative director of Team One, before spending nearly five years at Cliff Freeman and Partners. I think working at Cliff Freeman was really my creative breakthrough. Working for Cliff was an unbelievable experience.

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ihaveanidea: Did you have any idea going in that Cliff Freeman would be such a great place for you?

David: Not really, all I knew is that Cliff was one of the most prolific, most creative people in the business at that time. He was known for humor, and I thought that I was known for humor as well, only Cliff’s was proven on a much grander level. He created Mounds and Almond Joy’s sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t, he created Wendy’s where’s the beef? I felt very fortunate to be working for him. He took me under his wing, and I prospered, becoming Executive Creative Director.

But after working on at least 200 TV spots at Cliff Freeman, you kinda ask yourself as a creative what else can I do? After working at a stellar shop like Cliff Freeman, where else is there to go? I suppose I could’ve taken a job at Wieden + Kennedy or Goodby, but after working with Cliff, I felt like I sorta maxed out. At that time my wife was pregnant, and I decided to take some time off away from this business. If you don’t take time off, you really miss out on life, and I didn’t want to miss out on my daughter’s first year, so I quit.

ihaveanidea: What was the general reaction to that? You’d think that in this business that once you got off the train, there might not be another one to catch.

David: Everybody thought I was crazy. And in a way I felt that I was getting off that train simply by not being in the New York scene anymore. But I felt that I had a strong enough reputation and a strong enough body of work to help me get a job even if I took five years off. Plus I was continually getting offers while I was off, but I didn’t bite on any of them because they didn’t feel like the right thing to do. I remember sitting down with a headhunter at the Cupping Room in New York City, and she said you know David, I have a feeling that something is just going to present itself to you.

“How often does an opportunity present itself, where a $90 million plus client calls you out of the blue to start an agency?”"

Sure enough, about a week later, out of the blue I got a call from Kia Motors, who asked me if I was interested in starting my own agency. Hell, that was something I always wanted to do! How often does an opportunity present itself, where a $90 million plus client acalls you out of the blue to start an agency? My first question was do I have to leave New York? Their reply? Well we’re located in Irvine, California, and that would be one heck of a commute for you. We opened in LA back in November of 1999, and it was just me, a copywriter, an accounts person and a producer.

ihaveanidea: Just the four of you, huh? Did you go in with any sort of game plan?

David: Well one thing I wanted to do was make a conscious effort to create something entirely different. I looked at the big agency structure and considered all the pitfalls of that model, and I looked at the small agency structure’s plusses and minuses, and tried to make something that was the best of both worlds. The creativity and nimbleness of a small shop, the big thinking and resources of a large shop, and none of the politics and bureaucracy.

I look around today, eight and a half years after opening David&Goliath, and I see what we’ve become and I can’t believe it! I fucking pinch myself everyday. There I was, a blue collar Democrat, a Teamster driving a forklift back in San Francisco, and now an agency owner. I just can’t believe it! And I think none of this would likely have happened had I not gotten kicked out of high school.

ihaveanidea: (laughs) Getting booted from school was the best thing to happen to me! Not exactly the message kids’ parents wanna hear!

David: (laughs) My parents still think all I do is draw. My dad used to drive this big Chevy truck with Michelin tires. He was a bit of a Michelin fanatic. And when I was at DDB in New York, I was working on the Michelin account. He came to visit me in New York on day and he told me I bumped into an old friend of yours the other day. He now runs a tire shop back home. He asked about you, and I told him you’re a high-tech advertising professional working on the Michelin account. I asked my dad to elaborate. I told him you’re the one who designs each Michelin tire! My dad said this with such pride and admiration that I didn’t have the heart to tell him I didn’t design the tires themselves, just the ads.

ihaveanidea: You mentioned, or at least hinted at a desire to have opened up shop in New York City, and that Kia wanted you on the West Coast. What were some of the biggest challenges and opportunities that came with starting an agency in Los Angeles, a city without a huge advertising industry pedigree?

David: Oooh, it’s tough. Outside of Chiat\Day, it’s not really seen as an advertising town. I made my name in New York, and it’s still the Mecca of advertising. When you walk away from that world, it’s a lot larder to stay relevant, to stay in touch with everything that’s happening, and to be top of mind. In New York, I was hanging with the press almost every day. Dealing with the industry press is engrained in your everyday life in New York. In Los Angeles I feel like we are so disconnected from that energy, that give and take with the media. I miss that a bit.

I think we’ve done a pretty good job. Half of our clients aren’t from New York or LA, but rather from Florida, with Bacardi and Universal Orlando. And the great thing about being in LA is that you’re in the entertainment capital of the world. As advertising and messaging evolves and becomes more content based, there’s no better place than Hollywood. We take advertainment very seriously, and we’re constantly working with musicians, producers and directors to expand what we can do, beyond the traditional.

I’m anxious for the future. I know we have the goods, I know we have the right thinking, and we have some great momentum right now. It doesn’t matter that we’re in Los Angeles. We’ll make it happen.

ihaveanidea: So I understand this is your first trip to Cannes

David: Surprisingly yes. Cannes always takes place around my daughter’s birthday, and I’ve made a commitment never to miss that date. I’ve been asked to judge a few times, and this year I decided to take them up on it, bringing my whole family along for the trip.

“I’m loving it, but I gotta tell you, awards don’t always come in the shape of a Lion.”

ihaveanidea: How have you found the experience?

David: I’m loving it, but I gotta tell you, awards don’t always come in the shape of a Lion. I’ve had a couple of eye-opening experiences while being here. I had a great judging session with twelve remarkable judges, incredible individuals. I thought it was going to be like the usual judging experience: getting locked up in a windowless cell for 24 hours. It was quite the opposite. It was a very easy, relaxed sort of environment.

Last night I was at the Carlton, bumping into people I haven’t seen since my New York days. I was feeling a little bummed to learn that weren’t shortlisted for anything as of yet. This guy came up to me and said I don’t think you remember me, but I met you twelve years ago at a bar in the West Village. I was a bartender, and you came in, you just got off of work at an agency called Cliff Freeman and Partners. We talked about advertising, and I told you how I wanted to get into the business as a copywriter, and you invited me to your agency a week later and showed me what you do, and you took the time to point me in the right direction. I just wanted to thank you. That person had just won Best of Show at the One Show for Halo 3. I think that was better than any Lion I could’ve won, to learn that I helped somebody who then took it to the next level. It was a really beautiful thing.

ihaveanidea: You did a great job for Bill Clinton in 1992. What do you think Hillary should’ve done in 2008?

David: (laughs) That’s funny. I believe that Bill hurt her chances. People are looking for change, and although I think Bill was a great president, he doesn’t represent new change the way Obama does. I think people felt that Hillary wouldn’t be too different than Bill, and that also hurt her chances. Hillary should’ve ran her own show and distanced herself from her husband. That’s my two cents. But I’m hoping for Obama, man. We Americans don’t just need someone like him. I think the world does.

ihaveanidea: If you could boil down all of your successes into something simple, what would that be?

David: I attribute much of my success to being extremely passionate about the business, and to setting out a well-established goal for myself. I knew that one day I wanted to create an agency where the work was great and the culture was second to none. In a way, it doesn’t feel like I’ve started an ad agency; it just feels like the next stage of my life. But it’s a stage I don’t see myself moving on from in the future. David is not supposed to walk away from Goliath. No matter what the challenges are, I’ll be here to the end.

Interview by:
Brett McKenzie
Chief Writer

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