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Ty Montague

tys headshot Ty MontagueCo-President, Chief Creative Officer North America
JWT

Normal. That’s probably the best way to describe Ty Montague. He’s not into lecturing or pontificating. Doesn’t claim to know “the” way to save the industry. Got sidetracked by “women and beer” in college, worked odd jobs and did a bunch of other things normal people do. And now he’s trying to create a culture at JWT that’s less about pointing out the differences between traditional and digital advertising, and more about uniting all media via the common threads of storytelling and basic human emotion. You know, the stuff that gets all those normal people who experience our advertising to get up and buy things.

On top of controlling the reins at JWT, Ty is also the Co-Chairman of the 2010 ANDY Awards. Most of the time, only the most super of superstars get to be on that jury, but this year Ty decided to flip things around a bit by allowing us, the general public, mere peons in the kingdom of advertising, to select the jury! I figured that as long as we had Ty on the hot seat about his career, I’d ask him about his Dr. Frankensteinish approach to handling the ANDYs this year.

IHAVEANIDEA: How did a guy like you get into an industry like this?

Ty: Mistakes and coincidences.

IHAVEANIDEA: Ooh, that sounds mysterious…

Ty: I dropped out of high school in 12th grade. An act of rebellion. I was bored, I had teenage angst. High school was the most horrifying thing I could imagine. I ended up getting my GED and enrolling at the University of New Mexico. Did that for a year as a Bio major and then dropped out again. I like fixing things and helping people, so I ended up working as a mechanic for a guy with an Italian car shop during the week and as a raft guide on weekends. I got bored, so moved to New York City and worked as a bartender in various places — The Olive Tree Cafe, the Comedy Cellar. I met a random bar patron who said, “You’d be good at advertising.” She introduced me to the head of personnel at McCann. I got a job in the print forwarding division, stuffing envelopes on the Winston account.

IHAVEANIDEA: I always thought that whole “getting you start in the mailroom” thing was an urban legend in our business. How’d you eventually become a creative?

“Advertising isn’t about anything academic. It’s about people. What makes them tick, what makes them work.”

Ty: I would see the creatives at McCann and say, “How do you get that job where you just sit around and think of stuff?” I took a 10-week class taught by someone teaching out of her house (and many years later I married her). I worked at getting a job for a about a year and finally got one at Scali McCabe Sloves. I couldn’t have been more directionless.

IHAVEANIDEA: For being ‘directionless’ certainly ended up with a sweet first creative gig.

Ty: Advertising isn’t about anything academic. It’s about people. What makes them tick, what makes them work. It’s about life experience. Having done interesting things and having gone interesting places.

IHAVEANIDEA: Yeah, well, you’ve certainly lived. Looks like the women and beer direction treated you well. What do you think about the ad school route that most creatives take these days? Is it serving the next generation of creative talent, or is it a bit on the cookie cutter side?

Ty: Whether you choose to go to an ad school or not, if you do go make sure you question authority and that you don’t follow directions too well. Because, you know, speaking for myself purely, I’m looking for people who are individuals. I’m not looking for cookie cutter people who have come out of a factory. I think there are some great programs. Miami. VCU — Rick Boyko has done an incredible job there. I don’t think the ad schools are bad, I just think that in general, cookie cutter anything is bad. I think diversity of thought is good. That’s what I’ve always believed and I’ve done well in agency cultures that also believe that.

IHAVEANIDEA: Well one thing that is breaking the mold is digital. How are you guys making digital work at JWT?

“People are pretty much the same today as they were 100 years ago. So if we’re betting somehow that a change in technology is going to change people, that’s a bad bet in my opinion.”

Ty: Technology changes. It’s always going to change. But people, they’re not changing all that much. People are pretty much the same today as they were 100 years ago. So if we’re betting somehow that a change in technology is going to change people, that’s a bad bet in my opinion. People are hardwired to appreciate certain things — and one of them is great storytelling. Storytelling is how we make sense of the universe. It’s how we transmit culture. That’s what I think a culture is; a shared story. So even if the delivery system is different, always tell great stories. That’s where we are at JWT, figuring out how to tell the best stories in the world. Technology will help us to tell those stories in new ways.

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IHAVEANIDEA: How are you structuring JWT to make this integrated traditional/digital storytelling culture happen?

Ty: I think having a separate digital department is crazytown and not modern. We hire people we consider to be digital natives directly into the creative department. In the beginning that was really, really hard — the first few just died. They were like a fish out of water. But now it’s working much better.Today we’re trying to pair digital natives with great storytellers, and put them on equal footing. People with a traditional background shouldn’t by nature be in charge; that creates a culture where it’s too hard If you are a digital creative, why would you ever want to report to someone who doesn’t understand you?

There’s no one at JWT who will tell a digital native that their idea has to been done a certain way. At the ECD level, there are both digital natives and traditional creatives — and they have to fight it out to decide what work is going to leave the building. I, and now Harvey (Marco, CCO JWT NY), we have to play tiebreaker. The best idea should win and we don’t care where that comes from. And now we’re having better retention, with this kind of environment.

IHAVEANIDEA: As Co-President and CCO, how do you work with your senior managers to make this kind of environment possible?

Ty: Well, creatively, rather than dictate I just try to give my creative leaders advice. I tell them what I’ve learned and tell them what I find to be inspiring. When it comes to helping creative leaders with their own creative management style I try to give the most direct feedback I possibly can. No one benefits from vagueness. One thing I expect from creative leaders is the ability to help younger talent. If a senior creative can only do work, and doesn’t have the skills to help younger creatives make their work better, it’s going to limit their career. My job is to help them round themselves out that way. And to inspire, hopefully.

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IHAVEANIDEA: Not everybody who’s a brilliant creative talent can be a brilliant creative director and manager of creatives. Who were the people that helped you to become the acclaimed creative manager that you are?

Ty: I’ve been lucky enough to work for some extraordinary people. I was the first writer that Sam Scally hired at Scali McCabe Sloves. Sam kinda took me under his wing and at a very formative point in my career and sorta just helped me out. And I’ve been lucky enough to work for just some of the best people in the business. Jay Chiat and Lee Clow. Bill Hamilton and Rick Boyko. John Hegarty. Dan Weiden. Gary Goldsmith.

“There are some creative directors that tell you very specifically what’s wrong with your work and what specifically to do about it, and I’ve personally never found that very inspiring.”

IHAVEANIDEA: How did working with these advertising greats help you navigate your career? Did they do anything specifically for you to make you see the light?

Ty: More by just being around them, really. I don’t really consider any of them to be “active” mentors of mine. Everyone has their own style and they were all really different. I’d have to say that the two guys that I learned the most from were Lee Clow — although he probably doesn’t even remember me — and Dan Weiden. These are guys who creative direct in a very indirect way. There are some creative directors that tell you very specifically what’s wrong with your work and what specifically to do about it, and I’ve personally never found that very inspiring. With these guys, they don’t say a whole lot but you can see it in their face when they’re disappointed in you. And that disappointment drives you to do better; it that style drove me to do my best work. I try to do that now as a CD; I try not to give explicit instructions. I just try to just make some helpful comments as to where some solutions might be found, but leave it up to the creative people to work it out. I feel that someone’s body of work should represent their point of view, not my point of view. As a CD you have something in your head that you know is the right answer, but I find that you get better results from the people working for you if you hold back and let them discover the solution themselves.

IHAVEANIDEA: Let’s fast forward to today. You’re the Chair of the 2010 ANDYs jury, and in your first order of business, you announce co-chair Michael Lebowitz. Not that Mike isn’t worthy, of course,  but why did you make this decision?

Ty: It was both a symbolic act and a selfish act. Symbolic because I wanted to make the statement that digital natives must have an equal seat at the table. The future of our business is emerging from collaboration between traditional and digital creatives. Selfish because I just really like Michael and its fun to hang out with him.

IHAVEANIDEA: This year’s ANDYs campaign has the general public selecting your jury. How did this idea come about? Any surprises so far? Will this be a one-shot thing, or do you see this audience participation to be here to stay?

Ty: It’s a total experiment. The goal is to let the industry pick the jury to see if we could get a truly balanced jury.A jury that represents all of the disciplines, geographies and cultures that are creating the future of our business. A jury that contains a few of the usual suspects, a few people that most in the mainstream have never heard of and a few people from adjacent businesses or pursuits (art, music, design). I have been really psyched by the response. The spirit of it has been really friendly and supportive and good humored. We just ticked over 20,000 votes, which when you think about the relatively small size of our industry is pretty cool. I’m super excited by the list of nominees but I have no idea how it will turn out.I will say that if we closed the voting and picked our jury today it would have too many white traditional guys from North America.So get voting people!

Interview by:

brandonburns Ty Montague

Brandon Burns
Copywriter
IHAVEANIDEA Correspondent

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