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Bob Moore

bm press photo 0506 g fin 614x1024 Bob MooreChief Creative Officer
Publicis USA

For some people, home is wherever you rest your head at night. For others, home is a specific place, and no matter where life takes you in this great big world, you’re always drawn to the familiarity of ‘home.’

Bob Moore seems to fall into that latter category, where ‘home’ includes the blue oceans, green forests and majestic peaks of the Pacific Northwest. Sure, he’s braved the wilds of Minnesota, and he helped put Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam on the map, but he has always come back ‘home’. Even today, as the Chief Creative Officer for Publicis USA, his main office is not in the network’s New York location, but rather in Seattle, where his career is as bright as ever.

IHAVEANIDEA had a golden opportunity to chat with Bob about his storied career, his role at Publicis, and his ongoing plans to help shepherd the agency in the right direction.

IHAVEANIDEA: I heard that when you started in advertising you were doing practically every job and were essentially a walking ad agency.

Bob: I was just turning 21, just out of college, and had an internship at this little agency with thirteen other people. I earned a thousand dollars a month.

ihaveanidea: Hey, that’s a pretty good start!

Bob: Yes, twelve thousand a year! I was an English major at the height of the Reagan administration. My parents were scared to death that I was going to come home and live with them. Everyone was doing computers and business at the time, and I had an English Major.

I got into it and really enjoyed it. I mean, you’re an idiot when you turn 21. I was an idiot at pretty much everything, but I enjoyed doing it.

I particularly enjoyed the writing, we were doing radio and I loved it. My friend said that I should go to the school of visual concepts if I really wanted to write. We really didn’t have an advertising school back then. There was only one marketing course. So I took a course and came out with a stick man portfolio. It wasn’t art directed, it wasn’t fancy, but people liked the idea, and I got hired very quickly. I wouldn’t trade my year and a half of trying to do everything, and understanding my role.

ihaveanidea: You were one of the people who started Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam. What was that experience like? It seems to me it would be like some sort of adventure.

Bob: It was awesome. We were seven Americans, and we didn’t know what we were doing. I would go out to lunch and we’d be asking the waitress how to translate the washer/dryer instructions for us because we couldn’t wash our clothes. We had a big job immediately due, that turned out to be the Nike Opera campaign that we were struggling with, and it was very difficult at first because in Portland we had a good creative cocoon, separate from Madison Avenue, from big city advertising so we’d go off to do our thing always.

After four years, even though it had Wieden’s name on the door…  it felt like you’re leaving your own agency.

But here I was- the fifth writer, with only five teams. By the time I left four years later there were 115 people, Spanish, English, German, French. All of these people were misfits from their own advertising culture. They didn’t quite fit in. The melding of cultures kind of happened there. It was really scary at first, because all of the normal influences in our cocoon weren’t there, and I remember walking along the streets of Amsterdam really frustrated, and looking at bookstores and thinking “Where are my normal creative influences?”. And I kept hearing opera inside and wishing, I wish I could make an opera for Charles Barkley, and mess with that, and I finally opened up my ears and said wait a minute, there are different influences here and that’s GOOD, you know, I shouldn’t be playing to my old influences, I should be looking for new influences.

It was hard to leave; it was really really hard to leave in the end. After four years, you kind of felt, even though it had Wieden’s name on the door, that you were there from the beginning; it felt like you’re leaving your own agency. It was very difficult.

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ihaveanidea: A lot of people are obsessed with starting their careers at a hot shop. Do you think it’s better to start your career in a big agency like Ogilvy, Leo or Publicis and ending your career in Crispin or Wieden or to do it backwards?

Bob: I’ve done it backwards. Actually, I’ve done both. Because I started in a small agency and then moved to a pretty good creative shop in Seattle, then I went to Wieden for ten years, four in Amsterdam, then went to Fallon, then saw an opportunity to build a shop in Seattle, so I kind moved around like a pendulum.

I think that if it takes you some time to get noticed by the hot shops, and I would include Publicis in that list, because, we may be large, but we’re not the agency that we were five years ago, then you need to work at a smaller agency or different agency.

The danger is that if you go into a place that’s too big, you might get swallowed up. You end up on a treadmill. You find that after two or three years you think “Holy crap, I haven’t produced a TV spot, or I haven’t produced any of my digital ideas.” In a place that’s too big, the opportunities may be there but there’s also a lot of competition.

My personal opinion is to go into a mid-size or small shop because there creative directors will never judge an idea based on the budget you have, I mean good creative directors, they’ll look at the quality of the idea. That’s the love of the playing field; it’s the quality of the idea.

ihaveanidea: Now you’re the Chief Creative Officer of Publicis USA. What does your job entail right now?

Bob: We have three main offices in the US, with New York being the biggest, then Seattle, and then Dallas. I am the Chief Creative Officer for Publicis North America and I also have a worldwide job as well, sitting on the Worldwide Creative Director Board. Since my very great friend Olivier Altmann is now the Worldwide Creative Director, I really wanted to support him a thousand percent.We used to divide up the worldwide responsibilities amongst the board members but now he gets to do most of it.

ihaveanidea: Some years ago, after David Droga left his Worldwide position at Publicis to start up Droga5, I remember hearing about some internal arguments from Publicis which said that the Worldwide Creative Director job is too difficult, that it doesn’t work or that it isn’t even a real job. What do you think now?

Bob: It’s not a fake job. I mean, there’s so much to be done, leading an agency. And I’ve always felt that the industry doesn’t move forward unless there’s a creative partner involved.

For example: Richard Pinder, is our Chief Operating Officer at Publicis Worldwide, and he’s trying to change the agency with the creative Board’s help — the issue is that without the day-to-day partnership from creatives, stuff just doesn’t happen, or isn’t visioned out properly, or the creatives don’t buy into it because they didn’t have a hand in it in the beginning. Olivier and I have been in Publicis for the same amount of years. Since coming here I’ve switched sides on this issue; If you’re not fully dedicated to something in this business it just won’t happen.

ihaveanidea: As an agency, what does Publicis stand for, what does it mean? I think an agency like Ogilvy has a well defined spirit, which is David Ogilvy’s culture. So If I had to explain to someone the difference between Publicis and Leo, or Publicis and J. Walter Thompson, what would be the explanation?

Bob: In one sentence, we believe in contagious ideas that change the conversation.

There are two parts to that. Change in conversation has been active in the marketplace and we must realize first that we can’t push media into society anymore. The most effective communications are conversations that happen back and forth between brands and individuals. For example, this 25 year old who we have twittering as Clark Griswald, is having an active conversation with hundreds of thousands of people, three or four times a day. There’s something that the participants gets out of that, which is a relationship with this fictional character who is not Chevy Chase. It’s this fictional character who makes them laugh and says funny stuff all of the time. It’s this symbiotic relationship in which both sides win.

The contagious idea part of it is two things: the pass-along of it. It’s like the “Did you see this?” But it’s also recognition that a contagious idea doesn’t have to be digital. Two examples: that Old Spice spot, “Now I’m on a horse”, my kids showed me that like sixty times. That’s hysterical, they sit around with their friends and see it, it’s getting a lot of hits and buzz, and it’s all in cameras and no special effects.
We did a spot for the Washington Lottery that won silver at Cannes last year and won huge pass-alongs, because it was saying that you should win the lottery so that you could help the world. So it’s not like, you know, take the money and run, it was like hey you could change the world if you wanted to. But it was nothing else; it was just a sixty second spot. That was a contagious idea because a lot of people were talking about it.

ihaveanidea: Publicis is perceived very differently in Europe than in North America. What do both sides share apart from the same logo?

Bob: Well, we share a lot of accounts; you know worldwide accounts and things of that nature. But I think it’s more united and similar now than it was five years ago.

The fact that Olivier and I know each other quite well and pick up the phone on a daily basis helps a lot, but the agency has been around for 90 years, which only really has had two leaders in 90 years, one of them being Maurice Levy, But it’s more established in France, there are a large number of establishments in France as compared to here but that’s also good, it makes us different.

ihaveanidea: When you guys started at Publicis, you said your goal was to fix the earth…what does that mean and did you achieve it?

Bob: It’s a work in progress and it’s a good question. David Droga and I are good friends, so this isn’t going to be any surprise for him, but when he was here he did some very, very good work for some very, very temporary clients, but it fractured the agency. There were the people working on that stuff and the other people that were working on the day-to-day stuff for very large important clients. And so it created a Haves versus the Have Nots. It fractured the agency. And then, when he left, there was a period when there wasn’t a worldwide creative director at all. And when there isn’t a creative mommy or daddy at the agency, the places lose vision, they lose momentum.

It’s fair to say that that happened here. We brought in Rob Feakins and he started to turn it around, not just for the cool little accounts, but for all the accounts. So if you look across the board at the Procter & Gamble and Citi accounts, all the work has steadily gotten better. When they got new business in like T.G.I. Friday’s they’ve done groundbreaking work.

The answer to that is that it’s not 100% fixed, but no agency is (laughs). It’s heading in the right direction though. I think part of the things about agencies is that they’re incredibly flawed, and they should be incredibly flawed, the clients can be all normal but it’s up to us to get the work out, and be great partners and all of that stuff, but try to manage around the chaos versus trying to manage the chaos.

You’d hate to have that ‘we only make TV spots’ label put around your neck. That’s eliminating ninety percent of the creative options you have.

ihaveanidea: If big agencies are like big ships, and the future is like a big wave that’s coming, do you think you guys have made all the changes necessary in the agency to face off the next two years?

Bob: No, certainly not everything. I think that any agency that would say “Yeah, we’ve got it completely figured out” would be a big lying bastard.

I think we’re doing a lot of things right. For example, we don’t hire anybody who doesn’t have substantial digital experience. A young kid coming in has to have at least half of their work in the digital sphere. You can make an ad? That’s great. But show me your other work because that’s the way forward. We’ve had that in place for a couple of years, and because of that we’re growing as a digitally savvy firm. Part of the issue that we have, is that there are many other companies within Publicis— there’s Modem, there’s Razorfish, and there’s several other digital partners, and so my main job is that the ‘ad agencies’ don’t become dinosaurs. Rob’s doing a great job with that in New York, and Sean in Dallas and myself in Seattle. You’d hate to have that ‘we only make TV spots’ label put around your neck. That’s eliminating ninety percent of the creative options you have.

ihaveanidea: What sparks your interest the most right now in our ever-changing industry?

Bob: I think that mobile is something that has been around for a while but it’s never been really fully explored creatively. There are lots of reasons for this. One is the low penetration of smartphones and WAP-enabled phones. The other is that the numbers of creatives who understand that medium are very few. There a lot of people who are very suspicious of the small screen. A lot of that is changing. I think mobile now is where digital was ten years ago, and everybody’s been saying for the last for years that “this is the year of mobile” just as much as they’ve been saying that the ‘30 second TV spot is dead’. As smartphone penetration starts to get up to say 15/20%, I think you’re going to start to see creatives shift towards that platform. We’re getting more clients who are saying “What is a mobile ad? Yeah, yeah, we don’t have a mobile-enabled website”, and some of these clients of ours are mobile companies (laughs). All the clients feel like they’re behind, and they’re right. They’re not as behind as they think, but it’s time for that platform to start being explored.

ihaveanidea: What would you advise someone, about the ‘ideal career path’? A lot of people go to portfolio school and then straight to work at an agency. What do you think is the ideal path for a creative? What, from your experience, is a good path? If anyone wants to end up with a job like yours, do you think there is a specific career path they had to take?

Bob: That’s an impossible question to answer. It all depends on the individual. When I was at Fallon I found there were very few women creatives there. I saw the potential in a young woman who was an account person who I thought was very witty, so I turned her into a writer, and now she’s a writer. Andy Berndt, who’s now at Google, was an account executive when I met him at Wieden, but pretty successful in his thinking as a creative, and eventually became creative director at Ogilvy. So it depends on the individual. There’s quite a few young account people who think “Wow, the glory — maybe not the money — but the glory and the fun is in on the creative side. I’m an idiot, being the bag carrier. I want to get off and make work”.

We’ve got quite a few of those in this office and in Seattle too. People who understand and have the ability to go and communicate with clients, but also have this amazing creative side. It’s really impossible to say, it’s really on the individual. But like I said, now you also need to be able to be fluent in digital.

In terms of the next generation of creativity…my nine year old programs my smartphone. She’s the one who downloads apps, and she shows me how to do stuff. And from my generation, if technology doesn’t work, it’s my fault, but for her generation if technology doesn’t work, it’s technology’s fault. It should be intuitive, it should be smart. And for her, she’s a creative individual; she’s going to grow up probably in the mobile world, because she’s drawn to it. I get home and she’s like “Hi Daddy, give me the phone.” (Laughs).

The playing surface is so different, and the ads are different. So, the creatives coming up these days have a far greater chance of changing the world. Ads like Lee Clow’s 1984, which we’re still talking about twenty five years later don’t come around much. In digital, there’s so many new opportunities.

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Interview by:

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Ignacio Oreamuno
El Presidente
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