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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > creatives >  Rob Schwartz
Rob Schwartz

robart Rob SchwartzChief Creative Officer
TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles

 

Speaking with Rob Schwartz is like overdosing on passion for the advertising industry. His love, not only for the business but for TBWA\Chiat\Day in particular, is infectious and he is a living example of pursuing one’s dream with wild abandon. Well, perhaps not wild abandon. Perhaps more like laser focus and undying persistence. Either way, Rob has made a huge dent in the TBWA\Chiat\Day network, both in creative product and in bottom line, and he isn’t done yet. Rob has won nearly every advertising award out there, including Adweek’s “Best of the Decade,” and helped TBWA\Chiat\Day to win Adweek’s Agency of the Year and “Most Awarded Agency in the World,” according to the Gunn Report. Rob has also served as a judge at the One Show Interactive and International ANDY Awards. In short, he has just about done it all. Not unlike IHAVEANIDEA’s own Ignacio Oreamuno, Rob is a constant traveler, speaking, presenting and collaborating with peers around the world, and actively bringing that knowledge back to his creative teams in Los Angeles. We were fortunate enough to catch up with Rob between travels, and he offered IHAVEANIDEA a glimpse into the past, what he is working on at present, and what he sees for the future, including life after Lee.

IHAVEANIDEA: Why don’t we start by bringing it way back to your start in the biz. Was it your childhood dream to be in advertising? What drew you in?

Rob: (laughs) It wasn’t my childhood dream to be in advertising, but it was my childhood dream to be a writer. I used to walk to work (in the late 80’s) from my apartment from the East Side, over to the West Side and one day I saw this amazing poster on a bus side. It was this bull on a white scene, and the bull was upside down. I got kind of obsessed with it and for two weeks there was this inscrutable bull on my way to work that I was attracted to. Finally, it was revealed that it was for the phone book, for the NYNEX Yellow Pages. The idea was “Bulldozing.” I said “Wow, not only do I want to do that for a living (because I had also started taking advertising classes), but I want to do it at the agency that did the NYNEX Campaign.”

I came to find out (all pre-internet) that it was done by this company called Chiat\Day, and I said, “that’s the agency I want to work at.” I made it my mission to get to Chiat\Day and in 1998, I got a call from the agency. I was living in LA at the time. They let me in the door, and I’ve been loath to leave ever since.

IHAVEANIDEA: What caught their attention and inspired them to bring you in?

Rob: I’m sure it was a combination of my work and my zeal for the agency. It was at a tenuous time for the agency. A number of clients were on the ropes, Nissan was going through monstrous reorganizations and they had a lot of issues. I said to the team here at the time, “Nissan is an amazing brand. If we can just do a couple of things right, a couple of things to get them over the hump, I think we’ll be good.” I think that my belief in the agency, and my belief in the largest brand that was having the most trouble, sealed the deal. I had done some clever things on Lexus previously, and Chiat\Day liked that. I was really hungry and I still am, and that was a big part of it.

“I think that my belief in the agency, and my belief in the largest brand that was having the most trouble, sealed the deal. I had done some clever things on Lexus previously, and Chiat\Day liked that. I was really hungry and I still am, and that was a big part of it.”

IHAVEANIDEA: Your work with Nissan really propelled you to where you are now, right?

Rob: Yeah, people always ask me, “How could you work so long on a single brand?” but Nissan is an amazing company that does a lot of great things. It’s a dynamic company. I was also fortunate to work on some other great brands, too. I was the Global Creative Director on Visa when we pitched the global business, so it hasn’t been all Nissan. Now I’m working very closely with Pepsi, and there have been a lot of brands throughout my time here that I was fortunate enough to influence.

IHAVEANIDEA: Out of all those brands and all of your work, is there a pinnacle moment that you can identify?

Rob: I think that there are a few pinnacle moments. I think that certainly for Nissan, not only leading the team on the Emmy-nominated Polar Bear spot, but working on the world’s first electric car and the whole electric car effort, to be at the epicenter of that and leading so much of that work…that was really a great moment.

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I think winning the Visa Global pitch with the whole “More People Go with Visa” idea, and seeing that work in all parts of the world, that was really gratifying. I love going to places and seeing the work. I was just in Sao Paolo, and saw the Go Campaign in the airport—that feels really good.

I think that the third pinnacle moment was getting to work with Pepsi, and doing something groundbreaking with the Pepsi Refresh Project. It was just one of those things that had never been done before, it was a massive scale, to so bravely—I give Pepsi a lot of credit for this—they just bravely believed in us that social media could be a big force, and to pull them off the Super Bowl after 23 years, that was a big moment. Something that is a landmark in our business. We won’t be able to talk about advertising without saying, “Well, there was that moment when Pepsi came off the Super Bowl and made that leap into social media.”

Those are the three big ones.

IHAVEANIDEA: How do you work to inspire your team? Whether it’s in the digital realm, or just in general?

Rob: I have about 58 blogs that they’re all welcome to read. (laughs) No, there are a few things. The first big piece of inspiration is to be an example. People see me not only in the halls of the agency, but they see me on Twitter, on Facebook, in the world where these things are happening and they see that I live this stuff.

The second thing is that I started doing this blog: Metal Potential. It was originally done because I really wanted to get into the ANDY Jury, the first and only crowd-sourced jury. Then I transferred it from “Andy Potential” to “Metal Potential.” I’m agnostic, I don’t care if it’s TBWA work, I just pick the best stuff that I think is not only going to win awards, but is adding to our lives and is an example of cool stuff. My teams can see that, so that’s a really a second great way to inspire people.

The third thing is that I try to bring in whatever I learn. I travel quite a bit, and I try to bring it to life, we just had a meeting in LA after I had a meeting in Sao Paolo. We got all the creatives together and did a download of “Hey, this is what the work in our network looks like.”

IHAVEANIDEA: You have big flip-flops to fill in Lee Clow. Can you imagine that day? Will it be like when Steve Jobs left Apple, and are you all prepared for that moment?

Rob: I think the network’s been preparing for it for the better part of three years. I think that if you look around, Lee is certainly a monstrous part of our identity and our standards but the execution over the last five years has been a number of different people, so we have a machine not dissimilar to Apple. Tim Cook is going to lead an amazing machine for Apple and I think that we have that too. I look at John Hunt globally, Patrick O’Neill here in LA, John Merrifield in Asia, Dede in London now, Andy Blood in New Zealand, Dave Bowman and Matty Burton in Australia, Eric Holden and Remi Noel in Paris, Duncan Milner at Media Arts Lab and Mark Figuilio in New York… there’s just a group of creative people who have pretty much assumed the mantle. I don’t think that one person can ever replace Lee; I think it’s going to be a company, it’s going to be a band of brothers and sisters that assume the mantle, and I think that’s just the way the world is today. There are very few iconic single leaders. It’s become a much more team-oriented business.

“I don’t think that one person can ever replace Lee; I think it’s going to be a company, it’s going to be a band of brothers and sisters that assume the mantle, and I think that’s just the way the world is today. There are very few iconic single leaders. It’s become a much more team-oriented business.”

IHAVEANIDEA: Right, and the world becomes more connected every day, so it’s important to have people around the world, and not just in one spot, all carrying the same torch.

Rob: Yeah, exactly, and torch is a good analogy.  I think that we had a single torch and everyone just picked up a stick and everybody’s taken a piece of the fire.

IHAVEANIDEA: Well, that’s a good place to be.

Rob: Yeah, especially with hot dogs and marshmallows.

IHAVEANIDEA: (laughs) What is your number one goal in the next three hundred and sixty five days?

Rob: I’ll give it to you in terms of how I operate: put the brands first, put the agency second and put your individual agenda third.
I think for our brands, Nissan is overtaking Honda globally, but I want the perception that Nissan deserves, which is to be seen as they are, as the most innovative car company on the planet. So we’re going to do a lot innovative work and you’ve been seeing a nice run that’s been leading up to this, and we’re just going to explode with that. One goal for Nissan is to be the most innovative car brand on the planet and to have the creative that demonstrates that. For Visa, I want us to be the most social, and be perceived as having the best creative at the Olympics. Pepsi, I think we’re starting to make some big moves on Pepsi, and I think they’re getting their rightful place back as being the king of pop culture, here and abroad. Those are some key big goals for the brands.

I think that for the agency, we have done some amazing non-traditional engagement ideas and content ideas, and I just want people to recognize us for the contribution we’re making to the world in terms of new creative thinking. If you look at Gatorade’s Replay, that got us some press and quite a bit of metal, but we’ve done a ton more. We’re doing stuff for Nissan, for GT Academy, that’s amazing. It’s this programming that’s running on the Speed Channel now, its content that’s really innovative. The Grammys is also really innovative, we’ve got more stuff coming this year.  We just did a really nice documentary film for Nissan, and we’re building stuff all of the time, so I want our non-traditional work to get as much recognition as what we get for our traditional media creative.

“I think that for the agency, we have done some amazing non-traditional engagement ideas and content ideas, and I just want people to recognize us for the contribution we’re making to the world in terms of new creative thinking.”

Then personally, I just want to bring in an unfair share of the most talented people in our business. I’m just on a mission to really get the best people doing the best work of their careers for the best clients.

IHAVEANIDEA: Sounds like you have a lot of amazing work ahead of you. So, I have one final question: what is the number one thing that you cannot live without?

Rob: The one thing that I can’t live without—it’s my wife.  She’s just there for me, whether I’m coming up with an idea, or trying to validate an idea, or just to keep me going.

IHAVEANIDEA: That’s awesome. Make sure you show her this interview. Bonus points for you.

brianna Rob Schwartz
Brianna Graves
Operations Manager, Writer
IHAVEANIDEA

  • Maxwell A. Davis

    Fantastic work!

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