Ever feel lonely as a freelancer, founder or studio owner? Join our vibrant community of creative entrepreneurs!
In this episode we were given the rare opportunity to speak with someone operating at the highest level of advertising. Tim Maleeny is the President and Chief Strategy Officer for global agency, Havas. Tim explains how advertising, strategy, and just being a human all work together. In his twenty plus years working in the industry, he's learned what matters to clients and how to win people over.
To say that the advertising world is competitive, would be like saying that water is wet.
People fight tooth and nail to land big clients. For every account that is won, another is lost. And missing the mark on a pitch you’ve poured your soul into can be heartbreaking.
But advertising is also thrilling.
You're given a unique problem and it's up to you and your teammates to solve it. Like group of creative detectives.
In this episode we were given the rare opportunity to speak with someone operating at the highest level of advertising. Tim Maleeny is the President and Chief Strategy Officer for global agency, Havas.
He also writes mystery novels.
Tim explains how advertising, strategy, and just being a human all work together. In his twenty plus years working in the industry, he's learned what matters to clients and how to win people over.
As an expert brand strategist he also knows when to sell, when to engage, and when to simply celebrate.
If you work for an agency, run your own, or are just curious about how brand strategy in advertising works, then you will enjoy this chat.
Being able to jump back and forth in your brain about what would you do? Where would you spend the money? I've had so many clients over the years say, "These are really cool ideas, which ones would you do? Would you spend the money on it?" And they really need to trust that you have an objective point of view on, this is what's going to be most effective and nobody can outspend the world's distractions. So dismiss that we're going to do something really cool and everyone's going to care about it. You have to think about where, when and how are you going to show up.
Welcome to The Futur Podcast, the show that explores the interesting overlap between design, marketing and business. I'm Greg Gunn. To say that the advertising world is competitive would be like saying that water is wet. People fight tooth and nail to land big clients. For the account that is won, another is lost. And missing the mark on a pitch you've poured your soul into can be heartbreaking, but advertising is also thrilling. You're given a unique problem and it's up to you and your teammates to solve it like a group of creative detectives. In this episode, we were given the rare opportunity to speak with someone operating at the highest level of advertising. He's the president and chief strategy officer for global agency, Havas.
He also writes mystery novels. Our guest explains how advertising, strategy and just being a human all work together. In his 20 plus years in the industry, he's learned what matters to clients and how to win people over. And as an expert brand strategist, he also knows when to sell, when to engage, and when to simply celebrate. So if you work for an agency, run your own, or are just curious about how brand strategy works in advertising, then keep listening because you are in for a real treat. Please enjoy our conversation with Tim Maleeny.
So good to see you. It's been so many years and I have to say that I have very fond memories of my very short time at Cole & Weber. And I've been tracking along with you, we've been in touch via exchanging email, but I'm thrilled to have you for a lot of different reasons. First, because of your stature, like the position and the role that you play in the company. And just because we don't get many opportunities to hear from people like you. So, before we get any further, I'd love for you just to introduce yourself.
Sure. First, thanks for having me. I also have incredibly fond memories of our time together out in Seattle. And maybe that'll be part of the story today, but it's absolutely fantastic to see you. So thanks for having me. I am Tim Maleeny. I am currently the chief strategy officer for an advertising agency network called Havas. I oversee strategy across North America. I'm also the president of their flagship office in New York. And I've worked in the marketing industry and in advertising agencies for well over 20 years on both coasts at agencies, big and small, independent, holding company, specialist agencies and the digital arena, broader, mainstream agencies, you name it, everything in between.
Now, I'm going to want to circle back to your role in your strategy because a lot of people who are in my space are very curious about that, but I want to take us back to the beginning to find out a little bit about who you were as a young person, because before you knew you wanted to do strategy, marketing and advertising, what were you like as a kid?
I had the great fortune to grow up with two amazing parents that sadly are no longer with us, but I was lucky enough to grow up in a house that was this wonderful combination of science and storytelling. My dad was a chemist and my mom was a nurse, and both of them were very into the sciences, and we actually had test tubes everywhere and a lab in our basement. And that was magical as a kid, got into all sorts of trouble mixing things that shouldn't be mixed, the occasional explosion or chemical burn or something like that, but they were great. They wanted me to play and experiment, and that was great fun, but they also were great readers. They had grown up in the '30s and '40s during the Depression, but they had this unbelievable collection that they held on to of the old pulp paperback novels, the adventure novels.
And that got me into reading, that got me into stories, comic books, everything. So it was a wonderful left brain, right brain balance as a kid. And I had an older brother who's also into those things. And it was just a good environment. We lived in a modest house and it was my parents, my brother, and a couple of cats, but it was great. And anytime I got restless or bored, I would just dive into the bookshelf and pick up something new. So it was awesome.
Amazing. Where was this?
This was in New Jersey. I actually grew up in suburban New Jersey. We used to go into Manhattan for special occasions once a year to see the lights, things like that. And that was always really cool and magical. And then for a while, when I was around middle school, we moved to the south, we moved to Georgia for a little while. My dad was starting this new business. And we were there for a few years, then we moved back to the Northeast, moved back to New Jersey. And then when I started working, I moved into New York, moved into Manhattan. So that was the childhood. And the other thing that was cool about the childhood is we had, you don't see this as much these days, but we had extended family nearby.
For a big part of my life, my grandmother lived with us, my great aunt lived with us. So having older people around and getting their perspectives on things, I think was also very cool, just learning to talk to different people with different life experience and reflecting on... like my great aunt grew up in New York when there were horses instead of cars, and my grandmother had been through hell and back. And it was just fascinating listening to some of those stories and reflecting on that relative to the world I was growing up in.
Wow. It sounds like you have an ideal childhood as much as one can have.
I was very lucky in that. You don't get to choose your parents, but I certainly feel blessed in that regard. And then as I got older and as they got older, you start to clue into different things like you think, okay, your parents had a good relationship with them, how was their life, how was that going? And then you clue into the stresses that parents feel as they're trying to take care of their kids. And as I was hitting my teens, we had moved and we moved back, I started thinking, "Well, why did we move? Well, what was going on with dad's work? And what's going on with mom's job, and what's happening there?"
And when my dad was in his 50s, he was an organic chemist, but he worked with these different companies and had been asked to run these different labs and start these other companies within companies. And he got frustrated with working for some of these big companies that can't get out of their own way and make dumb decisions. And when he went to Georgia, he had started a business with a business partner who screwed him over and he thought, "Okay, this isn't going to work. We don't share values. I'm going to get out of this, I'm going to come back." He consulted for a little while. And reflecting back, I realized the stress he was under about, what am I going to do next? How's this going to work?
And then he decided late in life to start his own business. And he and two other guys were going to start a company in the lab, in our basement. And they started to do it, and right when they were doing that, and my mom who was a nurse, and she was doing everything from emergency room nursing to school nursing, depending on those kids' schedules, she was trying to adapt to that. She stopped doing that to help my dad start the company. And then right when he was about to start the company, his partner that he was going to do it with had a heart attack and died. So all of a sudden he was faced with that decision of, do I go forward with this? Do I not? What are we going to do?
And he and one other guy, who I think of as like the third brother in our family, he went to the basement, started working, started taking on projects, and within two years, they moved into an office and had about 10 people working for them. And then fast forward, more than 20 years later, even though my dad has passed on, the company is still going. The company still going and has about 140 people working for it. And it's an amazing thing to have lived through and gone through as a family to see what it took to start a business and deal with all the choices you have to make about things you're going to do without, triple mortgage, the house at one point... It's all the choices that you're at that inflection point where failure's around the corner, but if you don't do this, what choice do you have?
And that was a huge education for me, that was better than any grad school education I could've gotten.
Wow. I'm trying to process all this. How old are you when the first wave of changes are starting to happen, like your dad wanting to start a business and then his business partner before it launches has a heart attack and passes away. How old are you?
I was a teenager. I was just in high school. And what happened back to your comment about the ideal childhood, I think if you have a good relationship with your parents, your childhood in some respects always feels a bit idyllic, and then you look through it as you grow up through the lens of, well, what were they doing while they were trying to solve for us and we weren't playing cards or whatever you're doing as a family or as a group. And I had just started high school and a couple of things happened. My grandmother, my father's mom died, and I had known, but didn't feel what he'd gone through as a kid, because when he was 14, his dad had died and that shook the family, that shook the family financially, it changed everything. It was during a hard time in the country anyway, if you think about the '30s.
So the ripple effect, and he was somebody who when he was with you was always going to be very positive and very optimistic. The first time I saw him shook emotionally, and that was right at the time when he's trying to make these decisions about what to do with the company and everything else. So all of that was happening at once, which was fascinating to watch about, just that head down, determination of keep working through it, keep working through it. So in answer to your question, when I would come home, I'd have homework, I'd finish homework, I'd go down on the kitchen table. He'd be at the kitchen table, we talked for a bit and he would be working. And he would work well into the night after I went to bed.
He would always be very present when I was there, but then when I started to do my own thing, I realized, "Wait, he's still at the kitchen table, and my mom's also working. And they're teaching themselves all these different things. They have to learn about starting a business." And that was like the next 10 years while I was going off to college and everything else as them getting this thing off the ground, this labor of love.
Wow. Let's talk a little bit about college because I see here you've had an amazing education. How does a kid who sets things on fire, mixing chemicals, and reading comic books and pulp literature, get into Dartmouth and study computer science. That's like, what? That took a detour. What happened, man?
My whole life as you'll find is a series of detours, maybe not. I don't know, if I'd call them beautiful mistakes or catastrophic failure, but it's a series of detours that lead me to where we are. I applied to a bunch of schools, I didn't get into a bunch, which is typical. On this one, I synced up, I think with everything from the person I interviewed with, so the essay I wrote, and I had a sense of why I wanted to go there. And next thing I get accepted, and my parents are like, "Oh my God, this is amazing. This is great." And I go to college. And in hindsight, and I felt this at the time, I was so excited to go, and I think it was great in many ways that I went in terms of some of the things I've learned and some of the people I met, but I didn't really have a clear sense of what I wanted to do.
And I think that's typical in some respects to college, but I hadn't reconciled those two parts of my life, that science and stories part of it. And my parents grew up at a time where, okay, get a trade. So it's cool that you want to draw, it's cool that you want to read comic books and all, but writing comic books can't possibly be a job, taking a movie can't possibly be a job. And that, of course, I had two daughters and every time we watch a movie, I'm like, "You know, there's somebody who edited that film. You know there's somebody who just did the illustrations for the concept boards." But when I was growing up, you were going to be a doctor, a lawyer, a scientist of some sort.
So I went to college having that in the back of my head and I was taking courses in conflict and religion and culture, all sorts of things like that, but my core studies I started with physics, went to chemistry and I was working my way through the sciences. And at each point, the first intro course I loved because I'm a science geek, but then the second course when it started gets serious, part of my brain was like, "Argh, I don't know if I want to do this, I don't know if..." Then I moved to another one, and I got to computer science and it still wasn't quite right, but it was fascinating because computer science always deals with emerging tech.
And at that time in particular, it was solving puzzles, and I love that part of it. And I love the constant challenge of inventing a new way to look at things and deconstructing a problem in a new way. So I gravitated to that, but then didn't know what I was going to do with that because coming out of college, I was still a bit adrift and I did a very unconventional thing. I actually went straight to grad school, which is very uncommon, but I had some friends who had a much clearer sense of what they wanted to do, and they were applying to grad school and I talked to them and I had this vague sense. I look back and I'm like, I had no idea what questions to ask even, or how to go to the leg up on what do you do exactly.
That's why I think so much of what you're doing right now is such a gift to everyone because it teaches people how to ask questions, about how to navigate their way through lives and find what they want to do. And at that time, I just had this vague instinct that were businesses out there that were a little more on the side of my brain., and could I get a handle on that? So next thing I applied to grad school thinking, "I'll work for a little while and then maybe I'll get in the year after." And I got accepted. So all of a sudden, guess what, you're going to grad school, and no space in between. And I got there and realized within a few weeks, I'm not at the right place, but I was on a campus again.
And I took full advantage of that and went around. I got into the business school, and I went around the campus and I talked to the dean of the journalism school, I talked to people at another camp, all the grad schools to get a sense of what are you studying and what do you do? And that was the best thing I could have done because that's when the zigzags exact started to happen for me and I started to seek out things that interested me, even if they didn't follow a path or didn't seem to make sense at the time. I started to trust my gut a lot more.
I just want to make a note here, you got into Columbia University, you got your MBA from Columbia. Is there some point in time when you're like, "Okay, MBA, I'm going to go be an admin"?
No, that's what was interesting about it. I was surrounded by a lot of folks doing things like consulting and finance and I still felt like it didn't fit in. I felt like, "Wait, I'm from the land of misfit toys and yet I'm here. And maybe this is time for me to grow up, but I'm not sure I want to. You've got a briefcase, I've got a backpack, what's wrong with this picture." And then the summer internships came up, and I talked to everybody and interviewed with everyone from investment banks to advertising agencies, more interviewing them, opportunity to be like, "Okay, I know I need a summer internship, but what do you do again? And do you like what you do?" And all of that. And it was interesting turning the tables on those interviews.
And I had this instinct for film production, things like that. And I talked to a couple of cable companies, and next thing you know I got an internship in cable television. And what was wonderful about that was, it wasn't your typical business school, industry or move at that time, but I got in. And they had the sense that they should have interns, but they didn't really know what to do with them. So they said, "Great, which department do you want to work in?" And there was this one department called on-air promotions, which is basically all the trailers and all the ads that you see for the programs running on a cable channel.
And without in my mind thinking of that as advertising, I realized, "Wait, that's going to involve writing, editing the sense of film, all of that. I'll try that." So I jumped into that pool. And by the end of the summer, I loved what I was doing. I learned about this other world called advertising where production obviously is another doorway in. And I enjoyed the people I was meeting there. They felt more like me, there was a shared language, and I also liked the fact that they all came from very, very different backgrounds. So, that was first toe in the water of marketing.
And when I came back the next year at a school, that's all I focused on. I focused on anything I thought would be skills I could bring from studying psychology, consumer behavior, advertising, marketing, all of that, I just jumped in with both feet.
It's starting to get clear, you're one hard person to track down here with all the zigging and zagging, but the patterns are starting to form here. So I'm thinking there, "Okay, this is real interesting." But I have to ask you this question, coming back to that point in which you were interviewing for these internships, what got in your head as a young man, everybody's just desperate for a job, but you're sitting there thinking, "I got to figure out what's right for me because I don't know yet, and I need to know what they have to offer me." What caused you to start asking those kinds of questions?
That's a great question. Part of it was that time and what was happening at home with my parents and their business and seeing that as someone going from the college years into grad school years, I think for the first time, I really felt a huge appreciation for the sacrifices every parent makes when their kids go to school and when their kids are given choices. And I looked at that through a completely different lens than I had when I first went off to college and was more on the, "I hope I like it, I hope I make friends, and I hope this is fun." And this was much more, this was a huge sacrifice for me to go to the schools. They're working their asses off, I want to work that hard on something I love doing, what is that?
And I still haven't found anything that's grabbing me or even something that I want to start leaning into. And I'm happy with building a zigzag, even unstructured thing around me, but I want it to be mine. And I'd rather be hired for being me unleashed than being another person who can do a really good job fitting in that box or that box over there. And that was a light bulb that went off for me anyway, in between year one and year two in grad school where it was, I don't have to be yet another doctor, lawyer consultant, what have you, I can get hired as me by a place that wants me to do some of the things that I'm uniquely good at, if I can just start to understand those things myself.
Yeah. So do you think in hindsight, not that you can change anything, you are exactly where you need to be, but do you think it would've been better if you had taking some time off between your undergrad and your graduate studies to figure out that spark, the person that you wanted to be and then go to grad school and focus? Or was it important for you to just dive right into it and then you use the internship interview process to figure it out?
Yeah. It's interesting. I think in some respects, as you said, I'm where I need to be, and if I look at, I have two daughters, if I look at my daughters, if I look at my wife, I'm like, "Okay, I don't want to change anything. I don't want to go back in time." And then step on that butterfly, then what's happening. However, if I were giving myself advice and I wasn't worried about the timeline, absolutely. I think I was one of those kids that probably should have taken a year off even before I went to college, to be honest. I think doing that to really think and explore a bit what I wanted to do, there are certain things that I love doing now like writing, I've written several novels, I wish I'd started that early.
I had an instinct for it, but I was more of a reader than a writer, I wish I'd started to explore that more. I think there were programs in schools and people that I could have found, but I didn't have any instinct for putting yourself out there or networking. I was in this weird, I'm still a weird cross between an introvert and an extrovert. When I engage with people, I know how to be very extroverted and I'm genuinely interested in other people and the topics that we're talking about, but left to my own devices, I'd probably be happy with a book and a keyboard and I'm good.
So that point of my life, the idea of no net, you're off on your own, go do this or lose the structure of a school or lose the structure of the linear path everyone thinks you should be on, I don't think I was brave enough in that, and in hindsight, I should have been a little more, not reckless, but daring maybe in some of the choices I made earlier on.
Very interesting. That was great introspection there. For people who are listening to this, take that to heart. If you haven't figured out what you want in life yet, you do need to explore and don't worry about fitting into some life plan that somebody else had made from the last century even, if you think about it. Now, our paths cross at Cole & Weber in Seattle, and I was just finishing on my school. This is in, I think January of '95, that actually started in Cole & Weber. And you were already the senior vice president group account director. I don't know how it is that a lowly, basically just so people would understand, if you get a job in the creative department, your title is automatically art director. That's the beginning position, it sounds fancier than it is.
And I was like in a closet-size room working with my partner, Colleen, and then there you are at the top of the position, I don't even understand how we even got to know each other because normally we wouldn't cross paths, right?
Well, it's interesting because if you look at good agencies, the people who get it and the people who are working directly with the clients are also in the work, and they're shaping the work, and they're collaborating closely, not just with clients, but with each other. And that's where the ideas come from, and that's how it gets shaped. And there are certainly agencies that are big and more hierarchical where maybe you have management and then people doing work and this and that. And I've very aggressively moved in the course of my career to always stay close to the work and the people doing the work.
And I still, in addition to working directly with clients and creative teams, I do writing, I get involved in the strategies. I write a lot of the decks, and that to me is why I got into that business. I love the creative side of the business. And at that time, when you and I met, we were working with a client on this very important campaign for them. And I had the good fortune to be working with and partnered with Kevin Jones, who's an insanely talented creative guy, who's at Wieden+Kennedy right now, and one of the best writers, I think, hands down, period. And he and I loved working together and had a similar view of where the work could go and also the kind of talent it took to bring that.
And you came in to work with Kevin and my wife, Catherine, was also an account person on this piece of business at the time, we weren't married at the time. And your work was just exceptional. Even then it was, damn, that's just beautiful. It was great. And one of the things I loved about working with Kevin is even though he's a writer, he always wanted to push the aesthetic and he had a real sense of wanting to open things up and he understood the power of nonverbal communication. And sadly, even now, a lot of people in advertising, they say too much and they show too little, and there isn't enough understanding of how powerful an image can be or how important design is in the equation.
And he had an instinct for that, which is how you came into the picture. And that was one of the still... After a number of campaigns and interactions, I'm incredibly proud of, that's still one of the best experiences I've had, and I always go back. And when you and I reconnected part of it was that, I always go back to that moment because that was a critical mass of insanely talented people coming through that project, that agency at the time, another very talented guy that Kevin and I had worked with, Steve Luker was also at Wieden for a number of years.
We all met in Seattle at that time, they guy named Scott Marshall was running the agency and he also had a great instinct for bringing all the misfits together and letting the magic happen. And that was just great.
I think you're going to make a lot of designers happy just by saying as a strategy guy, a guy with your pedigree, to say that people underestimate the power of images. And Kevin was unusual in that, and that most ad agencies are very copy driven. And he was one of these guys like, "Chris, I'm a dime a dozen in this industry. People who can actually take these words and bring life to them, they're very rare." And so I was very fortunate being this young dumb kid, who's like no life experience, no business experience, being dropped into an agency and seeing all the things that you guys do. But if memory serves me correct, I think there was a pitch that we're working on for Silicon Graphics.
And it was the first time I got to see as a 22-year-old kid where the door opened up and I could see what's happening behind the thing. It's easy for us get really self-centered about, "Well, what I do is the most important thing as a designer, I would say that. As a copywriter, well, the words are the most important thing." But I got to see some of the behind the scenes stuff and it was quite just eyeopening in that you guys were thinking through the media buy because if they have this kind of budget, what is going to get the penetration and what are alternative strategies? So even just that part of it, how do we take our clients limited budget, how do we get these ideas in front of our potential customers, that was just, "Wow. There's layers or levels to this game, I don't even know. I'm just still at level zero at that point." So it was really neat to see.
Yeah. One of the things I continue to love about the industry is the more you engage with clients, you become a human bridge in between that world of what would you do if this were your business. And you need to take that really, really seriously, this isn't, "Wow. They have X amount of money." Or, "This is a cool product and I get to do this." Or, "This is a cool thing that would go on my reel." Or, "This is the agency's agenda." But then you also have to reconcile the other part, the other part of that Venn diagram, which is if you're somebody walking down the street, why the hell should you care? There's a million Cat videos to watch tonight. There's a bunch of other things happening in the world.
And being able to jump back and forth in your brain about what would you do, where would you spend the money, I've had so many clients over the years say, "These are really cool ideas, which ones would you do? Would you spend the money on it?" And they really need to trust that you have an objective point of view on, this is what's going to be most effective and nobody can outspend the world's distractions, even pre-internet let alone now. So dismiss that we're going to do something really cool and everyone's going to care about it. You have to think about where, when and how are you going to show up? Why would it matter? Why is that going to be helpful or entertaining or useful in some way?
And across that journey, what's the right thing to say and do. And if you think about the communications as part of the overall experience that people have, or the relationship they have with your brand, that changes the way you look at it. And it also, back to what you were just saying about design, puts a much bigger burden on design and also on the experiential side of it that I think agencies still ignore because at a certain moment in time, I might want to glimpse you from the corner of my eye, or I might want to see something and have a visceral reaction because I have some emotional connection with you as a brand. I don't necessarily, at that moment, need you selling me something or chattering at me.
And I think too much advertising and marketing is still very interrupted and invasive as opposed to being engaging or as opposed to going out and celebrating something.
Yeah. I want to ask you a question a little bit about, what does it mean to be an account director? There's tons of our audience that are not even going to know what that is. How would you describe what you do as an account director back in the day?
Sure. You have a couple of roles in agencies that sometimes coming in from the creative side are hard to reconcile. There is being an account person or an account director, and then there's people who work in strategy, which is sometimes called planning or strategic planning. In a classic sense, an account director is that person that's working most directly with the client to basically say, "Okay, what are you trying to do? What is your business objective?" And you're supposed to put a lot of intelligence into understanding their business, thinking hard about how would you grow that business, and really looking at their budget, their target audience, all of that.
And then working with the teams, some of whom are in strategy, some of whom are in creative, and then media and saying, "Okay, I'm laying this out as the puzzle we need to solve. Here's what we know, here's the broad battle plan, but I need you guys to help me figure out how all those pieces fit together and different ways up the mountain, so to speak." And if you are good at that job, it's not about making the clients happy, and it's not about making the creative people happy, or solving for one or the other, it's about constantly being clear-eyed and doing the right thing to move things forward and facilitating that collaboration.
And when I say facilitating and collaborations, part of that is what you were talking about a moment ago, Chris, you don't always have shared language. Just like between an art director and copywriter, they might communicate very differently, sometimes the clients are caught up in their own world, all they can see is their business and their competitive set and they forget about the broader world that distracts people, or they don't see disruptors coming into their category, or they lose themselves in their own corporate politics. And I'm more worried about what my boss might like than I am about what consumers are going to like.
So your job is to really advise them, take them by the hand and help them see a clear path. And then on the agency side, it's the back translate some of their jargons, some of the corporate baggage, some of the do's and don'ts of their category and help people understand that so that the two come together, because that kind of creative thinking around business problems, you're not going to find that in most client organizations, but the deep understanding of the business, that's what they know, and often, agencies just can't get that deep that fast. So you need to make sure that partnership works.
Thank you very much. Now I have a much better understanding of that, and that was a big overview. So I think from the creative side, we always felt like, "Oh my God, the account people, they're just selling us down the river." So that was great. That's a sentiment.
Yeah. As a generalization about the advertising industry, I will say that sadly, since the holding companies came in, it's bifurcated, and depending on the group you're at, or the agency you're at, from moment to moment, and this can change year on year, depending on company by company, you're either dealing with brilliant creatively minded, passionate people trying to solve problems with ingenuity and passion or you're with used car salesman. And those are the folks you want to avoid. That's the industry that I think is dying on the vine and you want to go back to the source of, let's do amazing things and things that matter. Increasingly, that's the measure of whether or not you did something worthwhile.
Yeah. I'm looking over your LinkedIn profile here and I've see that you move around quite a bit actually, and you've been everywhere. So after Cole & Weber, you hit Hal Riney, Publicis, and then Ogilvy, and now you're at Havas, and there's a bunch of things in between. So I have to ask this question, you've seen a lot, so if the walls could talk, if the walls could talk. So if we're looking and understanding how big businesses has done when an account is up for review, and you go in with the creatives, the copywriter, the planners, and you put something together that convinces a client, give us millions of dollars of a business, what are some of the stories that you can share of lessons learned, or, "We were really good on this thing, and this is what we did." Or, "We totally effed-up that one, and this is what we learned from doing it that way."
That's a big question.
I know. Sorry.
No, that's okay. The movement, I'll comment on that, and then I'll answer your question directly on if the walls could talk. The movement has been very deliberate because the industry changes so rapidly. And even beyond the, I want to live in California versus I want to live in New York, or I have this job opportunity here, I think it's important. And you see people move around, even more younger in their careers to self-navigate, to collect skills. And I was very conscious of that about what's the next best agency I can work at, and where can I work in a place that does things that I relate to, and I think we have some shared DNA, but I can learn, or I can play in a bigger canvas, or I can work with the kinds of people I haven't worked with before?
So often, I've moved to either work with certain individuals or on certain accounts, or to work in certain environments where I thought this is going to be additive to my experience, to what I know. And I've been lucky enough to stay ahead of where the market might be because agencies often have their moments. You get that critical mass like you and I experienced of great people in a great place at the right time, then they disperse and go elsewhere. So how do you find those people again? I believe there's an invisible agency of the like-minded, talented people who just need to keep finding each other.
And that agency still exists and you always need to reach out and be generous with each other and help each other find their next gig. But in the meantime, there's that hope that we'll all work together again. So that's been my navigation principle, I guess, in life. Back to your question about new business pitches, and I spend a tremendous amount of time still in that world. And you're right, nowadays they start looking at 30, 40 different agencies, and that might be six weeks, it might be six months. Last year, we had one pitch last six months.
Another one was beginning to end, done in three weeks, insane amounts of work, virtually a year's worth of spec work done to say, "We have a plan, we know how to do this and we've thought about everything from your target audience, to your business challenges, to your innovation pipeline. And here's how it all comes together, and here's your campaign, or here's two campaign ideas." How do you get there? I always feel like agencies are at their best and worst in those moments because clients, as you mentioned, are looking at it and saying, "Okay, I'm a chief marketing officer, the average life span of a chief marketing officer is only two to three years." So they think, "I have to make my mark in this first year. So I need to hire the best agency partner I can find. And I'm going to hire a pitch consultant and they're going to contact the best agencies."
And the pitch consultants turn around and say, "Oh, okay, who wants in?" And it doesn't start as tight as you would suspect, it might start with a long list of 30 agencies. And then they review reels and credentials, they narrow it down. It's in the teens, it's 10, it's eight, it's four, and it's in the finals, and it's two, and then it's one. And one thing I've managed to do is focus a lot on new business over the years where I have a very high win rate and very high closure rate, because I think that that's almost the test of everything you're going to do well in a very compressed timeframe and a very hot house environment.
So you can get good at new business, you can get good at almost anything. And it's fascinating to see it when it comes together beautifully because it's still messy. And when it goes sideways, you can see it go sideways and it's that slow motion, train wreck, and you're thinking, "Can I get this back on the rails? Can I get this back on track?" And often it comes down to the same thing, which is when it works, it's about getting people together around a shared goal and being willing to make mistakes, talk it out, shout it out, embrace failure, and ideate again and again, and again.
And just like they'll say, writing is really editing, and as a designer, I'm sure you start with something and then you end up with something, and you've worked, and worked, and worked, and worked to get to that. I think a lot of agencies fail in new business because they don't have teams that can speak shorthand to each other or teams that are on the same page necessarily. So people worry about my section, well, my section of the deck was great, I don't know about yours. Well, they love the strategy, but they didn't love the creative, or the account person had a good relationship, and all that. And it becomes a blame game or everybody plays their position well, but there isn't that team dynamic.
And it's very easy to talk about teamwork in a very generalized or clichéd sense, but the biggest reason clients hire agencies in new business environments is often not the creative work, surprisingly, it's often, I love that idea and the take that they have in the business, the creative work proved to me that you can express that, and maybe I like everything you did, maybe I don't like everything you did, but I trust we're going to work together on that, but clearly, you're creative enough to bring that to life. But the first thing is always, I want to work with those people and they seem to like working together. They seem to like working together, and I don't think being on the phone late at night with them is going to be painful, or I'm going to be uncomfortable, or they're going to make me feel stupid, or they're going to be stubborn.
And that effortless, which is not effortless at all, ability to go and say, "Okay, we're all going to nude karaoke, get over yourself, this is what it's going to be like," and collaborate that fiercely isn't easy. And I think that's where casting is really important and learning to put ideas out there and get ideas from anywhere. And I always get excited when I see the writers throw out an idea and other people are commenting on the writing or the art directors and talking about something and other people are commenting on it, but it's still hugely respectful. The person who's that expert is still driving and they're taking the input and they're telling you when it works and doesn't work, which is very, very different from doing art direction by committee or writing by committee or any of that, it's a delicate balance.
And if you get it right, then it's more like a symphony, and then it's fun. And if it goes badly, then you realize that half the people are tone deaf, and everyone's clear that it's over, no one is coming to that concert.
Time for a quick break, but we'll be right back with more from Tim.
Welcome come back to our conversation with Tim Maleeny.
You pointed out a couple of things that maybe shocking to a couple of people. You're like, the work matters, the creative matters, the writing matters, the strategy matters, but maybe above all of this is, I think you said two things, how has the internal chemistry of the agency and the clients, and try to imagine what would it be like working with these people into the future? And are we going to get along because at that level in which you're playing at, you already have, I think, no matter who you go with, some of the world's best, most creative, talented people. So they're trying to imagine that. So how do you increase your likability?
Interesting question. When you get to the comment on the work, just to be clear on that, once you have the client, the work is what everyone's working for. So the work becomes the most important thing once they're in the door, but to choose that between you and another agency that I believe can do equally good work, that's exactly right, I'd rather work with those people. It's readily uncomfortable. And that's tricky because creativity, and I'm sure you've seen this with your businesses, comes from an interesting and beautiful collision of people who have complimentary perspectives. So it's not like everyone's the same or everyone... So that natural, creative tension is great. How do you make creative tension fun and collaborative and visibly so, and not tense tension?
I think that's where, when you get people who are confident in what they do, and I think you and I experienced this when we were working together with people like Kevin, Kevin was very confident in his part of sayings and understood and appreciate what other people did. And he was comfortable enough in his own skin around his own ability that he wasn't trying to tell you how to do your job, and he also wasn't defensive about his. And I think there's a lot of people in business who, for various reasons, it could be the corporate politics they're dealing with at their company, it could be their own self-doubt around their own ability, or the sense that you better have your act together and be the smartest guy in the room, which is a complete mess, that they're not generous or vulnerable.
And I think that you have to create an environment, when you say, "How do you be likable?" I think you have to create an environment where you don't take yourself too seriously, but you take the work really, really seriously. And my best new business experiences had been when the agency, you might make a mistake while you're presenting and you laugh at yourself, or you make fun of one of your colleagues and you joke about that, or you call the clients on something, but it feels like a normal human interaction, and no one's sitting there acting like they're afraid of losing their job if the pitch goes sideways, or I'm going to tell you how smart I am for 10 minutes before I start solving your problem.
And I think on the strategy side, often people make that mistake, I'm going to impress you with all the research I did, as opposed to spend a little more time listening, spend a lot more time asking questions. If you ask the five smart questions, that's 10 times more valuable than if you said one smart thing, because you're helping them navigate their own questions and their own anxieties. And most clients, this is a big generalization, most clients aren't in creative environments that give themselves permission to ask a lot of questions or be that vulnerable. They're expected to have their act together in a way that often agency people get to be more curious.
So I think if I were going to say it simply, embrace your curiosity, just go into the room as curious as possible, and you'll come out likable.
Very good. Now, you're a busy guy. You have two daughters, you're married, you're running companies and working with highest levels. So I'm going to ask you two pop culture questions, and if you don't know what I'm talking about, just say pass and we'll be okay with that. It's accepted, but I'm hoping you have. One, it's going to be a little controversial a little bit. There's a show, it's called The Apprentice, and it has a person, for the last four years, who has run the country?
Recently, President of the United States.
Yes. Recently President of the United States. And it's interesting because they would have these challenges, and oftentimes, they're like, "Okay, we're working with this company, and when they give you 30 minutes to talk to their executive team. And both team A and team B would rush in there and ask these questions. So every time I watched this, my skin would crawl because they seem to be on some other planet because they're all talking about themselves and they're not sitting there asking those five really good questions to get clarity on what the heck that the clients are still trying to figure out and have yet to articulate to them. Have you ever seen any one of these episodes? And I just wondered what you were thinking when you watched it, if you did.
I have seen some of those episodes and I was not a regular viewer of that show because like you, I had a visceral reaction and I've had that reaction to various shows and movies that had dealt with the admiral as well. Some are more entertaining than others, but they almost always get the reality of those interactions wrong, or in the case of reality TV, horribly wrong because some of the questions, it's okay to be obvious about what's keeping you up at night, or what's your biggest fear, or if you think about your competition, what are you jealous of? It's okay to start small, to build up to more nuanced, more sophisticated questions as you know the category. And sometimes that's even better because you get more human responses.
And I think that balance between I've done enough homework to know what I'm doing, but not enough homework to know what's in their hearts and minds, give yourself permission to not only be curious but simple. I think there's way too many people showing too many charts to seem intellectual when if you were smart, instead of intellectual, you just roll up your sleeves, use smaller words and express bigger ideas and get people talking about a shared ambition. So yeah, those shows tended to send me a little bit off side too, because too much of the world is trying to impress each other. And I don't think that's the way it works. I don't think that's a path to victory.
I love the way you phrase that, use smaller words to express bigger ideas. People oftentimes are trying to out impress themselves and everybody in the room and they miss the whole point. So I love that
On that point, there was a copywriter at Cole & Weber actually, who had a sign on his wall, and he had stretched out the type, so it ran around the office and it said, "What it means in little words." And that was his daily reminder on how to write copy. And I always remembered that and I thought that was such a gift to say, "Wait, if I can say that with a $2 word instead of a $10 word, it'll be clearer and faster, and people get the idea and I care more about the ideas and crafting the words that make them seem self-evident than I do about showing off my vocabulary."
Okay. Here's your next pop culture question, and of course it's going to come up because Mad Men, Don Draper, he goes in there, he does the pitch. Of course, he's got the matinee looks, a perfect pair and poise, and it's an era in advertising. It may or may not have existed, but I'm curious how much of like this one scene maps to what you can see in your own life, in that down to go in and pitch like say, Hershey's or something. He tell a wonderful story about his childhood and how Hershey has already has the best logo and the best packaging, and they don't need to sell this, but it's about this connection and the human thing. And he's got them eating out of their hands.
And every single time, they would show a new business pitch. Don had to come in there and do what Don does, which is to weave a terrific tale and paint a wonderful picture. Then they win the job. So that there he goes. How much of that have you seen and how does that map to real life?
Mad Men is interesting because it's incredibly stylized and that's romanticized view of that era, but when agencies were becoming more important and very big dealing with big companies, but still independent, they still had their own culture and identity, I think some of that show does capture that feeling of that era, as I understand it. And I've met some of the characters from that time who overlapped with me when I was first coming into the business. And there were definitely echoes of that in terms of how they carried themselves and the sense of a classic personalities that thought of themselves probably more as creative consultants than businessmen in that sense.
And there was a definite attitude and even swagger to some of those characters. And there was definitely... I remember I had been in the business like three months and this senior guy took me out to lunch. And the first thing he does is order this drink that would have knocked me out for the rest of the day. So those days are gone and I only glimpsed them for like nanosecond, but I think some of the liquid aspects of the show are probably true from the day. You question about the pitch, it's interesting because the fact that today marketing campaigns are so complicated and you have people in there talking about social, and people talking about CX, and people talking about how they're going to re-scan the website, but then they're going to do this other activation, and all that other stuff, you have this integrated team and you have to choreograph that.
So there's a story that starts with the client and ends with this A to B shift of where they are and where they want to be. That's a definite story that has the spine of a classic narrative that is told by a number of people. And constructing that in a storytelling fashion, I think is really important, and the opening and the close is really key. That said, I have worked with people, in fact, there was a guy in San Francisco in Hal Riney & Partners, who also happened to be a voiceover talent. And he was just a remarkable creative presenter. And he would come in with a handful of scripts, no boards, no flash, no slides, and he would just start talking.
And you could tell if he got it right, if he got the note right, the clients were hanging on his every word. And he just had a wonderful way of bringing to life something where two things happened, and I think this was very true for him. He would think very deeply about a project before he worked on creatively. And the impression you got was he not only gets, if I'm the client, he gets my company, he gets my brand, maybe even better than I do, but he genuinely cares about it, he generally has thought about this as opposed to, here's a talented guy who's telling a good story about my brand, but he doesn't really care. He could be doing this for any brand.
And I think a lesson I learned from that, and I got the good fortune to be working with a couple of people right now who are very gifted in this area too, is a lot of advertising, especially in the realm of strategy, it focuses lot on, what do consumers want? Let's do a lot of consumer research. And what does the client want? And what's the company about? And those two things are important and they'll look at okay, what the competition is doing, where's the white space? That's also important, but they often ignore the DNA of that company. Every company was founded by somebody at some point to make something better, and it could be a better potato chip, or it could be a better way to drive.
It could be a bringing humanity back to air travel, it could be something grand or more important about changing the world through various acts of generosity and productizing that in some way, or it could be 1% for the planet, whatever the saying is. But a lot of advertisement is very disposable. It looks at transient culture, it looks at trends and it tries to be of the moment. And I imagine, this is as true for iconic designs, what's the DNA? You're trying to externalize the soul of the company, and I think that the creative people who think about that and think, "Okay, if this were my company and I believed in this, and this was founded for this purpose, even making something better in its own small way is a noble purpose, what is that? And how do I tell the truth of that story in a way that people today would care about it?"
And those storytellers, I think, are more like the Don Draper's because there's feeling into it. And I think what they romanticize in the show is the emotional storytelling they brings to it. And frankly, you see less and less of that, and I think it's a loss. I think it's a loss in the industry because a lot of agencies are so concerned about our credentials and our capabilities, and we can do programmatic media and look at how efficient our operating system is and all that. And if you lose the storytelling, you lose the soul of the brand and you lose the whole point of this, and you end up being just another commoditized thing. And we all have these brands that we feel an identification with. There's a reason for that. They haven't forgot who they are.
Wow. I thought I was going to have one or two more questions, be mindful of your time, but then you've just opened up a whole thing here. So let me see if I can get back.
It's my fault.
I know your time is very valuable, so I've got to be respectful of that.
No, no. That's my time for you.
Okay. I think there's another TV show here that I forgot about, I think it was called The pitch, which really shows that the dark underbelly of advertising, does that ring a bell for you, The Pitch?
It does. I did spend a lot of time with it because I think I was living sort of at the time. That has some of the docudrama that they like on TV. And the things that happen on pitches that were probably reflected in that show that are accurate is, you work insane hours. I think that's just inherent in the marketing industry. I think it's inherent in any creative industry. I was rewatching, actually a lot of the behind the scenes with Peter Jackson and the Hobbit movies. And here's the guy, he's the director, but he's up at 3:00 AM. And then he's doing something at 5:00 AM, and he's doing this at night, and he's at it. And it's all the different inputs and all the different things because even if it feels like, "Wow, they spent a year making that movie."
That's not a lot of time if you look at the hundreds of people working on that, and what's at stake every day and getting every second of film right and all of that. And if you look at a pitch, you've been working on it, let's say six weeks, or you've been working out three months, it's an insanely complicated business. The clients want you to basically solve every problem they've ever had in presenting a year's worth of future work with very little interaction with those clients to get as smart as you should be. You're doing a lot of this homework on your own. So the minute the pitch starts, you're already in real terms a year late on what it would take to do that work under normal circumstances.
And by the way, you're doing this in addition to your day job as is everybody else on the pitch team. So you're doing this often at nights, on the weekends, you're stealing time, you're scheduling meetings, but they're all fractional meetings. So this is before Zoom, which has made it even worse. So it's these snippets of insights and getting together and then locking yourself in a room. And under those circumstances, you've got people as the pitch approaches and you think, "Okay, we know the story, it's coming together, what are the extraneous bits? What are the deleted scenes? That's a great idea, but it doesn't fit. That's awesome, but they can't afford it. What's the real story, how does it come together?"
All that editing takes time, you have to make the right choices. Do the pieces still connect? Think of all the movies you've seen that are just disasters. And then you think about it and you say, "I bet you that was a really good pitch. I bet you that script was pretty good. What went wrong? What went wrong with that movie?" Was it the casting? Sometimes that's true in a pitch. Was it the editing? For sure that goes wrong in new business pitches all the time. Was it the fundamental assumptions about the story that you got wrong? Was the premise wrong? Was the creative work not in line with the strategy and therefore, they might've liked both, but they're disconnected and it seems like the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing?
Were you a little too formal? Were a little so stressed? All of those things. So exactly like a movie, is there chemistry? Is it shot the right way? It's that kind of staging. So people end up sleeping on couches, people end up rewriting stuff the day before. And like anybody doing work that they want to show as their best work in a compressed time frame, everybody overthinks everything. So you think it's done then you find out that somebody changed the script, even though you've already... all of that. So sometimes tempers can run high, sometimes people get frayed around the edges, sometimes people get caught up in minutia that loses sight of the big picture.
So that's where having some folks who have done this a lot and people who are in the middle who can figure out, "Oh, wait, I totally get what you're saying now, he has no idea what you're saying, stop talking. And by the way, she has a better idea, can we just listen to her for a second." Kind of choreographing and mediating some of those conversations, it becomes really important. And if you see teams that work in a two linear fashion or they're disconnected from each other, that's when you see a pitch, and I've seen these, that end up feeling cobbled together. They're fine, but they're not compelling. And that's what you want to avoid. And sometimes to get to compelling, it gets a little messy and it gets a little excitable.
Well, as a creative person watching it, it was totally heartbreaking for one pitch in particular. And it was around, I think, some waste management company. And there was one agency was a little more old school, I forget the person's name, but he had a brilliant line. It's just like, "Trash can, Cheston solves a lot of issues." I'm like, "This is so brilliant." And then the agents that wound up winning it, I hope I'm not offending anybody here, it seemed like there were a bunch of internet kids, like, "We'll do this splash ad banner, all these gimmicks, and we got somebody rapping something about..." it's just gimmick after gimmick.
And you talked about earlier about chasing transient culture and trends just very topical, it's here today, gone tomorrow. And that just broke my heart. It really did. I was like, "Argh." It's already dirty to begin with the hours and expectations, and the tempers and everything else, and then clients just don't even pick the right campaign.
It's very hard in an industry where you're in a service business, and you've spoken brilliantly about this, about how do you deal with difficult clients or how do you work with clients that you don't want to work with anymore, and how do you make those choices and what risks are you taking and how do you reconcile that? And at an agency, it doesn't matter where you are in the organization, whether it's your agency, whether it's a team you're part of, if you're in that service business, that tension and heartbreak that you're talking about, I've had people say, "God, I hate that feeling that you care more about the brand than the client does."
Because the client might have just gotten to that company, they didn't grow up in that company, they're not the founder, maybe they're taking advantage of that job to do the best they can, but do something that they think is going to get a certain amount of attention so they can get a different job. Maybe their real goal is to work at another company. And your job as the agency is to go all in on that brand and really find the best of it. Or you're dealing with a group of clients or other people within your own agency who may not have the same aesthetic you do and are not that sophisticated, or to your point, are gimmicky, and just want to do this thing. And it feels very disposable.
And if you're somebody who's actually trying to get it right or craft it, that is absolutely heartbreaking. And I always say to people, this is really hard in a big industry that is very competitive, hard to get into, very crowded, but as you get into it, every time you meet somebody that you admire, stay in touch with that person, even if you lose touch for a few years, get back in touch with that person. I'm not naturally an extroverted networker, I don't have an instinct for that. And I've forced myself over the years to think, why wouldn't I reach out to that person again because if they did that to me, I'd be thrilled, and why not?
And find those like-minded people, because you're going to find moments in your career when a couple of them are saying, "Hey, come here, it's cool here." Or, "Let's start something together." Or you have a chance to work with that critical mass of talent again, because finding the like-minded on the client side, as well as on the agency side is the difference between, "God, I love this." Versus, "God, this is soul sucking. This is so heartbreaking." And it's going to come down to those people and the judgments and the goals, are the ambitions aligned around doing something good and doing something worthwhile. And it's hard to always manage that.
I was on a call earlier with a client that's new and they're awesome, and it's a company they founded, it's scaling like crazy and quick decisions, "No, go with this one. This is awesome. This is great. You guys are fantastic. Good. What else do you need from me?" And it's the way the business should work. Now, that's more the exception than the rule sometimes, but when you get clients where you could share the goals, but also the feelings about it, and some clients of bigger companies are great, great people, and they're trying to navigate their own organization, help them because they're trying to help you. Those bonds, those can last all your life, those are worth seeking out.
You mentioned something that I think is going to be highly valuable and useful for people that I would consider our audience. And one is, you talked about finding that insight, and two, becoming a great storyteller. And this is rooted around the agency finding the story, the origin story of a company, why they did what they did, finding the truth in that, and then making it relevant for today. That's not an easy thing. So I'm just curious, do you have any pointers on how that insight is found, how you could know a company better than the people who are actually running it?
Absolutely. It's a tricky thing because a lot of things that you'll hear and read, which are right, are there's all these great tools and different things you could read and trend reports, and you can look at all this stuff to learn about consumer behavior and learn about what's trending and all of that. And you could argue, it's impossible to stay on top of everything happening in culture, or know all the different subcultures inside and out, and all of that. And that's also true. But I think sometimes people are afraid of their own empathy and their own common sense to imagine, "Okay, if I were this person in this situation and I were that consumer or that customer, what would make me happy? What would I want? What would I want to hear? And what would I care about?"
And work backwards from almost the simple questions to add nuance to it. And there's a difference between an observation and an insight. And I think a lot of the talk in the industry around data has gotten people lost in that world and they've lost sight of what an insight looks like. And yes, you can say X number of people are doing this and everyone's doing that, but why are they doing that? What's that human motivation? Are they doing that out of love? Or are they doing that out of frustration? Are they doing that because they want to find out more? How are they sharing? And if you boil the questions down to behavioral questions that you personally could relate to, that have to do with self-expression, sharing, time, stress, all of that, you often get to something that looks a lot more like an insight about the motivation.
Why is that important? Well, sometimes in marketing and advertising, you want to deliver some facts in a very clear way. Okay, what's hard about that? Present it clearly, plainly, you're fine. But if you put that in context, in an emotional context, that might be visual, it might be verbal about someone's life or what they care about, or your voice sounds more like their voice, ad it feels, and we all have brands like this, that company feels like they're talking to me the way I would talk to me if I ran that company, and it's humanity talking to humanity, and that nuance really, really matters.
And you see that in design, if you look at younger brands like Warby Parker, there's a presentation about why they started their company on their website that is said in a way that sounds like you talking to a friend at a bar, as opposed to, "Our corporate mission is, blah, blah, blah." There's a lot of brands out there that have that level of humanity and they've had to find their way back to it. And I think as someone outside a company, you always have to have that, why should I care, and what do humans think, voice in your head. And then you have to marry that with inside the company, knows this is important because this is why we did it. And that bridge of motivation and why, is where you get to insights.
The storytelling part, I find interesting because it's not just because I grew up in stories, and when I have time, which I never seem to do these days, I write mystery novels and I'm terribly late on the sixth, which is due a few months ago. So I'm working on that right now. But that world and staying immersed in the writing world has been great for me because it gets back to your question about pitches, but also think about modern brands. You interact with a company, it's not like you're going to sit down and watch a two-minute piece of film or 60-second commercial and know everything there is to know about the company, and that's it. And that's in your head forever and you never have to see them again, that's all self-contained.
It's more like breaking apart a novel and a relationship you have with the characters in that book that you love over the course of a decade and 1,000 or 100,000 touchpoints from a social post they made to something you saw, an outdoor to a branded content series they did, or a sponsorship they might've done, or a pop-up experience they made. All of those are little tiles in a bigger mosaic, they're like dots in a constellation. And I think that the way the industry came up around packaged goods advertising and selling soap, and the Mad men days, there's still a condition where people think about, I'm going to tell my whole story in 30 seconds, and it's going to be a TV commercial, or it's going to be a full-page print ad. And that's it. And it's going to be more rational than emotional, and that's how people process information.
Stop that. No one has ever made a rational decision ever since the Neanderthals. People make emotional decisions and they post-rationalize it. Whether it's the car you buy or the clothes you wear or whatever, we can think, I can tell my friends, they could scrape mileage, it's really safe, has a lot of room in the back. That's all BS. I bought the car because there's something about the car that I like, or I admire that company, and I want to like this car more than that other car. And then I can post-rationalize those things. Then my interaction with that brand is going to be so fractured, it has to add up to something, otherwise it's lost in the wind, otherwise it's lost to my binge watching Netflix or YouTube, or what have you.
So what is that mosaic? Well, that's a story. And they say, here's only two stories in the world. Sometimes directors will say, there's only one, but if you understand the construct of storytelling, it let you parse out that message, that brand message into the smaller pieces that add up to something as opposed to just getting blown away in the wind. And I think that's an important discipline. So whether you're writing books, or writing poetry, or painting pictures, because paintings are stories, or designing a logo, or laying out a garden, anything that has a pattern to it is a story. And if you do that outside of work, you're going to be better at your job.
What are the two types of stories?
Some writers will say there is a hero goes on a journey, which is basically Odysseus, and a stranger comes town, like High Noon. Ron Howard, the director says he thinks there's only one, but if you look at Cheryl goes on a journey, classic Joseph Campbell Star Wars stuff, you can get to those stories pretty well. If you think about in marketing, disruption brands, brands that come into a category and send everything sideways and get people excited, maybe for good reasons, maybe for bad reasons, but either way, the folks who are already there get pushed to the side, that's a very stranger comes town type situation. And then you have to figure out if I'm that stranger, how do I come to town at such a way that I'm more like the music man and less like the gunslinger who's going to scare everybody away.
Okay. Hard pivot here. All right. Being that you've been in advertising for so long, what is the next five years of advertising-
Are you calling me old, Chris? I think you're calling me old.
I'm calling you experienced? What are the next five years of advertising going to look like? We're seeing, like you had mentioned it too, the rise of data playing an important role, social media, and all the distractions, and it's getting more and more splintered and fractured. What does the next five years look like?
You're certainly going to see some of the things that all the pundits talk about in terms of emerging tech, and changing behaviors, and increase use of data, and all of that. When I think about it over the next five years, I always feel like it's important to remember whenever you start to project too far out, people forget that they're in an interim period. We've all been growing up for years now with interim technology. It's not like cell phones are perfect, but think about when they first came out, it's not like most of the things that are shaping our behavior now, most of which has a technological component, or it's your laptop or an airplane you'd never get on it.
Everything is still glitchy and weird and we're figuring it all out as we go along. And I think sometimes marketing takes advantage for good or ill about these changes in behavior and different emerging tech and talk about programmatic media and stuff like that. But to me, it is coming back to the basics that we were just talking about around what's the brand soul, what's the DNA, what's the purpose of that company, and what's the storytelling because if you lose sight of that, is it really going to work or work in the midterm, let alone the long term, just because you know how to break through my feed in new and insidiously invasive way because I'm tripping over it.
If you're talking to me around the internet better than the other guy, do I really want to buy your shoes? I'm not sure I do. After a while, a very short while, I start to resent the interruption. And if you look at brands that for decades have been iconic in their own way, forget about the viability of the underlying business, but if you look at a brand like Coke, that for years will go out of focus and then it would get its mojo back, what were they doing? Often when they got their traction again, from marketing standpoint, they stopped selling and they started celebrating. And the celebrations were moments of shared values and great humanity.
And I think that applies to complex businesses, as well as simple businesses like soft drinks and sneakers. I already know what your product does and if I don't, explain it to me simply and in a useful way, at the right moment when I want to need to know. But if it's an unknown understood category, tell me what you stand for. Don't preach to me, don't put something on me, but find those shared values, show me that you care about the things I care about. And then distract me, entertain me, engage me in a way that I feel like I'm as happy to see you as I would be the content that's surrounding you. If I'm watching a show or if I'm listening to a podcast and suddenly I'm interrupted by an ad, if that ad is a quick little breather and literally a breath of fresh air, great, I'm good.
People don't resent advertising or marketing, they resent bad advertising. And there's more bad advertising than good advertising sadly, because most people don't respect their target audience, they don't necessarily fall in love with the brands they're marketing. And the combination of those two is where you get that content. And you think about ads that could share and memes that are created out of ad campaign. Why is that? Why does that become part of culture? Well, those came from a place of shared values. Those came from a place of love, and there's a definite why behind that message out there.
And it was less the singular point of view of an ad agency that wants to be famous or a client that just wants to sell you something, it was something better, and something in between that was about that shared objective of how do we do something that will make this business better and reflect in its messaging, the best version of what we can be, and do something that actually matters in the real world. And if you go back to that, then it becomes a noble profession again. So I think the next five years, because we're so inundated with messages and so much information every day, and they talk about back off on doom scrolling and don't do this and that, the screens are here to stay.
And I think people are going to want something that breeds a little and feels a bit more human again. And I would say, simplify it and worry less about the tricks and gimmicks and the tech traps.
That sounds wonderful. Do you think the industry is going to get onboard with that? Because if everybody thought like you did, a lot of us wouldn't hate advertising the way we do, because it's like it's getting in the way of what I want to do in my life. It's interruptive.
Yeah. It's funny. I think you're seeing some of the bigger holding company agencies collapse under their own weight or do these weird forced mergers. And I think that's because they've been trying to make this a science. You hear talk about, we turn marketing into a science, no it's art as commerce. And I think if you over-engineer it, the soul gets slammed out of it, and the effect of this goes away and you're now one having a conversation with your customers. That doesn't mean a lot of those things, and the rigor around that isn't important. Of course, it is, but you need to apply that to a greater purpose or meaning.
my current agency, we talk a lot about meaning, like, what does this mean? What's its meaning in the world, what's its meaning in culture? And what are we trying to do? Not in an abstract way, but in a very pragmatic, how do you get meaning and how do you become one of those few brands that are an essential part of people's lives? That has to be some human connection. I think half the industry has lost. I think half of it can't get out of its own way and they have a much more venal view of marketing and commerce. And I think half the industry is keeping the face. And you're seeing some interesting specialist agencies, you're seeing agencies... I think a number of the design firms, COLLINS is really interesting, Two by Four is interesting. I think some of the innovation shops like Redscout, historically, they work on projects where you have to go all in on that DNA side of it.
And I think if you look a lot of the work that Wieden does, Wieden is still an independent agency, and still very, very soulful, and it's often very design-led, and they stand apart in that. At my agency, Havas, it's set up in such a way that there aren't hard P&Ls so everybody can work across the organization at any time and mix up the casting and reconfigure as clients' needs change. And that's been a game changer because get the people who are expert at what you need at this moment, that are passionate about what you're working on, get them to help each other and build a culture of generosity and sharing. And that's where not only does the business get more fun, it gets more effective.
And I can honestly say at my agency right now, the people working together, not only is they really like each other, they like their clients and they like working with our clients, and that changes everything they do. And a decision Havas made, because although it's a broader holding company structure, it's really a family-owned business. It's part of the Vendée, which is owned by a single family. They've had the flexibility to say, "Don't worry about the different offices, the geographies, the P&Ls, just help each other. We want to do more stuff and you guys should collaborate.
And the ability to pick up the phone and say, "Hey, Chris, do you mind talking to me about this? And your instinct isn't to say, "What's that going to cost me?" Or, "Am I cross charging you?" It's just short term, I'd love to talk to you, absolute game-changer on bringing the purpose of the business back to the focus on the clients. And the clients feel that. I think the reason we've done well in new business is the clients know from the get-go, we're excited to be there, we're excited to show up, otherwise we wouldn't be there. And we're all in on their problems.
And I love working late at night and into the weekends if you're working with people who are equally geeked out by the problem you're trying to solve as you, especially if you know, I could also call that client on the weekend and say, "Hey, we're working through this, do you mind getting on the phone?" That changes everything. And I think some of my self-navigation over the years has been to stay close to people who like to work that way.
Wonderful. I'm pretty sure you've already answered this, and I want to try and wrap up the show this way. Usually I'll just ask, what's the one piece of advice you'd give to your younger self, which I think you've already done, but I also know that you have two daughters, and maybe it can be addressed to them currently or whenever. So if you could share along some advice living this rich experience and this life that you've had, what would you say to your younger self, or maybe even to your daughters?
It's possible to do something you love and make a living at it. You don't have to be a starving artist. And you get there by asking a lot of questions and being open to almost anything, and making your first instinct to say yes. Try things, try more things and look for those jobs adjacent to other jobs. It's so hard even now to realize, wait, back to the movie example, 500 people worked on the movie, what the hell did they do? There's a guy who just makes swords. There's a guy who just draws dragons. That's a pretty cool job, maybe you want to grow up and just draw a dragon. So be open to that, be curious.
I think if anything, for me, I would go back in time, and I say this to my daughters all the time, be open and curious all the time, always ask questions. And I think that also makes everything a lot more fun. I go into every meeting, I start every day, I think people who do this because it can be so hard at times and so punishing, you have to wake up the next day an optimist again, and it doesn't matter how crappy your life was or the day before it was, okay, here's another day, let's go back at it. And if you're genuinely curious about what's going to happen next, or what can I do, do that. That's one bit of advice.
The other bit of advice is do something, and while you're doing it behave as if you're going to be doing it forever. And what I mean by that is say, you have a job opportunity and maybe that's not your dream job for 20 years, but again, I look at the people who are doing their dream jobs and they zigzagged around, they had 40 different jobs. They broke out as an actor when they're in their 40s. Oh my God, they were in 20 movies before that that nobody should ever see their horrible movies. They did that before they realized they wanted to do this. And certainly even in my industry, you see people move around.
Even in my writing life, I know a guy who's an incredibly successful writer of children's books, young adult books, and middle grade books, and he started as a mystery writer and we met each other when we were both writing mysteries, our books were coming out, getting really good reviews or meeting some of the same people that we read. And it was really cool. And a couple of years later, I ran into him and he said, "I'm writing these kids' books. And I love it, and it's great." And he's become a huge thing because that's who he was. But he never would have found that if he hadn't started doing something else. And I think if you take a job and you know it's not your end job, or even the next job, every day you go in, act like, and think like, I'm going to be here forever in the best possible way and do something, because if you move the ball forward...
It's like putting words on a page, it's a lot easier to look at that and say, "Nah, that's no good, I could say it differently." And then edit that, then stare at a blank page. And if you're only looking at a blank page, it's not a very compelling story that you're sketching for yourself. So put yourself out there more. And that's definitely something I would say to my daughter. It's definitely something I would say to my younger self, which is, ask questions, ask people to meet for coffee, go out there and get a sense of what other experiences you can get, because the worst that could happen is you get rejected, the worst that could happen is you fail. Big deal, then do something else, go ask somebody else and try again. So I think that's where I was leaving is stay curious and ask questions and put yourself out there.
Wonderful. My guest today has been Tim Maleeny. He's the chief strategy officer at Havas, and he also writes mystery novels. And I think we're keeping him away from a past deadline here. What's the name of the next book, Tim? Or can you not say?
Since people can get it, I'll say the current book is called Boxing the Octopus. So if you're interested in reading a mystery that is a little bit of a caper, a little bit sideways, an unapologetic beach read that has some interesting twists and turns, go out and get Boxing the Octopus. The next one is called Hanging The Devil. And I am rather late on that. So if my publisher is listening to this, I will just say to them, I'm working really hard and I'm finding the time, I'm stealing time in the morning and late at night, and I'm making great progress. And I'm very excited about the book, and I will finish it. Trust me. It's there. I see the ending. I know how it's going to end, so that's a huge thing. That's a huge thing.
That's good. And if people want to find out more information about you or the books, where can they go?
They can go to my website, which is just timmaleeny, which is T-I-M-M-A-L-E-E-N-Y.com. And all the books are there. And there's also contact info if you want to reach out. I'm also on LinkedIn for those people who want to learn more about the ad industry, or just reach out. I love meeting people. And I think it's, I don't know, it's just great to connect with new people and hear what they're doing and share experiences. And I feel like the whole world is worth living, and professional is defined by acts of generosity. And that's why I was so blown away by what you've done, all of your success with Blind and this teaching initiative you have, I'll just say this again, it's an absolute gift to anyone who wants to do anything that feels like it's them and feels like it matters.
And so I just want to say thanks for everybody out there trying to figure out what they want to do when they grow up, which is something I'm still working on.
Thank you very much, Tim.
Thank you, Chris.
I'm Tim Maleeny, and you are listening to The Futur with the remarkable, extraordinary and timeless, Chris Do.
Thanks for joining us this time. If you haven't already, subscribe to our show on your favorite podcasting app, and get a new, insightful episode comes every week. The Futur Podcast is hosted by Chris Do, and produced by me, Greg Gunn. Thank you to Anthony Barro for editing and mixing this episode, and thank you to Adam Sanborne for our intro music. If you enjoyed this episode, then do us a favor by reading and reviewing our show on Apple Podcasts. It'll help us grow the show and make future episodes that much better. Have a question for Chris or me, head over to thefutur.com/heychris, and ask away.
We read every submission and we just might answer yours in a later episode. If you'd like to support the show and invest in yourself while you're at it, visit thefutur.com. You'll find video courses, digital products, and a bunch of helpful resources about design and creative business. Thanks again for listening. And we'll see you next time.