The Real Mad Men and Women of the South Bay
Madison Avenue was long considered the center of the advertising universe, especially in the 1960s. But as that nostalgic decade drew to a close, a new breed of creative execs were making their mark in the advertising industry far away from midtown Manhattan. Their hard work, risk-taking and creative genius shifted the power center of advertising from the east coast to Southern California. Today, many of the best and brightest in advertising are located right here in the South Bay. We sat down with a few of them and discussed their shops, their clients and campaigns, and how being based in the beach cities informs their work and bolsters their creative spirit.
- Written byMichele Garber
Lee Clow, TBWA/Worldwide
It almost sounds like a script. The ad agency credited with shifting the ad industry from Manhattan to SoCal was founded in one of Los Angeles’ most iconic locales. At Dodger Stadium in April 1968, with a handshake and a hot dog during the seventh inning stretch, Jay Chiat and Guy Day agreed to merge their two smaller, LA-based agencies. Both men admired each other’s work. Day had the brilliant idea that if they combined their agencies to form one larger shop, they could attract stronger accounts.
As the story goes, Jay and Guy flipped a coin to see who would be president. Guy won. Then the two new partners gathered their employees together, informed them of the newly formed company and asked them to get to work … there was new business to win. The merger proved successful, as the new agency won the first accounts it pitched as a team. From its inception, Jay and Guy determined that Chiat/Day would be dedicated to doing great work. At that time, the Southern California ad industry was primarily based in downtown Los Angeles or in Hollywood, closer to the production companies also servicing the film business. But Jay Chiat knew there was something magical about the beach. He knew that a more casual, laid-back vibe could spur a new, creative approach to a dated industry.
At the same time, a talented young native Angeleno named Lee Clow had begun his own career in advertising. Growing up in LA, the avid surfer loved the water and had the inspired yet naive notion that he could somehow merge his personal aspiration of working near the beach and wearing shorts and flip flops with his professional ambition of contributing to a top creative ad agency. But up until this point, such a place did not exist. Yet he knew there was something exciting happening in advertising, and he wasn’t about to miss out. Then he spotted Chiat/Day.
Lee tried for a year to get a job with the fledgling agency, practically camping out in their lobby, until finally one day his luck changed. He met Jay Chiat and was hired. As Lee’s dream came to fruition, the agency was infused with Lee’s unbridled creative energy. It was a perfect match. Now widely considered the guru of advertising, Lee brought a drive and uncompromising genius to their creative team. Chiat/Day created some of the most enduring ad campaigns ever to run, transforming the once small agency into a creative powerhouse, while essentially relocating the mecca of advertising from Madison Avenue not just to LA, but to the beach. Though a living legend, Lee, a longtime Palos Verdes resident, is as genuine and down-to-earth as they come. He epitomizes Southern California cool. Dressed in casual beach attire with his kind smile and warm, relaxed yet clearly inspired manner of speaking, he puts all those around him at ease. He’s proud of his work yet modest about his achievements. As he explains, “I think the basic makeup of a creative person is a lot of ego and drive and also a lot of insecurity. I think most creative people never know if they’re any good. If they decide they’re good, they’re probably not that good. To this day, everything I look at, I see something wrong with it. It’s not as good as it should be and could be better.
And I think part of the creative temperament is being very insecure that your work isn’t good enough and at the same time having an ego and a drive to be at the forefront of doing great stuff.” Lee’s body of work speaks for itself. Lee is the creative mind behind indelible campaigns for Nissan, Absolut and Pedigree and those evocative California Coolers ads, as well as the Energizer Bunny. But Lee is perhaps best known and most admired for his work with his close friend and colleague Steve Jobs of Apple. Together they created transcendent ads that permanently altered modern advertising. The monumental “1984” ad, inspired by Orwell’s eponymous book and directed by Ridley Scott—which aired only once during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII, introducing the world to the Mac—is considered one of the most powerful and impacting ads of all time. In 1997, when Steve Jobs returned to turn around the company he founded, he hired back his old friend Lee’s agency to again handle their advertising. Lee and Steve created the influential and timeless “Think Different” campaign.
Then as the company began to launch its succession of revolutionary products—the iMac, iBook, iPod, iPhone, iTunes, iPad and so on—Lee and his team were right there, instrumental in creating every notable advertising initiative to launch and support each of these innovative products. Together, Lee and Steve not only changed the face of advertising, they changed our lives and our world. The ripple effect of their incredible work together is enduring. When asked to elaborate on the culture of SoCal advertising, Lee explains, “The west coast created casual Friday. We impacted the dress code. And we impacted the creativity of our business, because we came at it from a relaxed, fun, casual approach. One of my favorite campaigns was California Cooler, because it’s as if I almost got to stick a product right into my life.”
In the mid ‘90s, Chiat/Day merged with TBWA, forming TBWAChiatDay. It’s now known as TBWAChiatDayMedia Arts Lab, a name that reflects its core tenet of Disruption + Media Arts. The success of TBWAChiatDayMAL brought new respect and cache to SoCal advertising, paving the way for other creative agencies to make their homes in the beach towns of Los Angeles as well. “The west coast of the U.S. is the media arts capital of the world,” says Lee. “It’s the epicenter of all entrepreneurial artistic things—from Hollywood to Disney to Silicon Valley when it became genius to all the video game designers that are here. When advertising moved to the west coast—here and Portland and San Francisco—we all started setting a new standard for advertising that Madison Avenue still hasn’t actually caught up with.”
The Dream Team
Margaret Keene and Chris Adams, Saatchi LA
25 years ago, when London-based agency Saatchi & Saatchi decided to open a Southern California outpost, they ultimately chose Torrance as home. Clearly, part of the decision was proximity to their largest account, Toyota, but the South Bay’s relaxed and creative attitude appealed to Saatchi’s sensibility. For example, Saatchi LA has created several award-winning initiatives for the Surfrider Foundation, work that is an enormous source of pride for the agency. But Toyota is unequivocally the shop’s premiere client. An account of that scale warrants an agency dedicated to its efforts. And the marriage between Saatchi and Toyota has been enduring and tremendously successful.
Under the direction of its chairman, Kurt Ritter, and president, Chuck Maguy, the agency has enjoyed great success and has won countless awards for its initiatives in multiple mediums. Last year, creative partners Margaret Keene and Chris Adams, two prominent veterans of TBWAChiatDay, joined Saatchi & Saatchi as co-executive creative directors.
The pair have been partners for nine years and previously worked on marquee accounts including Apple, Nissan and Pedigree. In joining Saatchi, they have an opportunity to lead the creative department, maintain their partnership and stay in the local area. Both Margaret and Chris have young families, and Saatchi’s emphasis on a prioritization of life appealed to them. “It’s the concept that everyone matters (as Kurt has displayed in his office) … that everyone’s ideas matter. All the shops in the South Bay agree with that,” says Margaret of the local ad agency culture. “You look to everyone to contribute. You might have a skill set in one area, but at the end of the day, a great idea trumps everything. It must have a human core to it, whether it makes you laugh or cry. It’s a skill set plus a genuine and innate kindness and ability to collaborate. There is no plateau, no matter how quickly things change.” Chris adds,
“It’s that culture of creativity meeting commerce that exists in Southern California in a way that it doesn’t exist in other places. The difference between Madison Avenue and Southern California agencies: You can still do really breakthrough creative. You can do really amazing things. You can get results for clients. You don’t have to take yourself so seriously. You don’t have to have the pressure and the conflict to get things done and do amazing work. And in fact, if you take away all that time that is wasted on the negative energy of the hustle and the bustle and the friction, and you get the people that fit with that culture (the passion is within them to do great stuff that doesn’t have to be motivated by all this external stuff), it makes it a much more fun place to do the work. And the work ends up being more vibrant because of it.”
The Creative Core
When Toyota told their ad team at Saatchi & Saatchi they were launching a yet-unnamed luxury automotive brand and were looking for an agency to handle that new business, the team at Saatchi offered a solution: build a new, separate ad agency for them. The code name on the door of the conference room, where this new agency was created to work on the new automotive account, was Team One. We all now know Toyota’s startup luxury brand would become Lexus, but the code name for its corresponding agency stuck, and Team One was born.
That agency is now 275 employees strong with 11-plus accounts with global reach, offices in five major U.S. cities and plans to add additional, international offices in the coming years. At its heart, Team One expects its staff to embody four basic characteristics: they must be collaborative, optimistic, results-driven and entrepreneurial … which happens to form the acronym CORE. “There are qualities here that mirror the South Bay, in that we’re a group that likes each other and gets along,” shares James Hendry, group creative director. “There’s not a lot of artifice; there’s not a lot of structure. We made a conscious effort four years ago to bring the agency down into just five disciplines. We reduced the walls and the silos. That’s very South Bay.” Executive director Julie Michael adds, “It’s almost like there’s this perfect combination of our employees being wicked smart but also culturally very cool, comfortable and casual. There’s no pretense.”
Though Team One began with Lexus, it now has many other prestigious accounts. Among them, Ritz Carlton is a client they are especially proud of. Team One and Ritz Carlton have been working together for more than eight years … a lifetime in some segments of advertising. Team One most recently created the campaign “Let us stay with you,” based on Ritz Carlton’s emphasis on creating memories for its guests. Though it holds global accounts like Ritz Carlton, Team One remains a quintessential South Bay agency. As Julie Michael notes, “I’ve been thinking about the idea of South Bay spirit with a global impact. It’s both a contradiction and compliment. We work in this amazing place, and we embody the spirit of the South Bay, yet we know our impact travels not just across states but across continents.”
The Local Leaders
Arts Located in the heart of Palos Verdes, Paolucci embodies the ideal of a South Bay ad agency. Their offices encircle a courtyard in a historic building adjacent to Malaga Cove. A more intimate shop, Paolucci offers integrated, personal agency services, specializing in “place making.” Their impressive roster of clients includes luxury resort hotels like Terranea, high-end and exclusive residential communities, tourism destinations from La Paz to Bali, and more. “In our particular situation as experts at place making, we very consciously remained in this courtyard building with a view of the ocean,” says Jack Skelley, senior partner and director of public relations.
“It doesn’t mean we couldn’t do what we do elsewhere, but it helps us to be in a place that’s very satisfying.” The structure of Paolucci is a perfect reflection of the local neighborhood vibe … the agency feels like a community. They’ve created an intimate environment where employees are valued and treated like owners—and indeed they are, as Paolucci offers their team an ESOP program and thus is an employee-owned company. And like the larger agency counterparts, or perhaps even more so, every employee has input and a voice. “In Southern California, our best work comes from having a client that allows us to do our thing and isn’t afraid to take a risk … that wants to push it a little bit,” says president Mark Paolucci. “Some of the best work comes from our clients that are willing to get out of the way.” He adds, “Clients out here are less likely to get involved and dilute the work.
So the work is better out here, which is a reflection of the clients.” “On some level, inspired location leads to inspired thinking,” explains Chris Salling, senior partner and director of creative services. “But because we’re in Los Angeles, there is an expectation that the quality is going to be better. There is a certain kind of personal pride in what you’re putting out in the world. It’s a creative city … there is an energy to it. Being close to the ocean, we’re definitely more soulful.”