Twenty years ago I was asked to teach advertising to young aspiring writers and art directors at New York’s School of Visual Arts. I wasn’t sure what I’d do, but I loved the idea of helping creatives learn the tools they’d need to become great idea-makers. The day I started teaching, I also began my own journey as a student of learning.
Through my years as a writer, ACD and CD at Deutsch, BBDO, FCB and J. Walter Thompson I’d never thought about the ‘how’ of how I came up with ideas. My clients represented a huge swath of business categories — IKEA, U.S. Navy, Conde Nast, Foot Locker, General Mills, Campbell’s, Kraft, Kellogg’s, P&G Bounce, Bowne, UBS, Bristol Meyers Squibb, Dodge, Ann Taylor, Sebastian Pro, Burger King and Pizza Hut. They didn’t ask for a process. They just wanted the work.
I became more and more interested in the how of making ideas, and shifted my focus from making advertising to helping companies learn how to think in new ways — about themselves, their brands, and how they converse with people. I developed and facilitated innovation off-sites for Campbell’s, AIG and Ann Taylor using everything from gumballs to immersive futuristic worlds. I helped Tommy Hilfiger and AIG create new businesses and new lines of businesses, and developed and led innovation summits which brought together cross-disciplinary teams from around the world. I was hooked. It wasn’t just about the final idea, it was about how we get there.
I continued to investigate how we think as creatives in advertising and how creatives think in other fields. My goal was to develop a process for making ideas that would be a solid foundation for art directors and writers to build their careers on. The Make Brilliant Ideas method is the result (learn more about it). It’s at the core of what I teach at SVA here in NYC and continues to evolve as I test new concepts and see what resonates with creatives.
Stories are fabulous ad creatures, whether as a linear narrative or a larger brand or product experience. My love for telling and hearing stories has strongly influenced my own work as well as what and how I teach. While my early tales lived in the ‘spaceship and aliens’ category, I eventually moved on to stories about humans. My fiction has been included in ‘Best of’ anthologies. I’ve had the fantastic fortune to develop a television series with the very funny, very special Leslie Nielsen and the honor to have developed a screenplay with Phillip Seymour Hoffman through William Morris.
I met Mr. Jagger when I was teaching tennis at a club to make money while putting together my portfolio. He taught me a great lesson about story-telling which informed the way I think and approach advertising. We were both in our skivvies at the time. You can read about it here.