Advertising & Entertainment
To the East Coast and back again. Blond Draper tells me about how the West is the Best.
How did Don Draper come to be? The answer? Mad Men Season 4 Ep. 6.
Long and short of it, he managed to let intuition take its course in his post-Korean War blues. Especially if he dropped out of high school to join the army and how he stole a dead man’s identity to finagle his way into the ad-world; it’d take quite a bit of gall to become an Executive Creative Director as well as partner of a hear-say, supposedly phenomenal creative agency on Madison Avenue. And then he goes on to win a Clio, his inaugural merit badge in creative excellence amidst a larger pool of different award circuits in advertising. A very Cinderella-like pursuit would make for a more compelling drama.
I’ve come to garner a chit-chat with not only an Executive Creative Director of premier ad-shop, TBWA\Chiat\Day but also a guy bent on subverting popular negative opinion the world applies to this city’s “creative presence”. You know, that place that launched Apple to possibly/potentially/most-likely put that MacBook you’re reading this article from, right in front of you. Patrick O’Neill didn’t really chime in any of his input to the Apple stuff nor did he massage his way into the biz in cavalier stunt fashion. He may be a West Coast Don Draper but he served as an ECD at TBWA\Chiat\Day in New York’s ad-world epicenter. And not only did he win a Clio, he’s won Webbys, One Shows, D&AD pencils, Cannes Lions, Effie’s and multiple others. Not only is he substantially recognized in the game, he’s still proficient in pioneering new creative developments such as being the forefront individual in the business that made ads catered to the gay audience. He also played a crucial cog in spearheading ThinkLA, a collective built with the intent of promoting Los Angeles as a world center of creative thinking and innovation. The list of things on his CV surely puts the power of a fictitious entity to rest. Are ad-peeps molded from a template? Was Jon Hamm biologically engineered to fit the format of the real thing? Look at him, JUST LOOK AT HIM!
I’ve come to know that the ‘real deal’ kept most of his cavalier antics to a minimum because he opted for a more conventional route; coming from Art Center in Pasadena. Although unconventional ways are a creative segue into the life. So keep on truckin’ with that Draper-ethos!
I come inside to see a sprawling, pop-color-toned compound that can at times be indistinguishable with what is found outside with huge billboards, Lee Clow’s red Datsun, trees, a beach bar, basketball courts and dogs (sorry cat people) – the things that bring a vibrant LA to mind.
I was fortunate enough to grab time with the insanely busy man so I can dip my feet in his creative brain-matter jacuzzi.
Three pages. Quick and painless, I promise.
Patrick O’Neill: I guess I better watch what I say now.
Don’t worry, the pain will be for later. You probably get this all the time but you look like a blond Don Draper. Blond Draper.
Not only are you Blond Draper of one of the leading agencies in the world, I’ve been told that your breadth of knowledge and experience in the entertainment industry is quite extensive. What’s your creative roster in that regard?
PON: Well we did the Grammys, it’s a brand we had since 2008 and that’s a great meld of entertainment, music, advertising, marketing and branding. It’s a brand we’ve helped create with the client and had lots of pop-culture, entertainment, music influences with our traditional brand expertise that we’d like to say on packaged goods. We have Gatorade, Pepsi and brands on grocery stores and convenience stores. And then we have a brand like the Grammys, which previously kind of viewed themselves as programming for one night of the year and now working with us for the past 4 or 5 years they kinda view themselves as a brand that’s 365 days of the year. So they do projects with the Grammy Museum, there are concerts that are Grammy-sponsored; the brand stays alive throughout the year so it’s not just that one night. We helped them think about themselves more like a brand in our collaboration with them.
How do you choose the bands and the artists featured on those mini-spots that you have online because… I don’t mean to name-drop but how did you guys fix in Dengue Fever for a quick spot?
PON: They actually performed here, Dengue Fever.
I know the keyboardist and my Editor-in-Chief is married to him.
PON: Hahaha, oh really? They were amazing in concert. Michael Gross is a broadcast producer who’s really our music supervisor and he’s amazing with his depth of knowledge in local musicians and musicians from all over the world. His passion is music and he marries ideas conceptually with music in the early stages of a campaign. We will sit him in on a brief and he’ll say, “This band would be great for that or what about this song?” For Crate & Barrel, they use music to tell stories; so we always consult him and then we’ll have musicians or outside music houses we’ll work with. We’re connected on multiple levels of the music industry but our main person we have that lives and breathes music is Michael Gross. There’s an article on billboard about him.
Not only are you the Executive Creative Director of TBWA\Chiat\Day LA, you were also the ECD at TBWA\Chiat\Day on Madison.
PON: I was co-ECD, I started in the year 2000 working on Orbitz.com. It was formed by a consortium group of five major airlines and we created the logo and the whole branding campaign to launch it. That was my first assignment as a freelancer and then I became ECD with my partner Dallas Itzen, she was the copywriter. We were both ECDs of the New York office. It’ll be 13 years this April.
Having tried to participate in an LGBT demonstration for a Lunar New Year celebration, the group was barred from joining the parade. Believe it or not, this was a festival that was privatized despite running lengths throughout public domain; I guess they didn’t want to play with the other kids.
PON: What LGBT event was this?
This was a Lunar New Year celebration the Vietnamese community has every year in Little Saigon.
PON: OK, gotcha.
And they wouldn’t let the LGBT group join along. I’ve read that you’ve been gearing up campaigns toward the gay audience like the work with Absolut and IKEA. It’s a market that should have been tapped long ago but I suppose you are more or less first in line to cater to that so I salute you.
PON: Thank you. The IKEA thing was interesting at the time. That’s when I was working at Deutsch in New York around the time of ‘pre-Ellen coming out’ so it was very bold to do. In fact it would only run after 10pm and Donny Deutsch, one of my mentors, he was very very bold and he always wanted to push the envelope. The story behind that is we were shopping at the Elizabeth store in New Jersey, one of the first IKEA stores and we were noticing many gay couples shopping there, buying stuff, moving in together; so we created a storyline around what we were seeing in there and we thought, “Why don’t we do that?” So we did it and we casted one guy who was gay and the other guy was a straight guy – we did it for chemistry… we tried real couples and it just didn’t really work. I remember the set was just silent because it was so unusual to see that and now you see TV shows with gay characters all the time. At the time I don’t think there even was a main gay character. Maybe in a soap opera or something. But doing that was a really rewarding experience especially at the time. All this press came up about boycotts and bomb threats because of IKEA.
If you were the tip-top guy at a lead creative agency in New York ad-mecca and then you transplant back here to do the same on the West Coast, do you feel the horizontally integrated urban development gives you more breathing room rather than being cooped up in a tighter space in New York?
I mean look at this place, it’s gorgeous.
PON: Well I love New York because it’s so spontaneous and it’s stimulating with all these people from different kinds of backgrounds. There are so many businesses centered there; like the financial industry, the fashion industry, media, etcetera – so there’s always something going on. I always liken Manhattan to a college campus because can have drinks and you don’t have to drive, so it feels like an extended college. At least for me. I’m a native though, I’m from Pasadena.
PON: St. Luke’s Hospital. I don’t think it’s open anymore but yeah…
I was going to ask if you spent a bit of time in ad-epicenter of the world… I’ve been told by many people, once I go over there I’ll fall in love with the place. Everyone I know loves New York but I came there at the worst time possible.
PON: When was that?
This past October and two days after I got there, Sandy comes through. I thought to myself, “What the hell am I doing here? If Manhattan is out of commission then the job search is out of commission.” Anyways, if you were to weigh things out… LA or New York?
PON: LA, absolutely! Partially being born here and my family being centered here, there’s always that emotional draw to the place but compared to other cities, I’m not putting them down or anything, this place is filled with dreamers and doers. They’re not just talking about ideas. There’s a blue collar aspect to Los Angeles when it comes to production where people make stuff. In addition to obviously the entertainment industry, acting, film-making, music and all that creation; I think the weather has something to do with it because you’re uninhibited by that. I think the terrain being open like how you’d be so close to the ocean, so close to the mountains, close to the desert – you feel a lot freer inside than you would in New York, which is more insular but… it can be spontaneous. You’ll walk down the street and you’ll see a bunch of people together. I guess that signs off to being one of the disadvantages of LA; the house parties and clubs you’ll have to know beforehand. You’ll have to seek it out and find it. Obviously I’m living here so I love it.
Did you start out in the biz as an art director or copywriter?
PON: Art director. Art Center graduate from Pasadena.
How many people do you have under the creative umbrella?
PON: Probably around 125… 130? Including interims.
What’s the dynamic like? Do they all strive to be a diamond in the rough? Do things ever get incohesive?
PON: I’d say the culture of the creative department is defined by the work we’re making. So people are excited about what they’re doing or something that’s really furthering their development as a creative like they’re being taken to the next level or they’re going to make an impact in the marketplace. We call it ‘making a dent in the universe’ like doing something people take notice to and in turn, change culture. The closer you are to making something you love, the happier and more fulfilled everyone is. As long as we’re getting close to making something or if we’re in the middle of making it, it’s a great dynamic. But not everybody strives to be the same. What I like about working here is finding everyone’s a unique talent and how they’re not out of a cookie-cutter. We try to match where the agency is going and where the brands are – sometimes it works out and sometimes you’d have to rotate people to change partners. That’s the secret to success to fit in what’s organically there rather than trying to force-fit incompatibles things that prove not to yield anything.
What about that fabled mythology that most if not all ad-shops have a turbulent working relationship; not just with clients but things going on internally within the shop? Would you say that’s a prevalent thing?
PON: I think the creative process is always dynamic and it’s an ideas business and we’re only as good as the ideas we make so the conversation around ‘how to make it better’ is where the good tension comes from. If it’s often hand-holding and harmony, usually the best work doesn’t come out of that. It’s not that it’s contentious, it’s very open-doored as you take a look around.
Very open. Look at these trees here. You guys figured out a way to put the outside on the inside.
PON: That’s right.
Think different. I don’t know what authority you have in talking about Apple but let’s do a throwback because I’ve come to find that Apple launched a campaign for the Mac and in turn, launched Steve Jobs into the stratosphere and essentially took you guys along for the ride, which prompted you guys to develop dedicated Apple-branch Media Arts Lab. I guess it’s not so much the same in the sense that ‘Think Different’ got phased out and then everything became centered around flavorful product shot after product shot. I know you’re supposed to keep mum on Apple and TBWA\MAL stuff but I’m thinking does it ever get to the point of whittling down the need for a copywriter?
PON: It’s so much more conceptual. As a consumer you’ll only see the billboard or the spot but there’s so much more to it. I would say the Apple brand and the ‘Think Different’ ethos informs the agency every single day; it’s more about the creative spirit in everyone. Whenever we play that video that was done in 1998, the time I was a judge on The One Show and not yet at TBWA\Chiat\Day, I was trying to advocate for the iMac and everyone was saying, “It’s just old people with copy on top with the Apple logo and product shot, that’s not creative.” I was like, “OK…” It didn’t win any awards at the time but One Show is one of the premier circuits in advertising and I couldn’t get people to award it gold but if you look at everything the brand does, it’s still informed by that belief of that creative spirit in everyone. It’s exemplified in all the products they create.
In regards to TBWA\MAL as a dedicated-brand subsidiary, is that the same formula used for other places with different names distinguishing themselves from the name they’ve splintered from like: Nazca Del Campo Saatchi & Saatchi, Advico Y&R, Tribal DDB – what’s with that?
PON: I don’t know, it could be a number of things. Sometimes it’s done to be more efficient. Every time that happens it’s usually for a different reason. Apple was growing so fast with stuff on the horizon nobody saw coming like the iPhones and iPads. TBWA\MAL was formed before all that; the business needed to grow with the brand as well as the confidentiality issues that really require a dedicated offshoot.
I really wanted to talk about Pacific Standard Time.
PON: Ohhh yeah…
I was latched onto that development as press last year and I’ve come to find that you guys did work for them. Being stuck at a hurdle, I didn’t really see much beyond what I caught during the opening conference. They had a lengthy run across SoCal. From Santa Barbara to San Diego, the Westside to Palm Springs – it was a huge collaborative effort that brought KEEYALIFOURNIANS together.
Did you have a chance to check any of the stuff out?
PON: Of course! I went to the Hammer, I went to MOCA, LACMA, Palm Springs. I went to five or six of them and the Getty of course.
What art do you subscribe yourself to?
PON: My favorite was the LACMA PST stuff because it was about California design. It was about automotive, the actual Oscar statue, the Eames living room was there – I think I went there 5 or 6 times, hahaha.
THE Eames living room?
PON: They recreated it. They rebuilt it. They took it from one location they built to actual size; it was an art installation of architecture, it was amazing.
Back to opening conference, I had the cavalier idea of asking (soon to be bye-bye) Mayor Villaraigosa a question if he came up to speak. Immediately prior to the inception of Pacific Standard Time, I’ve come to read that him and his posse were laying the smack-down on street art, especially in the factory district area also known as the arts district. I was going to ask him why he was at the conference for a grandiose development of Southern California if he was enacting ordinance counter-intuitive to what the PST aims to do in promoting the LA art scene. He didn’t even talk, was he even there?
PON: He was there. I was there, too. To me, I felt the emphasis on PST was making LA have its mark in the global community and it was really about the birth of the LA art scene from 1945 to 1980. I didn’t really put it all together until we were working the campaign how influential those artists are and that’s what PST was centered on, rather than the more recent developments going on in art.
I saw that PST ViDoc featuring Ice Cube and he was talking about LA. He went on to explain how he studied architectural drafting before blowing up as a rapper and I could really appreciate how you guys dissect icons on a local level to find things we would have never found out about through a pop-culture lens. I also appreciate his insight on things I would have never intuitively culled out of his career when he was talking about the Eames House. It’s an invigorating feel for my city in conjunction with things going on all over town: the Endeavor, extension of rail lines, Wilshire Tower coming up – that thing is going to be higher than that US Bank building.
PON: Really? Wow, haha.
I previously asked Deutsch and 72andSunny if they’d be inclined to throw in their version of the Harlem Shake. Like Wieden+Kennedy did.
It seems like if one agency did it would prove to be a big deterrent for other agencies to get in on the fun but to go along with that if WDCW had its own film brand would it deter you guys from making an offshoot film production brand since another entity got one off the ground?
PON: I don’t know, I’ve never really thought about that. It’s competitive with agencies and we’re always thinking about being better than the next guy. Pacific Standard Time is a great example, most museums are competing for the same audience, so having them collaborate for that audience took them ten years to get that together. It can be done if the cause is right and I think the thing with PST that we touched on with your observation, we wanted to show and dramatize how influential art is in everyone’s lives. That Ice Cube spot was really effective because you’re blindsided to come to believe he’d sound off on something we’ve never think he’d talk about and I’m a huge architecture buff! I just actually bought a Richard Neutra original house, which I’m thrilled about! This is the first time I’ve told anyone, I just got the keys the other day. Architecture here, a lot of people love it. It inspires their work. That’s one of my favorite things about that spot because it draws parallels between creativity and all these different mediums. It was really rewarding to work on.
The external viewpoint about the ad-business would depict a very lax work environment. Even with a very nice office space such as this, I couldn’t ever imagine anyone ever really wanting to leave. People are encouraged at times to sleep at the office.
PON: We don’t encourage people to do that, hahaha. I think especially in the past few years, iPhones, iPads and other mobile technologies help make meeting rooms happen spontaneously in the building. Suffice it to say that nothing beats an in-person meeting like we’re having right now but I always encourage everyone to go out and about to get the creative juices flowing like going to a museum or seeing a movie, a bit of a metaphor for the city. There’s nothing really around this area whereas in New York there’s stuff everywhere and so close by. I think it’s nice to have an environment where you can bring your dog where it’s open and relaxed.
You can bring dogs here?!
PON: Oh yeah! You haven’t seen a dog yet?
I’ve seen people with dogs outside but I didn’t think that they were gonna take them in here.
PON: One of the perks! It’s a very dog-friendly building. I’m going to bring my dog here, his name is Bert. He’s not old enough to come in yet but he just got his shots and he’ll be here regularly starting next week. Shiba Inu, you know those?
Know the name but I can’t put a face to that name.
PON: A little fox, they look like foxes.
I dig that. I guess a lot of the creatives her are encouraged to go about brainstorming out of the workspace to get their head in a better space to cultivate stray thoughts but where is the line drawn? What’s to distinguish an out-of-office assignment from an actual absence?
PON: I think with creatively-driven people, it’s… integrated into your life. If you’re a creative person, you’re always creative; we don’t really punch in 9 to 5 per se. It’s not that kind of thing. But if you live a creative life and on social media you can kind of tell if people have creative lives or not. Where they go and what they talk about, it becomes seamless. For the most part if you’re a creative person, you’re always kind of thinking that way. It’s very very blurry.
Wise me up to ThinkLA: The Future Will Not Be Televised.
PON: I think that’s a fantastic organization of a board-member and it’s really pulling together all these different disciplines and ways of creative thinking in one organization. It stretches beyond a typical advertising community and it’s only getting bigger and more exciting.
Tell me stuff about 5353 Music/Art/Fest Festival.
PON: The inspiration for that was our Youngblood Program where we have students that never had a background in advertising and they take on a year with us, not really an internship, but they work on real clients we’re working with. Let’s say the first day you come on, you’re given a Super Bowl TV assignment; it doesn’t matter if you just got out of school we treat you as if you’re a full-time employee and it’s a popular program for younger people to come and work here.
The work that comes out, does it ever attribute to a running campaign?
PON: Of course. I brought them in a room together and said, “What can we do to have more fun here?” and one of the Youngbloods asked, ‘Why don’t we have an art show where we show everyone’s art that’s not work they do in advertising’ but it started materializing into adding music and food. We had a company picnic in the summer that nobody really went to because it was… a company picnic and then we thought why don’t we take the budget from this and turn it into a music festival? We had the third one this year and we had Dengue Fever last year with a bunch of other bands. The first year was.. Motorcycle.. Black.. Motorcycle…
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
PON: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, the Local Natives, a bunch of others. Last year we had Haim, heard of them? The sister act? They were like the Silver Laker Wilson-Phillips, they were amazing.
Going off on a tangent in regards to the music…
… what other bands do you have coming out here to play?
PON: We got one of the Grammy Amplifier artists here. Everyone’s working on different things so they might not have exposure to stuff going on in the Grammys; we’ve got several working on Pepsi and others working on PST and so on. So if people are too fixed on a particular account it would take some ‘internal advertising’ to get word around to let people know what acts are coming. On the basketball court we have a big screen, a kegger and we go on to show all the work for the festival. Mike Gross of course arranged it.
Despite being plugged into Don Draper’s exploits I was under the impression that whole drinking in the office got phased out; that it’s a total myth. Isn’t that a beach bar you have right over there?
PON: Compared to my experience in multiple agencies in New York, no one’s drinki… beer? Maybe. The Don Draper days are over…
PON: … at least here… I don’t really know how people can do that anyway… and it’s BLOND Draper by the way.
Blond Draper, OK!?
I was speaking with someone at Media Arts Lab and they told me how you guys get a bunch of bands to play. We were at Intelligentsia and a song from Future Islands was blasting through the PA and she said, “We had these guys play at the agency.” I QA’d them over the summer.
PON: We had Bruno Mars play in that conference room.
Mmmm, not big on Bruno Mars.
At what capacity and authority do the creatives have in suggesting bands to play here?
PON: I’d say in the past 10 years the power of marketing, music and advertising, musicians have been more open to play in a workplace. Especially with things to help drive it forward like the iPod and how music drove the feeling of the product, so I see music is used more and more as a narrative in a creative way. And with record sales and exposure, our creatives suggesting potential bands would make a mutually beneficial dynamic that would prompt bands to be more inclined to come play. There’s a commercial aspect as well as degree of exposure. No one’s ever heard of this and then FUN won a Grammy, I’d be like, “Come on, that started from a commercial.”
If anything you guys should get Tame Impala to come. Aussie band that went straight up to the stratosphere since their debut release in 2010.
PON: Haven’t heard of them.
They’ll be at Coachella this year with another favorite I’d love to QA.
PON: Which one?
PON: Oh really? Blur’s reforming?
I think they’re in the process of recording a new album, too. But the irony of going so far to see two favorites only to have them play at the same festival a stone’s throw away from LA, it’s blows; I’m too poor. Always too poor for Coachella!
PON: Good, ‘cos I’m hungry!
What kind of extra-curricular activities or creative projects do people at TBWAChiat\Day do? I’m talkin’ bands, books, film-making; what are the outlier passions?
PON: Everything. Clothing design, zines and photography especially. There are IP ideas going on all over this place, a lot of people are in bands here, a lot of painters, a lot of sculptors, you name it. You got it, we’ll finance it.
Sounds good to me.
I was always curious to see what the place was like on the inside. I’ll come back to it.