The Egotist Interviews: Steve Babcock of EVB
EVB has become known for doing some of the best creative work in San Francisco. So when their new executive creative director, Steve Babcock, came over from Crispin Porter + Bogusky but decided to stay and open an outpost in Boulder, we just had to talk to him.
So why Boulder and not San Francisco?
To be honest, I’m terrified of large bodies of water. And bridges. And fog. And the prices at Taco Bell (I’ve never seen a Burrito Supreme surpass double digits before).
Actually, the plan is for it to be more of a Boulder AND San Francisco thing. EVB had been toying around with the idea of a Boulder office for a while. Recently, things just aligned, and we decided it was time. It makes sense because we’re partnered with an amazing brand, WhiteWave, that’s located in the area. In addition to that, Boulder has a really strong pool of talent.
Not unlike San Francisco, Boulder has a unique culture and a healthy entrepreneurial scene that attracts all walks of brainpower, especially in the tech space. It’s not your typical “advertising city,” and I believe that sense of unfamiliarity can be a great thing. It means there is no playbook – just your gut and a healthy dose of optimism. It’s this doer mentality that I think makes Boulder a great complement to San Francisco.
Aside from that, I love the idea of being able to offer our people the option and flexibility to live in (or just experience for a season) different locations. Both places have so much to offer. SF and BDR are really the best of both worlds.
What was the most important thing you learned at Crispin Porter + Bogusky that you’ll bring over to EVB?
One of the most important things I learned at CPB is the value of cultural tension in the work. Tension is typically a scary word, especially for clients. It’s the hard truth. It’s identifying how culture may not align with a brand’s promise. And, in my opinion, it’s one of the strongest bits of knowledge a creative team can have. Work that is aware of the real tension consistently proves to be more relatable and more honest than work that relies heavily on invented storytelling. Today, there’s just something powerful about a brand that proves it really does understand the culture in which it plays.
How do you want EVB to evolve? What are your goals as an ECD there?
First of all, I feel extremely fortunate. EVB is a great agency with a solid foundation. The culture continues to pleasantly surprise me. In an industry that is typical of agenda, it’s a refreshing group of people who genuinely appreciate and enjoy each other and what we do. My hope is that I can simply add to this foundation and create a system designed for growth – not just growth for growth’s sake, but growth that can put us into new spaces and give us new opportunities. I’d like to see more diversity in the types of assignments we get from clients. I think the addition of Boulder will help in this evolution.
Another goal – the most obvious one – is to continue improving the quality of output. There are so many factors involved in this endeavor, everything from encouraging a creative culture to empowering and trusting talent to identifying tension in the work to creating a system of makers instead of managers. I certainly can’t say I have all the right answers right now. But that’s what goals are for, right?
What excites you creatively these days?
I’m a total sucker for remix culture. I love the idea of taking something that already exists and turning it into something new. I like everything from parody and overdub videos to auto tune the news to life hacks and street art. I think the challenge of the limited palette is what makes remix culture so interesting to me: It’s so experimental. And there are no rules. It’s random. It’s clever. It’s oftentimes really intelligent. It’s a frontier of anything goes.
It’s funny how we can now predict remix culture. We see a blooper on the nightly news, and we know that tomorrow morning we’ll wake up to a bunch of hilarious translations. The Internet rules for this reason alone. It’s like we toss a big glob of clay out to the world and get to see what everyone does with it.
I’m also very excited about the bridge between digital tools and the real world. It’s such a great time for our industry in terms of technology. The ability to create a digital utility that has a real effect in the physical world is awesome. There’s so much potential in this space.
Oh, and 3-D printing. Total mind ’splode right there.
What disappoints you most about advertising?
The fact that there are still people out there, both in our industry and on the client side, who believe a line exists between mediums like digital and traditional and social. It suggests a resistance to change. Of all the industries out there that should be über-ninjas of change, it should be the marketing industry.
What are the key traits that make a good creative person?
Curiosity is a key trait to being a good creative person. It’s the gateway trait – it leads to all the other creative qualities, like optimism, imagination and determination. All of the most talented people I’ve ever worked with have been naturally curious.
A great idea is moot unless you can get a client to buy it. What are your keys to selling stellar creative to clients?
I think the key to selling a stellar idea to a client is honestly believing that if they kill it, you can just go back and come up with 10 more. And that there’s a good chance they’ll be even better.
We are a service industry. Sometimes the clients we serve feel differently than we do about work. The key to making sure good work gets produced doesn’t always lie in our ability to sell it to the client, sometimes it lies in our ability to keep coming up with great work. I’ve found that this mentality alone has been enough to bring down some walls in favor of the original idea.
If an idea is presented as being so precious that it could never be outdone, it creates a pressured dynamic that freaks most clients out. It’s like, “This is it, and there can never be anything better! And if you don’t approve it, WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE! So, what’s it gonna be?"
Name a couple of advertising-related things you’d love to see disappear forever.
Advertising to children. Focus groups.
What recent idea makes you say, “Damn, I wish I’d done that.”?
The last Foo Fighters record, “Wasting Light.”
What are three pieces of advice you’d give any creative?
1. Be honest.
2. Have at least one creative outlet in your life that isn’t creative directed.
3. Learn to love being met with and solving problems (that’s all we really do in this business).
Bonus: Strive to be the person everyone always wants in the room.
This piece was originally posted on The San Francisco Egotist.